and the company is awesome, and once again, I’m reminded of the reason why I do what I do. The women that I get to meet, write about and interview are some pretty amazing, bad ass women and Diana Benton is no exception to that.
I was introduced to her through one of her colleagues at Search and Rescue and we decided to meet at a little coffee shop and sit outside. She brought her puppy! Oh my goodness, she was way too cute! Our interview was interrupted a few times with people coming by to meet her little English Staffordshire Terrier.
So who is Diana Belton? Diana is a member of the Canadian Coast Guard Dive team and has been for just over a year now; she does the search and rescue portion of the hovercrafts just off the SAR base off Sea Island, outside of Vancouver, BC Canada. Their team has the capabilities of penetrating through surface supplies, should a ship flip or go under. A whole team is often deployed, two divers, some tenders and someone working on the panels, so that there is always communication to the topside.
She shares with me that the job can sometimes be a little gruesome. They can get a lot of jumpers and such in the Vancouver area, from some of the bridges, but their job of finding them is balanced with the fact that they’re out there for the families of the victim. They help bring closure to some of these horrible situations. They also find themselves doing evacuations with the hovercraft from remote beaches where ambulatory or fire services can’t access them or get the patient back to their ambulance.
She was competing against 11 other people; seven of them made it through, six males and her. Apparently, it’s a very grueling process of 17 weeks. A few ended up quitting on their own because of the difficulty of the program; she referred to it as “G.I. Jane School”. They would start their day with sometimes a five kilometer run and then swim across the Fraser River followed with training with lots of equipment.
“Before I started my training with them and before I went into the competition, I was doing a lot of pushups and trying to do pull ups and sit ups, trying to get myself into shape because, physically I am strong but the male DNA always is a bit stronger. So you have to kind of be strong and smart and be able to have your team trust you. So I feel like through that grueling 17 weeks we became a team and really at the end of it, the people that don’t make it are the ones that people don’t trust their lives to”.
She went on to share that it’s her peers who became her instructors; they’re the ones doing the physics, maintenance classes and all these different components. Her training wasn’t just diving, she was evaluated as a team member and if her team could trust her with their lives. She had to be quick and make smart decisions, be flexible and not question each other. Trust is very important. The training with this group bonds them like nothing else. I can see how proud she is of her accomplishment and as she should be!
Diana’s love for the water started in her 20’s. She was going to the University of Victoria to become a Marine Biologist and working part-time at a car dealership. One of the mechanics there was a scuba diver. He had asked her if she had ever been scuba diving and she replied she had not, that she wanted to be a marine biologist but had never been to the ocean. She was from Alberta.
Her mom told her, as a child, she was pretty sure she hated the ocean! But then she began to read Jacques Cousteau’s books (which she still has to this day]. She got a group of people together and they did their open water. The following year she used her tuition money for the next year on a trip to the Caribbean to do her advanced and then went to live on a sailboat for 3 months. She did not go back to university that year. She worked construction jobs and went after her dive masters while living in Calgary.
She fell in love with diving! She did her instructors and then went back to the Caribbean and worked there for a season. When she came back home, she thought about going back to university but got a job in the Bahamas and then, Malta.
She was watching all these fish and learning so much that she felt that she was learning more IN the ocean then learning about it in a classroom, under a microscope.
She moved to Malta, then England, and then Mexico. Diana would work six to seven month contracts and then go home and visit her mom for a few weeks and then go somewhere else. However, after visiting Australia, she decided to stay for 5 years. There, she would spend a lot of time snorkeling the shallow reefs, often sighting 20 species of sharks in one snorkel.
After the 5 years, Diana moved back home to Canada and worked in a dive shop, continued teaching and got quite far through the PADI organization, she became unchallenged and bored; especially after living in a beach house in Coral Bay in Western Australia. She had become used to living with a population of about 75 people and a National Geographic show airing every day in her ocean playground outside her home. She loved the people she worked with but needed more than the retail store.
From there, she moved up to Squamish and met a Coast Guard employee. It was brought to her attention that this might be something she’d be interested in applying to. Her qualifications didn’t transfer to Canadian waters so she started with fleet and then soon was able to apply for a diving job thereafter. When she found out what a challenge it would be to be accepted to go through, she thought she’d give it a try and she’s been happy ever since. However, if someone offered her visa back to Australia to be a mermaid again, she’d seriously consider it! But, for now and for what she does, she’s proud to be a Coast Guard and very proud to work with the people she works with! “They are stunning people, they really look out for one another and you have to. This is probably the perfect place for me in Canada.”
We chatted further about travelling the world, nudibranchs, coral and life! I could have sat there for another hour listening to her tell stories about her life. Hopefully I’ll get a chance again to learn and find out more soon! But for now, I got to meet another bad ass mermaid!
Thank you, Diana and your team, for your service to protecting the people near and on our waters.
At Barnacle Babes, we aim to be interactive, engaging, proactive, purposeful, actionable and supportive to all women, their families, their ocean cause and sport.