Margo Peyton Joins Scuba Diving's Sea Heroes
No one has done more than Margo Peyton to get kids in the water through her Kids Sea Camp family dive adventures — more than 7,000 kids in 17 years, with 5,500 of them becoming certified divers at nearly 20 Kids Sea Camp weeks a year, held in 12 locations worldwide.
For her passionate dedication to raising the next generation of divers and safely introducing kids and families to the joys of the undersea world, Peyton is our November/December Sea Hero.
YEAR CERTIFIED: 1989
AGE WHEN CERTIFIED: 23
CERTIFICATION LEVEL: PADI MSDT Elite Instructor
WORDS TO LIVE BY: "Give them a week they will remember forever"
Courtesy Brad Holland
Q. What's your favorite Kids Sea Camp moment?
A. Other than my daughter and son’s first Seal Team dives at age 8 and their first open-water dives at age 10 — my son is now a PADI instructor and tec diver, and my daughter just completed her IDC at Buddy Dive in Bonaire — my favorite was my first experience diving with Jacob Herzig at age 11. Jacob is a high-functioning autistic student; diving with him was the most humbling experience of my life. I watched him on a treasure hunt, looking for little things on the sea bottom that I would never have seen, and saw the excitement in his face when he found a small flounder, a sand dollar or sea biscuit he gently uncovered and then, with a light movement of his hands, waved the sand back to leave it exactly as it had been. Autism is very difficult because typically all light, sound, smell and touch hit the senses at the same time — when he’s diving, it’s quiet and calm, the colors are soothing, and zero gravity is relaxing. He can focus and see things that you or I never would. Jacob is 13 now and an advanced open-water diver; he took his first trip to Palau with me this year.
Q. What’s the biggest challenge you face in working with kids and families?
A. I became special-needs-friendly with Jacob as it was a great joy to introduce him to the underwater world. I now cater to handicapped kids and adults, deaf kids and adults, and kids with autism, ADHD and many other special needs. I train our instructors, and learn from them as well. My biggest challenge is implementing my mandates and standards in the resorts we work with — not because the resorts are not safe or don't want to be safer, but simply because of resource limitations. I fly dive instructors from all over the world to the destinations where we host Kids Sea Camp weeks to work as part of my team. I have PADI pros in Germany, Honduras, Holland, Palau and Nicaragua whom I fly in and pay to be on location, assisting KSC and the local dive operation. With special-needs kids, my mandate is one PADI pro per student; with kids 10 and 11, one PADI pro per two kids. With older kids who are certified, one PADI pro with four or five, depending on the destination and level of diving. The challenge is, what I consider a kid-friendly instructor and what the industry considers a kid-friendly instructor can be very different things.
Courtesy Jesse Alpert
Peyton's Kids Sea Camp has been bringing families together underwater for nearly two decades.
Q. What are the most important issues in growing the sport of diving?
A. Keeping kids safe — this is a huge issue that I feel is not properly addressed in our industry. I believe 100 percent that it is safe and appropriate for kids age 4 to 7 to do SASY [Supplied Air Snorkeling for Youth], and appropriate and safe for kids age 8 and 9 to dive in PADI’s Seal Team confined-water scuba program in certain very strictly confined ocean sites with what I would consider a Seal Team-qualified instructor. I do not feel that certified parents should be allowed to just take their child diving; this is a large issue and needs to be considered. I also believe instructors should be trained differently for working with kids as opposed to adults. I spend most of my life on this — I do not charge to train staff or to consult with dive operations on kids’ programs; I do it to make diving safe for kids. I have hosted more than 7,000 children with ZERO dive accidents.
