Erickson was born in South Dakota and the Erickson family later moved to Chicago during the early 1930s. It was in Lake Michigan where he had his introduction to the underwater world. He loved the water becoming a competitive swimmer in high school and eventually a lifeguard.. His skills eventually brought him to the University of Southern California, where he was on the Varsity Swimming Team.
During World War II, Erickson was a Paratrooper in the U.S. Army. Following the war, he attended Northwestern University, earning a Bachelors of Science Degree in Physical Education (1949) and a Masters Degree in Education (1953). Over his three decades of coaching in high school and at Loyola University of Chicago, Erickson was the leader of many championship teams.
Beginning in the summer of 1959 he ran the Erickson Underwater Swimming School. He became a scuba diver and in 1961 Erickson became a Diving Instructor at the first NAUI Instructor Certification Course in Houston. Five years later, in 1966, Ralph Erickson and John Cronin (then the Mid-Western Sales Rep for U.S. Divers) formed the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) and Erickson was made President.
He also created and implemented the training program used by PADI. Erickson wrote the first PADI instructional guidelines with student performance objectives. That was considered new and radical back then. But today, performance objectives are the cornerstone of state-of-the-art diver education. Erickson established the basic course requirements and lecture outlines for 11 PADI Certification Levels -- Skin Diver through Master Instructor. Not only had no one done that before, but the structure and flow he developed are the backbone of PADI's continuing education system to this day. Erickson also launched its instructor publication ... the Undersea Journal.
In June 1987, Ralph Erickson retired coaching at Loyola University, but not from teaching scuba. From 1981 to 1989, Ralph and his wife, Karen, own and operate the International PADI Instructor Training Center in Austin, Texas. The name was changed to International Training Center, Inc., which Erickson managed and operated from 1989 through the present.
Erickson continues to be very active in the growth of PADI and the diving industry. Erickson has written many articles on diving and water sports for trade journals and magazines. Ralph Erickson has received many awards and honours for his contributions to scuba diving.