I will never claim to have been Harlon’s best friend. I only met Harlon at the end of 2005 through a mutual friend and long time dive buddy, Tom Velie. The first thing that I noticed was his infectious smile and great attitude. Harlon had a way about him. He was very easy to be around and everyone flocked to him. Including me. He had that quality of leadership that all we Scuba Instructors desire. I remember thinking this guy would be a great instructor.
After dragging Harlon around the various wrecks in the Gulf of Mexico for a year, I finally coerced a “at the time” very prone to motion sickness, Harlon to follow me on a trip involving small planes, small boats, and bouncy conditions in a third world country in Central America. I mention this because when I met Harlon at the destination it was the only time he didn’t have his smiley face, because of the aforementioned small planes, small boats, and bouncy conditions, but we all laughed about it and had a great time. The week lead to some amazing adventures including the greatest night dive ever with huge dog toothed snapper and 6’ long moray eel that accompanied us the entire dive, the distant electrical storm lighting up the night giving us quick glimpses of the surrounding reef, the flight of rays that seemed to fly in and land in dust clouds like aquatic butterflies, Doc’s Tec dive to 101’, and Tom’s nurse shark attack (not really, yes really). At the end of the week Harlon asked me the question “What would it take to become a Scuba Instructor?” Little did he know, he already had the attitude and passion, we just needed to add some certifications.
Over the next two years Harlon made time to complete the challenging quest of becoming a PADI Master Diver then Certified PADI Divemaster. I say challenging because Harlon had a busy career, amazing family, and 400 mile drive to contend with his time to make it through his training. For those of you that knew Harlon, you know that there are very few people on this planet that possess the passion and willingness to commit one’s self to accomplishing a goal as Harlon Smith Jr. and he did, almost effortlessly.
It was two years later that I received a phone call from a very proud and excitable Harlon. I will never forget the sound of excitement and gratitude in his voice minutes after completing his instructor exam in Destin, Florida. I smile when I say I felt like a proud father, but I did. Its funny because Harlon was 360 days older than me. He thanked me for making his journey easy. I remember telling him. “It was always there I just nudged you in the right direction, you did this. Thank you for being so passionate about the sport and easy to teach. Congratulations, brother and welcome aboard.” Harlon was like a sponge, he took it all in. I loved having him in class. I even got a call from the most experienced Instructor Trainer that coached him the last four days of the course to tell me that he was one of her favourite students. I was told later that Harlon scored amongst the highest out of the group. We had no doubt. After certifying Harlon as an assistant instructor I had met all qualifications to obtain the highest rating available to a Scuba Instructor, the PADI Course Director. So in a way Harlon helped me get my certification.
I liked being around Harlon, he always reminded me of what was important in life. I had and still have a tendency to forget what is most important. My career takes up allot of my time and I seem to never have (or make) time for things that needed my attention. Harlon taught me that the time is there, make it. Absolutely nothing is more important than faith, family and friends. Harlon was also a man of conviction and always did what he said he was going to do to the fullest of his ability. I also learned from Harlon that if you treat everyone fairly and with respect people will remember this about you. One may never know how your interactions with someone may change the course of their life, and even the smallest gesture or guidance can plant a lasting seed that can grow into something amazing. We all have someone that has done this for us in for us and they may or may not even know that they helped shape a part of our lives. This is even more so important for the professional instructor as we have a “captive” audience to force our theories and opinions on. Our behaviours whether role model or not so role model may have a waterfall affect that we could never be made aware of. Meeting Harlon’s dive buddies and students told the tale, he had done it right. His infectious passion for diving had been instilled in them. Stories of diving with Harlon lit up their faces. I saw his smile and joy for life in them. He had taken them on that great adventure and given them that sense of accomplishment that only the best instructors can do.
This is who Harlon was to me.
I will remember my friend fondly every time that I share the Instructor’s Creed with new Instructors, for in my mind he exemplified it.
Instructor's CreedAs a scuba instructor, I have the opportunity to see:
Fear change to courage
Faint-heartedness converted into accomplishment
Timidity transformed into confidence
As a scuba instructor, I can:
Open hearts and minds to the hidden beauty of nature's creation and our obligation to protect it
Foster self-esteem in another person
Teach the value of character and integrity
Transform another human being and change a life for the better and forever.