Former soldier swaps parachuting for diving in bid to find adventure

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Mark SmithMark Smith was looking for “something adventurous” when he took up diving. He had started parachuting but he wanted something that could be more easily accessed. “Diving seemed to fit in between.”

He started diving n 1991 when he was in the army. “When I left the army my first job was a commercial diver. By the time I became a police officer I swore I would never dive for money again. Then I missed diving and one thing led to another and I joined our police dive team.” Smith, who is 45 and based in Nanaimo, British Columbia, is a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. He instructs in re-breather diving.

Smith believes in non-stop learning. “As a diver, instructor and continual learner I firmly believe that divers should always strive to learn more. Whether it is the instructor, the book or the dives or your fellow students, you will always take away something that will make you a better diver. Shop around and make sure you look for quality instructors from reputable shops.”

There are also new experiences, such as crossing paths with wildlife. His most memorable experience under water was not with aquatic life but with a species that does more flying than swimming, although adept at both.

“I was on my surface-supplied course with the RCMP dive team and there were four of us plodding around in the muck at 40 feet of water. I am assuming there might have been pandemonium up top as they had been ordering us divers all over the place  . . . We all were ordered to stop and face our lines, as the silt cleared I looked to my left and saw that the four of us were standing in line on a muddy ledge and all of us looking up at our hoses. Then, something caught my eye. In front of me appeared a Cormorant swimming past us and he kept checking over his wings to look at us. If a bird could have a stunned look, he certainly did. I then looked to the divers and noticed that everyone was staring at him swimming past us. In unison I could see these shiny helmets all turning to watch this bird swim past us. Seeing that bird in 40 feet of water trying to figure out why we were there will be etched in my mind forever.”

Asked if he could come back as a marine species what would it be, Smith replied “A Humpback whale, I would like to travel the world, again and again!”

Picking favourite dive sites is more difficult. “This is a hard one. There are so many excellent dives for so many different reasons. Earlier this year I got to visit the Tulum caves in the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico, I am hooked and can’t wait to go back.” Dive sites on his bucket list include Bikini Atoll, Truk Lagoon and Galapagos.

Asked about who he would like to have as a dive buddy, Smith replied “Ideally it would be Bob Teather, but to dive with my son and daughter would be a dream.” The late Bob Teather was an RCMP diver and dive instructor who was a driving force in developing an RCMP dive team in British Columbia.

The military and diving also remain close to Smith’s heart. An international Security Assistance Force (ISAF) coffee mug from Afghanistan sits on his bedside table. “There is a framed report from the Illustrated London News in July 25 1914 of the first underwater photograph ever taken and how it was done, hanging above me.”

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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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