Alicia Ward

Growing up in Hawaii, Alicia has been swimming, freediving, and scuba diving in the ocean since she was a little girl. Now she has made a career out of photography, ocean conservation, and education.

"The intricacy of various oceanic seascapes intrigues me. I find inspiration in submerged cathedrals and am totally that girl who visits her favorite coral head to see what fish or crabs have become its newest tenants."

When and why did did you start diving?

I grew up swimming in the ocean and have been an island child almost all my life. At 15 my swims evolved dramatically because I discovered freediving. Realizing the depths I could achieve on a single breath of air, I felt inspired to train so I could further explore my favorite environment. I landed my first job as a photographer for a snorkel tour on Oahu and it quickly became both gainful employment and a favorite pastime of mine. Freediving and photography paired early on in my life, and it's a combination I'll cherish forever.

It wasn't until 8yrs later that I became scuba certified. My then boyfriend (now husband), Jim, was quick to recommend an open water certification so we could dive together but I kept refusing. I'm not sure why I was initially so opposed to scuba, perhaps it was simply that I've always appreciated the unencumbered sensation of freediving. We finally reached an agreement when I told Jim I wanted to travel to Tahiti. He said he'd read that French Polynesia boasted some of the most spectacular diving in the world and we agreed that, if we pooled our money to take a trip to Tahiti, I'd have to get certified so I could join him to dive the Tuamotus. After my certification, I realized I'd been holding myself back for years. Diving opened so many new avenues of aquatic exploration. My first dive in French Polynesia blew me away, and I've been grateful for my certification ever since!

What is your spirit fish or mammal?

Ah, I've always been drawn to Orcas. I've only seen them once in the wild, a few miles from home (Hawaii Island), but they absolutely mesmerized me. Their striking beauty aside, I'm astounded by their intelligence and humbled by their magnificent prowess. I was in the water when the nursery pod approached me, silently gliding through the cobalt blue; the morning's mercurial weather made for a moody, slightly eerie setting and I watched in awe as they quietly observed and then passed me by. A bit later, the larger adults displayed what appeared to be hunting behavior and a male approached our tiny zodiac, dwarfing it in size. He rolled onto his back, peered up at my husband and me, then continued on in pursuit of his prey.

While I'd love to offer something unique or zany as my "spirit fish", if I'm being honest, the Orcinas Orca is most definitely what I feel strongly pulled to.

What do you enjoy most about diving?

The intricacy of various oceanic seascapes intrigues me. I find inspiration in submerged cathedrals and am totally that girl who visits her favorite coral head to see what fish or crabs have become its newest tenants.

How do you approach non-divers to get them excited about learning to dive?

I take to social media quite frequently and share my experiences both on and under the water. I think sharing imagery and especially videos is a fun way to get anyone new to the ocean excited about all it has to offer. I'm also pretty quick to touch on methods of responsible diving, especially when chatting up new or non-divers. Simply reminding others to admire and appreciate things like coral and wildlife but to never touch them is a topic I find highly important and easy to address. 

Most memorable dive experience?

Jim and I dove Komodo National Park and I still can't believe the things we saw were real. It was like living in Finding Nemo. Never in my life did I imagine that I would be immersed in a space that was covered in such healthy, thriving coral. That may go down as the best dive trip of my life. Considering how fragile coral is and how quickly it's disappearing from our planet, I know how monumentally special an experience like that is and I hope we can work together to find a solution to protect spaces like that so our future generations can enjoy them as well.

Dream dive: where and with who (alive or not)?

The first place that comes to my mind is Rangiroa. I have a good friend from Tahiti who's always sending photos of the wild encounters he has in Rangi's pass. I'd love to experience it someday. I'd obviously have Jim by my side, along with our Tahitian friend - Olivier, as well as a couple of my favorite dive buddies. Our small friend group ranges from experienced divers to new divers and I enjoy adventuring with both. The dive masters/instructors always seem to know where to look for for wildlife while the newer divers are excited about absolutely everything. Having both by my side offers a really well-rounded perspective of our dives. I love seeing masks fill with water because smile lines are breaching the seals.

Favorite piece of Aqualung equipment?

My wetsuit! Good lord, what would I do without a wetsuit?! I tend to rock my 3mm Aquaflex suit in Hawai'i. Yes.. I just said 3mm and Hawai'i in the same sentence. It keeps me warm which is ideal because I spend the vast majority of my days in or under water between the hours of 7am and 1pm and sometimes again at night (to see mantas!). It also gives me sun protection which is important to me. I use reef-safe sunscreen on my face and hands and the rest of me is good-to-go because I keep my wetsuit on all day. It's pretty much the perfect travel suit too. It works well and keeps me cozy in most of the climates and locales I visit.

Diving skill you are working to improve?

Breathing at a normal rate while diving deep is a skill I definitely need to work on. Back when I took the course for my Open Water certification, my instructor told us it's good to breathe "slow and steady" but she didn't give us an example of how slow.. so I breathed very very verrrry slowly. I couldn't understand why I was getting such intense migraines after diving until my husband pointed out that I was using a third less of my tank than everyone else. Since then, I received my Advanced Open Water certification and have improved my breathing technique but I subconsciously fall into a very slow breathing pattern on occasion so, whenever my head starts to throb, I remind myself to breath a bit quicker.

What steps are you taking to improve the health of our oceans? Any advice for others who want to help?

I've been using social media as a platform for ocean conservation and education for the past few years and I've begun running ocean safaris with my husband in Kona as well. We take our clients out and share what knowledge we have about the wildlife we encounter and what plights oceans face. We introduce our guests to reef-safe suncreens, utilize reusable food and beverage containers onboard, and stop for any debris we come upon in the ocean.

Any hidden talents?

I can hands-free equalize which I didn't realize was a coveted ability until I met another freediver in 2008 and he questioned how I was equalizing when I dove. Prior to our meeting, I simply thought everyone could hands free and the people who needed to use their hands must've had a sinus blockage or something.

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