Dancer, Surfer, Fisher, TV Star: Diver Sam Simpson
written for DIT by Londi Gamezde
Most kids don’t grow up with ‘commercial diver’ on their When I Grow Up list, next to astronaut, train driver, doctor, ballerina. This means that the divers who train at DIT come from many backgrounds, bringing all sorts of skills, experience and perspectives from the big wide world.
Today’s featured graduate, ocean man Sam Simpson, has a diverse background: in dance, surfing, carpentry and fishing, and recently, he wound up as a reality TV star on a diamond diving trip. He talks to us about his path and what ‘normal’ life is like in front of a camera.
LG: You’re from a family of Alaskan fisherman and ocean folk, but before you became a diver, you were on track to dance as a career. What led you to dancing, and then what led you back to the ocean?
Sam: Well let’s see here. It had actually been five years since I’d hung up my ballet slippers when I enrolled at DIT. I first got excited about dancing seeing the Nutcracker at a young age, and by the time I was 14 I had moved in with my dad and his Croatian wife in Anacortes, Wash., and began dancing and performing with the Vela Luka Croatian Dance Ensemble. I loved the people I performed with. They treated me as family. I got into ballet at 17; I excelled and was close to going professional. It ultimately wasn’t for me as a career and after ballet dancing I taught surfing in San Diego for a few years. After that, I moved back to WA and actually performed as a dancer at “The Can Can Cabaret” in Pike Place Market. I worked swinging a hammer during the day, and then at night I was covered in glitter performing in a cabaret, swinging around gypsy carny folks and burlesque girls in pasties, while still finding time to get to the ocean and surf in some very chilly and beautiful Northwest waves. Very fun times! I’ve always lived close to the ocean and never really left it behind, heading up to Alaska to work every now and then.
LG: Why did you choose DIT and what was your training experience like there?
Sam: I was working in Seattle as a carpenter when a friend of mine mentioned DIT. I had no idea that diving was a career apart from scuba-type stuff you see on TV. I went to visit the school and was hooked immediately. DIT was great, the training was focused and intense. It was hard. I worked three separate jobs and had almost zero time outside of work and school. But the first time I put on a hat to dive it clicked, and I was like, “Yeah, I can do this!”
LG: You were in a reality TV series called ‘Diamond Divers’, about a job you took diving for diamonds off the coast of South Africa. What did you enjoy about having your life filmed? What did you just hate about it?
Sam: What I enjoyed about being filmed was the little space where you can work and move around without people interrupting. Keeping people out of the shot and having security keeping everybody safe are very false blankets wrapped around you but for a little while it’s cool. We were there to be filmed working and diving, but they need drama to keep viewers entertained which is detrimental to productivity. There are some conversations or actions in the show that I would not have been involved in, or I would have had a different stance if I weren’t a character in a program.
The conflicts people see on that show have no place in a professional operation: in reality, as adults, we reconcile conflict quickly and find a solution. There is a bigger picture out there than our personal gripes. Out here on a dive boat or a rig, if anyone created drama such as we see on the “reality shows” they would find him or herself back on the beach looking for a job before they could cash their first check.
On the flip side, we were really never in control. The few moments of fame were nice to indulge in too, feeding the ego a little bit. Just being able to say, “Hey that’s me on TV!” is cool. Still, the person you see on TV isn’t necessarily me, it’s an edited version, a caricature.
LG: What parts of working as a diver are your favorite, that make you grin and think the world is amazing?
Sam: My favorite part of being a diver is the pressure… no pun intended! I do actually like the pressure of having to do a job where failing is not an option. No worms allowed out here. Every diver does the best they can to finish their job correctly or set the next guy up to finish. No one can come out and be dishonest about the work they’ve completed. I like the work schedule, or lack thereof, when I’m at work offshore, I’m 100% at work. And when I’m home – whether it’s two days or two months – that’s all my time to do what I want. Usually my wife has a list of things to keep me busy, so really it’s her time! Also every once in a while when I have time doing in water decompression it’s nice to watch the wildlife in the water and to fantasize about what monster might be swimming up to pay you a visit.
LG: What career and life advice would you give someone about to get into diving?
Sam: Make up your mind and get rid of any doubt. It’s a great job but there is no room to second guess yourself.
There you have it, folks: not for the wishy-washy! Make like Sam and head over to DIT for a school tour and get hooked!