Teammates, best friends and now certified dive buddies, Matt James and Tyler Cameron believe completing their PADI Open Water certification together has only strengthened their already tight bond.
What was planned as a simple local dive in Jupiter, Florida, with Cameron—a hometown celebrity of sorts—quickly turned into a full-fledged certification when Cameron, the 27-year old former contestant on ABC’s The Bachelorette came clean that he wasn’t actually certified to dive. It’s an all too common tale in Florida, and not one that we endorse, but we understand how it can happen. Cameron, a self-declared watersports-loving Florida boy, grew up on the water and would occasionally dive with his certified family members.
When I reached out to invite him on a dive, he thought he might pull a fast one on us, until we asked to see his PADI card. “It’s a funny story, actually. My two younger brothers and I all tried to get certified together as teenagers, except they passed and I didn’t. Somehow they understood the dive tables and I just didn’t get it.”
Lucky for Cameron, and any other divers who previously struggled to understand traditional dive tables, PADI no longer requires that portion of the eLearning to be completed before your first classroom day. PADI dive instructors will walk you through how to decipher dive tables and use a dive computer, making it easier than ever to comprehend and pass the course if you have a willingness to learn.
Cameron, still eager to learn to dive the right way, only had one request before starting his certification course: “Can you get my friend Matt certified too?” he asked me over the phone. “He’s going to be the next Bachelor.”
With James taking off to film Season 25 of The Bachelor soon, we had a short timeframe to make their certification happen. Within a matter of days, South Florida dive shop Pura Vida Divers answered the call and organized an instructor and course to take place six days later.
I prepared them as best I could over the phone, insisting that they must finish the eLearning portion of the course in order to get in the water the following Monday morning. Five days later, I packed my car and headed down to Jupiter. Like any concerned millennial who doesn’t receive a “we still on for xyz?” text before a previously planned activity, I was keeping my fingers crossed that they would be at the dive shop the next morning.
Shortly after 8 a.m. the following day, dive instructor Jillian Blakkan-Strauss, videographer Michelle Gaylord and I waited outside Pura Vida Divers to meet Cameron and James to say our socially distanced hellos. With COVID precautions in place, most dive shops are limiting the number of students in a single course. In Pura Vida’s case, that meant no more than four people plus the instructor.
A typical Open Water course consists of three parts: the classroom or eLearning portion, which Cameron and James opted to complete on their own time; confined-water dives that typically take place in a pool; and open-water dives that take place in the ocean or an open-water environment like a quarry, river or lake.
Almost immediately upon first meeting me, the guys tried to tell me their friendship blossomed over Bumble BFF. “You know that dating app,” Cameron said in the classroom of Pura Vida Divers. “They also have a business app and an app for finding friends. That’s how we met, seriously.” I should have known then that the next three days would be full of practical jokes and lighthearted mischief.
Our group of five spent the next three days filming, laughing and scuba diving at a Best Western pool, Blue Heron Bridge in Riviera Beach and Breakers Reef in Palm Beach, Florida.
On the first day of their three-day course, instructor Blakkan-Strauss leaned over to whisper how impressed she was with both James and Cameron’s scuba skills and that she hadn’t seen Open Water students catch on this quickly before. I’m not surprised—both Cameron and James are athletic, and taller and more muscular in person (that’s all the tea I’m spilling, ladies). A full day of mastering scuba skills in the pool proved to be a breeze for the two, except for the 10 minutes they were required to tread water; suddenly, they were training to be Navy SEALs and the instructor was likened to a drill sergeant.
By day two, they finally confessed they didn’t actually meet on Bumble but were former football players and teammates at Wake Forest University who, as you may or may not know, have become known more recently for their past and future appearances on reality television. Humble as can be, when another diver on the boat asked about their fame, they jokingly referred to each other as washed-up athletes.
I have never been more entertained while diving than when diving with Cameron and James. Not laughing at them but with them, as they had the uncanny ability to relate every dive skill and experience to something they had shared in the past—a football drill, a concussion test or a movie they had watched together. Their back-and-forth banter deserves a show of its own, if you ask me.
“Not many things make me feel like a kid again, but diving does,” said Cameron. And it’s not just about the feeling he gets while underwater and the opportunity to disengage from society that he describes as good for his mental health, but more about the people he gets to share experiences with. It’s obvious from how Cameron talks about his friendship with James how happy he was to go through this course with a friend. “It’s really cool to share this with Matt and see him grow from day one to day three.”
James matched his enthusiasm. “I 100% would not do it without a friend because you grow with that person. It’s always better to go through something with someone else, and you will have that one person that you know for a fact can go dive with you.”
From behind my camera lens, I see two competent and caring dive buddies. Cameron, a supportive friend and buddy waits patiently as James masters his skills, but there’s nothing like witnessing the facial expressions of a new diver underwater when they see that first fish or stingray, and for James, it was all new. Watching his excitement was pure joy.
The shared experience seemed even more meaningful for Cameron, who mentioned he suffered the unexpected loss of his mom earlier this year.
“The big takeaway for me is the need to spend as much time with people you love and care about.” Cameron hopes his new certification will bring more opportunities to explore and dive with his dad, whom he watched dive as a kid. “Seeing my dad in scuba gear was like seeing my dad in a superhero cape,” he recalled.
For James, his 10-year plan includes becoming a divemaster, but in the meantime he’s focused on treasure hunting and preparing for underwater battle if he were ever called to be the first black James Bond.
By day three of their certification course, we were all used to Cameron and James offering to carry our dive gear and tanks, always opening the door and insisting “ladies first.” To many they may be labeled as “celebrities,” but to me they will always be two genuinely nice and funny guys who thrive off each other and have a passion for the underwater world and helping others.
What’s Next for Tyler Cameron and Matt James?
James will be looking to find love on national television, all while expanding his ABC Food Tours offering—an organization he founded to help engage kids in underserved communities in New York City through food tours, physical and mental wellness. Cameron is focused on YouTube and ready to establish a foundation of his own, honoring his late mother. The Andrea C. Cameron foundation will focus on helping first-generation college students afford tuition while also providing unique opportunities—like learning to scuba dive, for example—to kids who would not normally be afforded the opportunity.