A diver’s long swim from dive shop helper to commercial status

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His father paid for his training for Open Water certification. A job in a dive shop opened his eyes to the work available to a scuba diver with the right qualifications. Eric Villeneuve was quickly acquiring them. “I became scuba certified at 16, a Dive Master at 18, an Instructor at 19, and a Commercial Diver at 27. But I have had a set of mask, fins and a snorkel for as long as I remember.”

The underwater working world of Villeneuve, 31, of St-Lazare, Quebec, is varied, including inspections and repairs. “Some jobs require welding, others require using a drill or any number of other tools, and then some require a ruler and the ability to orient yourself by following weld seams under a huge ship,” he says.

“During the course of a week, I might go from diving in sewage installing a valve, to polishing a six-metre (or more) wide propeller on a ship, to inspecting a water intake, to then go dive inside a city’s potable water reservoir, and at the end going to salvage an 8,000-kilogram anchor that a ship accidentally lost.”

The path to working in a field he loved began at the dive shop where he hung out after school. After he was certified, the shop offered him a job. “It started with basic tank moving and rental gear, then it evolved to more responsibilities, more courses, until I was 19 and doing my instructor examination in September 2004. Two months later I was on my way down south to the Bahamas to work as a scuba instructor. Becoming a Commercial Diver came later, after I realized that working a regular job or working at a desk wasn’t for me.”

Asked for his favourite dive site, Villeneuve narrowed it down to two: The wreck of the S.S. Keystorm off Mallorytown, Ontario in the Thousands Islands, and the wreck of the ExUSS Kittiwake in Grand Cayman, British Virgin Islands. “I love wrecks, I love swimming around and through them, trying to picture them as new and fully functional and maintained, the things those ships saw and places they went, it’s something not everyone can experience.”

His most memorable dive was during his honeymoon. Villeneuve and his wife dove with “some crazy French Divemasters” at Rangiroa Atoll in Tahiti. They saw manta rays, dolphin pods, sharks and a Fish ID book worth of other fish. “We dove deep, we did some drifting, saw some amazing coral reefs.”

Underwater life is important to divers and Villeneuve is no exception. “If I had to come back as a marine animal, it would have to be a great white shark, no contest. They’re apex predators, can live in just about any part of the ocean, and there’s so much we don’t know about them.”

Divers often have “dream buddies.” Other than his wife, Villeneuve says he would have liked “seeing how Jacques Cousteau actually dived. But in all honesty, I’d go diving with Richie Kohler any time! That guy is the real deal.”

As for a bucket list of dive locations, he suggests the Florida Keys and Gulf of Mexico in general, as well as the Ex USS Spiegel Grove and Ex USS Oriskany in particular, Bikini Atoll, Chuuk Lagoon and the Canadian West Coast. His reason? “Wrecks.”

Like most serious divers, Villeneuve is concerned with safety and protecting underwater treasures. “If I was to launch an awareness campaign, they would be on making divers become aware of their limitations and that for certain types of diving, training and experience cannot be bought or faked. Too many divers get in trouble doing dives that they should not have been attempting.”

For the sake of ocean and marine life, he encourages divers to achieve better buoyancy control. “I see too many divers look like yoyos and just tear up a coral reef or a wreck. So much damage could be avoided if divers simply made perfect buoyancy a top priority.”

Villeneuve’s work also included the silver screen. “Once, I even got to work on a big Hollywood movie as lead diver because of someone I’d met when I was just a kid working in a dive shop. He knew I had become an instructor and had heard that I had gotten my Commercial Diving ticket. As luck would have it, when the time came and they were looking for a Commercial Diver, who preferably had experience teaching people to scuba, my name came up, or so how I like to think it happened.”

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Kathy is the owner of Kirk Scuba Gear, a passionate Scuba Diver, Ocean Advocate and Managing Editor of The Scuba News Canada

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