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Perseverance and Grit: The Divers Beneath Puget Sound

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  • The diving presence in Seattle is a surprise to many. Filson Film’s ‘Below the Surface: Divers Institute of Technology’ shows what it takes to survive in the cold, dark and murky waters.
  • Founded in 1968, Divers Institute of Technology equips people for underwater construction and offers international certification. Its alumni have gone on to support the maritime industry worldwide.

Sometimes, entire worlds of exploration and adventure are hidden in plain sight. One doesn’t always need to find tall mountains and scary cliffs, or spend days traveling to remote foreign lands. At times, all you need is a peek beneath the surface of familiar terrain you’ve taken for granted your entire life. This holds true even in the environments of today’s familiar modern cities.

Like any big port city, Seattle evolved side-by-side with its endless Puget Sound coastline. The many islands and waterways are a natural component to life in Seattle, with residents and visitors often taking to the waters to sail and fish and enjoy all kinds of other recreational outlets. And so, they think they know these waters so very well because they see them all the time, and they’re such a huge component of their everyday lives.

As you’d expect with Amazon headquartered in the city and Microsoft in the suburbs, Seattle has a reputation as a high-tech hub. Biotech is important there as well, and Internet start-ups are seemingly everywhere. In short, it’s easy to imagine that most of the workforce is white-collar because that’s what’s most obvious on the surface.

DIT’s top priority is to equip graduates with the knowledge and skills needed to thrive in the diving industry. Photo courtesy of Divers Institute of Technology and Filson Films.

But while what people see and notice are the Amazons and the Starbucks, there is a busy industrial side to the city that most people never encounter. But you have to look in special places to discover it. A person may think they know the city – they know the streets and the parks and how to get around. They certainly know their favorite restaurant, and chances are it’s an amazing seafood place right on the water. And of course, everyone’s more than familiar with being on the water. Yet how many people have ever thought to look under the surface of this oh-so-familiar element?

It turns out that Seattle has a large diving presence that most people don’t even know about. It’s a bit of a surprise since diving in the waters surrounding Seattle is certainly not for the faint of heart. It is cold, dark, murky, and shadowy. In Filson Film’s Below the Surface: Divers Institute of Technology, we learn firsthand what it takes to survive in such difficult waters.

“A lot can go dangerously wrong quickly underwater if you’re not prepared. You’re in a hostile environment not designed for humans to work in…” Dan Henderson, an instructor at DIT.

“We’re working in an environment that we humans were not meant to live in.” If anything, that’s an understatement. But on the other hand, if you learn to dive there, you can dive absolutely anywhere. In the commercial diving industry, the “job scope is pretty diverse – as long as there’s stuff in the water, divers will have to go in and deal with it.”

Training is everything. There is a huge learning curve simply to become able to move around and function down there. And of course, there are ever-present dangers, in tight claustrophobic places that don’t allow for fast exits should an emergency arise.

Many of their jobs involve salvage, where sunken ships or barges need to be removed from the bay’s floor. The video has some amazing footage of divers using underwater chainsaws to cut through both wood and metal. And there’s even arc-cutting where a special hose supplies oxygen so that the flame can burn underwater to cut thick metal. Obviously, it takes a special person to persevere and handle the amount of both physical and mental stress of doing these dangerous jobs. But they shrug it off with typical aplomb and just admit that to do this, “Ya gotta have a little grit.”

As they will tell you at the Divers Institute of Technology, “Safety is taught from Day One.” One of the instructors elaborates on this and doesn’t agree that the word “danger” is germane to what they do. Are there risks involved? Sure, but “to call what we do ‘dangerous’ is to call us incompetent. We have risks involved in what we do, but we are trained to be excellent risk managers.” Risks are present in most jobs and situations, but with the proper instruction and training, there should be very little actual danger.

The teams who work in these difficult confines are a close-knit group. “In diving, we count on each other – it’s a brotherhood for me.” The teams frequently have to visit remote locations to do their underwater job, and when you are far from your natural environment, they instinctively rely on their team. One member, in a heartfelt moment, simply reiterates that “when we’re down there, we’re all we have to count on.”

After a job is completed and the team heads back up, there’s always that feeling of relief when you break the surface of the water to reemerge in your own natural element. You can breathe the air naturally and see the shore, land, and familiar tranquil surface of the water. But that surface is a complete mirage that betrays absolutely no hint whatsoever of what lies beneath, or of what might await an explorer who chooses to find out. A completely different world lies under it, within plain sight of the comforting familiarity of city streets.

Watch the Filson film, Below the Surface: Divers Institute of Technology, here:

For more information on the Diver Institute of Technology, checkout their video gallery.

About Filson

Established in Seattle in 1897 to outfit prospectors headed for the Yukon, the company’s 123-year legacy is built upon its reputation for honesty, quality and durability. Filson’s long-lasting gear is the choice of explorers, adventurers, ranchers, hunters, anglers, engineers and anyone with a passion for the outdoors. Over a century after its founding, the Filson headquarters remain in Seattle, Washington.

About the Diver Institute of Technology

Located in Seattle, WA, the Divers Institute of Technology (DIT) was founded in 1968 and is one of the premier commercial diving schools in the world. DIT prepares students for commercial diving. Graduates can perform deep dives up to 165 feet and use various decompression methods. Instructors are industry experienced and the curriculum is designed for success.

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