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Co-Founder of PADI


The key component of this philosophy, of course, was diver education itself. At a time when diver training consisted of one-shot courses built upon minimum standards that instructors could meet any way they chose, with heavy emphasis on military-style harassment exercises, physical fitness (would you believe push-ups wearing your cylinder?) and the like, in stepped Ralph. His crucial contribution not only created the educational framework for the new professional organization PADI, but laid the foundation that still fundamentally defines modern diver education.


In the mid-1960’s, in the face of huge criticism from the old guard- and no one love a good fight more than the charmingly irascible Ralph- collegiate water polo’s tough-love coach created the first student-orientated diver-education program.

It included a continuing-education system, complete with instructor guidelines, performance objectives and student manuals for 11 PADI certification levels from Skin Diver through Master Instructor.

The dive community lost one its true visionaries with the passing of Ralph Erickson, co-founder of PADI, on the 25th of May, 2006. Ralph’s personal concepts changed the way people learn to dive all over the world.


He was a varsity swimmer at the University of Southern California, a Purple Heart and Bronze Star recipient as a paratrooper in World War II, a graduate of Northwestern University with a master’s in education, counseling and guidance, a career collegiate water-polo coach and an early NAU instructor (number 35). Above all he was an energetic and passionate diver and teacher. 

Ralph met dive- equipment sales rep John Cronin in 1961, beginning what would grow into a lifelong friendship. The two of them saw a crucial need for the struggling, infant dive industry. In those early days, there were associations representing instructors, and there was an association representing dive stores. But there was no professional organization that melded the two, training high-quality instructors to work within professional dive centers and promoting the core value of diver education in both attracting people to the sport and sustaining their enthusiasm.


Ralph also created PADI’s Undersea Journal professional magazine to continue instructor education. Though refined over the years to keep up with the changes in diving, the PADI educational program still uses the revolutionary system Ralph conceived and brought to life 40 years ago.


For all those who knew and loved Ralph-those who had the privilege to work and learn from him; those he introduced to diving, swimming and water polo; his friends; and his lovely wife Karen and daughter Karina- his life gave us dear memories and made us admire him immensely. He shaped and influenced the lives of many people and inspired them to achieve their own far-reaching goals. Ralphs passing will leave a void in the dive community.


By: Al Hornsby, Sport Diver Magazine

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