Finding Her Sea Legs

Spring 2019
Susan Copelas scuba diving near coral reef

Photo by Joos Caro

After learning how to snorkel during a family trip to St. John at age 10, Susan (Safford) Copelas ’83 knew exactly what she wanted to be when she grew up: a mermaid. You could say she’s achieved her goal, as founder of her own scuba instruction business, Dive the World Adventures, based in Gloucester, Mass. Yet her path to get there wasn’t like gliding through the water. It took some twists and turns — and a few gasps for air — until she was able to turn her ambition into a successful career.

Majoring in philosophy and religion at Colgate, Copelas took a PE class that had her scuba diving in Lake Moraine in November. “It was dark and snowing, and I loved it,” she remembers. “I knew this was what I wanted to do.”

But, life happened and responsibilities took hold. As a mother of three, she had little time for the water, though she was a certified diver. A serious health setback led her to reevaluate life. “I wanted to make scuba a career,” Copelas says. So, in 2005, she took the plunge and launched a company that would allow her to do what she’d always dreamed of doing: dive, teach, and make a difference.

Through Dive the World Adventures, Copelas leads international trips — from shark dives in the Philippines to coral mapping in Roatán. The same year she launched her company, she became the first woman to dive in previously uncharted waters in the Antarctic, retracing the steps of Sir Earnest Shackleton’s famous 1914 voyage. She and her team ventured into icebergs, caverns, and undersea formations. “It’s an interesting curiosity — going to a place no one in the world has ever been,” she says.

More than fulfilling her quest for wonderment, diving is about doing something bigger than herself. Copelas has organized 13 relief trips around the world. On those trips, she and her groups spend mornings diving and afternoons working in the surrounding communities. One that’s close to her heart is a trip to Dominica in 2017, where she helped with coastal cleanups and home rebuilding following the devastation caused by Hurricane Irma.

Additionally, two years ago, she started Women’s Dive Day, where women from all over the world gather on one day to celebrate and bond. The event takes place in more than 1,000 locations around the world each July through a partnership with the Professional Association of Diving Instructors.

“I encourage other people, especially women, to say, ‘no boundaries,’” she says. “If you’re passionate about something, then be creative and work hard, and you’ll get it.”