In Recess

Below the Surface

A Fort Bend assistant district attorney stays calm under pressure 120 feet below the sea.

Interview by Eric Quitugua

Lauren Valenti Diving in Iceland
Fort Bend Assistant District Attorney Lauren Valenti became a certified diver in 2011. Here, Valenti and her fiancé, Houston attorney Derek Pershing, navigate Silfra in Thingvellir National Park, Iceland. (Photo by Derek Pershing)

Give her decent visibility and smooth water at the surface and Fort Bend Assistant District Attorney Lauren Valenti is all in. Away from the wood-trimmed windows and caramel-colored benches of county courthouses, Valenti’s offshore life is one of Caribbean blue, swimming beneath the sea through fields of brainy looking sponges and granite-skinned sharks. The Florida-bred DA spoke to the Texas Bar Journal about her newfound love of diving, her gear, and upcoming adventures.

How long have you been diving? Where did your interest in it come from?
I became certified by the Professional Association of Diving Instructors in 2011. Truthfully, I didn’t really have an interest in diving. Although I grew up in Tampa, Florida, and frequently went to the beach, the idea of not being able to talk and being deep in water away from the surface was not appealing to me. In December 2011, my fiancé, Derek, got me scuba lessons for Christmas. Finishing my certification was like pulling teeth and I honestly didn’t think I would ever dive again after that.

What was the turnaround?
The stress of training for diving just freaked me out. The sensation of not being able to breathe underwater was weird—having to take my mask off underwater but still breathe only through my mouth, learning how to navigate with a compass, and not being able to scream for help if something went wrong. When I did my certification dives in open water, we had to go out on a boat and the water was really rough and I got sea sick. I felt I would never want to do it again. My instructor didn’t even think I would finish the certification. So partially to show my instructor she was wrong and partially because I didn’t want to end my diving experience on a bad note, I agreed to go on a dive trip to Bonaire. Once I realized I knew what I was doing and I didn’t have to worry about learning new skills, I could actually just relax, swim, and look at wildlife.

Lauren Valenti diving in Thailand
Lauren Valenti’s dive trips have included a stop in the Phi Phi Islands in Thailand.

What can you tell me about your first dive? Where was it? Were you with friends who also were divers?
Following my certification, we went to Bonaire, which is in the Southern Caribbean and is one of the “ABC” islands—Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao. It had some of the best diving I’ve done. It’s pretty much all shore diving. You drive around the island; look for dive flags, which signify a dive site; swim out from the beach; and drop down to the reef. We did a fluorescent dive where you go out at night with a black light. During a night dive you see different types of animals and the black light makes some fish and creatures in the sand glow.

How do you prep for a dive?
Stay hydrated prior to and between dives, get familiar with my equipment and my dive buddy’s equipment, and come up with a plan with my dive buddy for the dive and what we will do/where to meet if separated.

What kind of gear do you take underwater?
Oxygen tank; goggles; fins; wet suit or dry suit, depending on water temperature and time under; buoyancy control device, or BCD, which is the vest you wear that can also contain your weights (if not, you may also need a separate weight belt); knife; and flashlight if doing a night dive.

What conditions do you need for a dive to go smoothly?
No heavy currents unless you are doing a drift dive. If that can’t be avoided, swim against the current first and then you can swim back with the current. No choppy water, especially if diving from a boat. And decent visibility underwater.

Do dives ever go as planned?
Most of the time, yes. But if they don’t, things can go bad quickly, which is why it’s important to check your gauges and always dive with a buddy. We did have one incident on a night dive where Derek’s air tank was leaking and one of the dive operators turned his air off without him knowing, which is why it is important to control your breathing on a dive.

What are some places you’ve recently checked off your list?
The most recent places we have gone diving include the Florida Aquarium (diving with sharks); Silfra in Thingvellir National Park in Iceland—this is where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet and I had to get dry suit certified for this; Cabo San Lucas, Mexico; Phuket, Thailand; and Belize twice.

Where else do you plan on diving?
I would like to dive in the Galapagos Islands and the Great Barrier Reef and go on a night dive in Kona, Hawaii, with giant manta rays.TBJ