When Freediving Instructor David Cobiella invited his girlfriend photographer and springs advocate Tessa Skiles to attend one of his freediving safety events on Jan. 18, she was happy to help and was planning to photograph the event.
But, Cobiella, 33, of Gainesville, who is also the founder of an environmental protection organization Kings of the Springs (KOTS), had another goal in mind.
“I organize community freedive events to keep novice freedivers stay safe in the springs, which means I am out [in the springs] once a week,” Cobiella said about inviting Skiles to the Wes Skiles Peacock Springs State Park, which is named after Tessa’s father.
Wes Skiles was an explorer and photographer who grew up in Jacksonville and then spent time living in Brandford near Ginnie Springs. He conducted film projects for National Geographic Society and PBS and helped map and lay safety lines in many springs. Wes died during a dive in near Boynton Beach, Florida, in 2010.
Cobiella said he asked Tessa, 27, of High Springs to bring her camera to document the event.
“She is a nature photographer, so all I had to do was convince her that I wanted to get a ‘certain shot’ that involved me standing in front of her with us facing each other,” Cobiella said.
“After she set up the framing and composition of the shot and adjusted her camera settings, she handed the camera to one of the other freedivers attending the event to take the final photos. And once she dove down to get into position, I grabbed the ring from the freediving float and chased her down.”
Cobiella said it worked out perfectly.
“She was posing like she was supposed to, but instead of taking her hands like we agreed, I dropped to one knee and proposed. She never saw it coming!”
Tessa and Cobiella met in 2017 while they were collaborating on various projects in springs conservation and education. “I was working with my non-profit, Kings of the Springs,” Cobiella said, and “Tessa was working with the Florida Springs Institute. She discovered our work and reached out to collaborate—the rest is history,” he said.
Cobiella, who is currently developing a freediving program for Scuba Monkey Dive Center in Alachua, said he and Tessa dive together at least once a week. “I try to keep people safe in the Florida Springs by encouraging the buddy system and certifying people in freediving,” he said.
Over the past four years of diving together Cobiella said their favorite adventures so far have been collecting Megalodon teeth at Venice Beach and freediving in the Ichetucknee Blue Hole.
Cobiella said he knew Tessa was the one after he discovered that Tessa cared a lot about his thoughts and feelings and could likely help him grow as a person.
“My feelings really solidified once I realized how consistently insightful she was, not just in her evaluation of my behavior and feelings, but her own as well,” he said. “It became pretty clear that we could handle any conflict while staying on the same team.”
After the proposal, Tessa made an announcement on her Facebook page.
“Yesterday David asked me to compose a casual couples pic, one of us facing each other holding hands. I framed up the shot, dialed in the settings, and handed the camera over to a friend. We emptied our lungs and sunk into position,” she wrote.
“I was looking down and reaching out my hand to grab his. I look up and he’s on one knee while a string of bubbles escape a small handcrafted wooden box. In the box was the most beautiful opal surrounded by gold and silver vines, it was the wedding ring of my dreams,” Tessa continued.
“I nodded ‘yes’ but I was in complete disbelief. We shot to the surface for air. I hooted and laughed in excitement, I tackled him back in the water and hugged him while we floated together to the steps.”
Tessa added that Cobiella had already told their parents. “But he wanted Dad to be there and that’s why he proposed at Peacock,” she wrote. “I cried in my mask for the first time. It was perfect in every way, and, like that, I became engaged to the love of my life.”