“We all come from the sea, but we are not all of the sea. Those of us who are, we children of the tides, must return to it again and again, until the day we don’t come back, leaving only that which was touched along the way.”
– Frosty Hesson
Diving, as any sport, has traditions and customs that date back to its beginnings. And as in anything in life, you have those who want to learn, and those who teach them. But once in a great while, you have that individual whose passion and love for what they do transcend the relationship of simple instructor and student. They have immersed themselves in their chosen profession, experienced more than many will ever have a chance to, and live to impart their wisdom, knowledge, and passion to others around them, and for those who identify with and accept the challenge of learning under these Masters, a bond forms greater than that of any student and teacher.
I began my diving career in 2001. I found myself in a local dive shop asking questions and signing up for class. That was the first day I met Mark Meadows. Mark was the head instructor for the shop, and he’d been diving longer than anyone there. He had grown up diving in California but had transplanted to Florida in the 1970’s and dove with the early cave divers before eventually moving to Kentucky. Mark was one of those people who could be gruff and abrupt to those he didn’t know or he felt didn’t share his love or dedication to diving, but if he took a liking to you, he was your strongest supporter.
Mark was the person who introduced me to the idea of the “dive gods”; those that came before us and paved the way for us, the giants whose shoulders we stand on. The father of our sport, Cousteau, but also the likes of Sheck Exley, Bill Stone, and others. He took me under his wing early on, grooming me for leadership, introducing me and others he felt were kindred spirits to new challenges and types of diving. He was the first in line if we had an equipment problem to sort out, or to pass down or build equipment he felt we needed as leaders. He offered to mentor me in becoming an SSI DiveCon, and introduced me to the realm of solo and technical diving. He put together my first pony bottle rig and presented it to me upon completing my SDI solo certifications.
Mark was there as I completed my DiveCon certification and immediately put me to work preparing me for instructorship, instilling in me not only the knowledge of what to teach, but his method of how to teach; his approach and philosophy to diving. To him, we were not instructors or dive leaders, we were true mentors to the next generation. We were stewards of our sport and we weren’t supposed to have others look up to us as dive gods ourselves; we were to be the humble person who learned everything we could, but passed our love and knowledge on to those who were to come after us. Our sport only lives and grows because others hear that call of the ocean and want to see what’s beneath the waves. One of his greatest pieces of advice was that no matter what I did, to always remember and pass my knowledge and passion on to my divers, to get them to see and feel what I felt each time I dropped on a dive.
I began my formal instructorship training in 2005 under Mark. I had the privilege of learning under a true Master and friend and looked forward to becoming an instructor under him. Unfortunately Mark was involved in a car accident in 2006, never recovered, and passed away February 21st, 2007. I went on to receive my NAUI instructor rating and eventually left the shop I taught with to form Aquatic Dreams Diving with the idea to teach and share Mark’s vision. The best compliments I’ve ever received are from those students and divers who say that I’m not like other instructors, that I’m patient and calm and I see divers as friends and companions, not customers and students. That was Mark’s idea of what we should be, so maybe there’s more than a little of him in how I teach.
I’ve tried explaining the Master/Student relationship to divers many times, and sometimes you get those strange looks but in others you see it resonate in them as they understand that bond. It’s well beyond the traditional student and teacher relationship you see in so many dive shops today, as it’s a long term commitment, not a short term business transaction. The relationship takes a student who has much of the same mindset as the master, and a willingness to apprentice, to learn and absorb all they have to offer; and from the master, it requires the patience and willingness to share all they know and pass that along to those diving with them, to give their divers experience and training that may be well above and beyond what’s in the books or told they have to teach, or sold in a class. The closest I’ve ever come to defining it for people I talk to is the idea of the Servant Leader. The person who may be senior, but they live to serve those around them, to raise them up and give them everything they need to realize their own potential.
This February will be the 10th anniversary of Mark’s passing. As the date approaches I find myself thinking back on my diving career, all that I’ve seen and done, the opportunities I’ve had, the friends I’ve made, those lost along the way, and the divers I’ve trained and call not customers, but truly friends and colleagues. And I think Mark would be proud with what we’ve built and continue to grow around his vision. I try to honor his legacy and close with one of my favorite personal quotes that has stayed with me for many years:
“For truly, in the end, we save only what we love, we love only what we know, and we know only what we are taught.”
Mark, we’ll meet again someday, explore new waters, and have a drink afterwards as we catch up, but until then, thank you, for everything.