Toppers Tour Around the World: Florida Keys

Junior Ali Boyd of Versailles spent three months in the Florida Keys this summer during a scuba diving internship with Islamorada Dive Center. Photo Submitted by Ali Boyd


Over the next several weeks, the Herald will be publishing stories about the summer adventures WKU students have taken around the globe.

For many college students, summer entails a dull, repetitive schedule of working, sleeping, hanging out and counting down the days until they return to the Hill. But Ali Boyd, an intern for the Islamorada Dive Center in Islamorada, Florida, spent her summer scuba diving 100-foot-long shipwrecks, being filmed by an Emmy Award-winning videographer and earning her Divemaster certification.

“The scariest part was knowing that people’s lives were in my hands and at any second they could make a mistake, and that would be it for them,” Ali Boyd, a junior from Versailles, said.

Boyd was offered the opportunity to complete a three-month-long internship for IDC after visiting the shop during winter break last year. Her father, Terry Boyd, is a diver of 52 years and hails from Anna, Illinois. He docks his boat every winter at a marina near IDC.

“She came in the store with her dad, who also dives with us,” Doug Grubb, an instructor for IDC, said. “Once we met her, we brought up the internship to her that we offer every year because we thought she would be the perfect candidate.” 

Directly after finishing her last final of the spring 2015 semester, Boyd packed her bags and headed to the Florida Keys.

During her first month, Boyd spent much of her time working for the dive shop and studying to receive the five certifications that qualify a Divemaster. A Divemaster does not need guidance or assistance from anyone else and can lead a group of divers in the water alone, Ali Boyd said. 

Attaining Divemaster status requires five certifications: Open Water, which grants certification to anyone who is interested in diving; Advanced Open Water, which allows a diver to go to deeper depths; Rescue Course; Emergency First Responder; and Divemaster.

“Each course takes a week or two to complete, so I did that the first month and a half that I was there,” said Boyd. 

Getting each certification is similar to taking a course. It requires studying, reading textbooks and taking tests. However, scuba students are also required to do skills training in the training pool and ocean.

Boyd still remembers the day she was finally awarded her Divemaster certification—the day all her hard work paid off. 

“When I was docking the boat, [Doug] walked [up] with a sign with my Divemaster number on it because every Divemaster gets a six-digit number, and that’s yours—that’s how people recognize you,” Boyd said. “So he came over holding up the sign hooting and hollering, so that was fun.” 

After receiving her Divemaster certification, Boyd and a few others decided to dive down into the second-largest intensionally sunk artificial reef, a wreck called the Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg, as a celebration of her accomplishment.

“It was 145 feet deep. That’s the deepest I have ever gone, so it was cool to hit that limit,” Boyd said.

Another highlight of Boyd’s trip was when she was given the opportunity to work with Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Frazier Nivens, also a diver at IDC, who was creating the video for the official Florida Keys website. Nivens needed two scuba diving models for underwater footage, and Boyd jumped at the chance to participate.

During her shoot with Nivens, Boyd dove to Alligator Reef, a shipwreck in the Florida Keys. Nivens was able to shoot video of Boyd inside of a bait ball, which is a large number of small fish tightly packed into a spherical formation.

“She really hit the jackpot with this summer,” said Terry Boyd.

Boyd, who passed down his love of diving to his daughter, has had many years of experience with the sport.

Terry Boyd has had his instructor license since 1974. Since then, he has done three Shark Week specials for the Discovery Channel and worked as an underwater bodyguard for a well-known photographer whose name was asked to be kept anonymous. 

Terry Boyd has experience scuba diving in the the Caribbean, Costa Rica, the West Indies and the U.S. Virgin Islands, among other locations. 

To say diving is a hobby for Ali and Terry Boyd would be an understatement; this sport is a common passion they have been able to enjoy together.

“It’s always been our thing,” said Ali Boyd. 

According to Terry Boyd, the father-daughter duo plans to continue diving together and traveling to new dive sites now that Ali Boyd has had the three-month-long internship and received full certification.

Ali Boyd is eager to return to IDC and the Florida Keys this winter. She has had a great support system within her immediate family and IDC family through this whole experience, she said. 

“My hopes and desires are for her to become an instructor because she is a great teacher,” said Grubb. “No matter what she does in life, my hope is for her to be successful.”

Although Boyd doesn’t know exactly what she wants to do with her major—she’s studying corporate and organizational communications—she hopes the ocean will be involved. 

“The ocean is always going to be a big part [of my life.] I’ve always wanted to do something with it,” said Boyd. “I love it and am already having withdrawals right now.”