Q. What's been your most satisfying moment overall?
A. That was maybe 10 years ago, when I was working with the Galindo family who owns Anthony’s Key Resort in Utila. Dad Julio, whom I truly love, and sons Samir and Julito asked me one morning how to bring Kids Sea Camp to AKR. Julio asked, “How many people will you bring?” “How many can you take care of?” I said, and he answered, “Fill my rooms and my boats.” Kids Sea Camp booked AKR for two weeks that first year, and I brought 220 people each week. That first morning we all laughed because the restaurant could not handle that number — we had not considered that issue! They had, I think, 17 boats and had doubled their instructor staff to make it work. As I stood on the dock the third morning, I watched eight SASY kids heading off to see dolphins, nine Seals getting ready for their first ocean dive, 11 junior open-water students heading for the classroom to do their exams, and the entire AKR fleet — each named for a member of Julio’s family — plus a few additional boats pulling off the dock to take the adults and certified kids diving, including my own children. I just hugged Julito and said thank you. To have created an amazing family vacation that allowed kids and adults from all around the world to come together and learn about and enjoy the underwater world in that moment… the magnitude of what I had created was overwhelming.
Courtesy Brad Holland
Kids Sea Camp has implemented citizen-science weeks; this is 100 percent educational and a learning environment for high school and college students who get credit on this program and also learn to be more responsible divers.
Q. Tell us a little bit about your Ocean Wishes Foundation.
A. I started Ocean Wishes because we were fund-raising for clean-water and reef-protection projects, and providing training grants and scholarships for many villages, resorts and children around the world. I support schools and orphanages in Indonesia, Philippines and Honduras with supplies, learning materials and more — I wanted to give back to the people and places where we work. Ocean Wishes Foundation is a 501c3 organization, so we can now give tax deductions for donations; we mostly have projects related to the ocean, but we did send $4,000 in contributions to Nepal Red Cross when they were hit with an earthquake a few years ago, and also to Fiji for disaster relief. I also have a soft spot for dog rescues; I support a dog rescue in St. Lucia with supplies and funds. I actually have quite a few veterinarian clients who provide medical supplies that I ship around the world as well. All donations are provided directly to our causes.
Q. What you are working on now?
A. We have implemented citizen-science weeks; this is 100 percent educational and a learning environment for high school and college students who get credit on this program and also learn to be more responsible divers. And we are teaching Rescue Diver, Divemaster and Instructor courses now. I’m excited about the next generation of divers — these kids are our tomorrow. I speak at high schools and career days and truly enjoy inspiring today’s youth to get involved in the underwater world. I am on the board of the Family Travel Association, an International organization dedicated to family travel, safety and resources for reputable business practices and oversight, and have been an adviser to them for diving and family dive travel. I was so surprised at how much of the world knows very little about diving and kids, and I am honored to be that voice. I was also asked to be on the new PADI Youth Advisory board this year and am very honored to be part of creating better, safer mandates and programs for kids.
Q. What's next for you and Kids Sea Camp?
A. Next year we will be covering 20 weeks, our biggest year ever. We grow every year by 30 percent — with our largest growth over the last 12 months — and I believe that is because our reputation is flawless and our number-one priority is safety. We are focused on family and education — Kids Sea Camp is personal, not business, and you will never hear me say it the other way around! Having our resort owners directly involved and a part of what we do is the magic recipe. They get it. So we are growing and teaching the industry how important family and kids are to diving. We are creating ambassadors and protectors and the voice of tomorrow today. We also have created Family Dive Adventures to cater to individual families who prefer to take private family vacations. Families were asking us to arrange all their trips because they wanted them to be as hands-on, safe and educational as Kids Sea Camp, even when we did not have a group trip running. So we do that too. I need a clone, lol.
Q. What’s the most important thing to you?
A. Family. Today’s kids are so desensitized, living through cell phones in a virtual world. I so enjoy watching them disconnect from all that and reconnecting to their family. Moms and dads truly love to see their kids playing volleyball, diving, snorkeling, paddle boarding and enjoying each other. I see families laughing and hugging and dancing and kids begging their parents to come back again. I see judges, doctors, senators, military divers with their minds full of work just unwind and relax and, sometimes for the first time in many years, have nothing in their head but the blue of the ocean and the sound of the waves or the colors of the sunset and the sounds of their kids laughing. To see the smile on the face of a man’s wife as they look at their kids jumping off the dock, it’s my greatest joy. It’s the same for my own family — the moments when I get to be underwater with my best friend and husband, Tom Peyton, and with my daughter, Jen, and son, Rob, are the best in the world for me.