I was shocked to hear the news today that Wes Skiles had died diving off the coast of Florida … doing what he loved.
There’s little I can add to what’s already been written by those who knew him better than me. When I worked for Jacksonville’s Public Broadcasting station, I met Wes on a couple of occasions as he worked on “Water’s Journey”. But it was on a winter dive trip to the Bahamas that I got watch this professional diver and videographer work.
Most Florida divers are at least familiar with Capt. Slate, who run one of the best little dive operations in the Florida Keys … Captain Slate’s Atlantis Dive Center. (you can send me the check later, Slate.) If you’re not, you probably should be. And for vacation every year, Slate gets together a bunch of his friends, mostly dive industry professionals, and they charter the 104’ Aqua Cat live-aboard dive boat sailing out of Nassau. Andie and I got to go one year, thanks to my cousin Mike who works in the biz. Wes was also on that trip.
We talked some shop. Wes spent a good deal of his surface interval time tinkering with the lights and housings for the HiDef cameras he’d brought on the trip. I remember Wes getting in the water, and watching the deckhands gingerly hand Wes the cameras overboard … cameras and gear which cost more than the kids working the deck probably made in a dozen seasons.
But Wes in the water was a joy to watch. He was such a professional. On a night dive, Wes and his lights lit up the reef like day, and seeing him come around the coral formations was like watching a scene from “The Abyss” … or maybe an underwater version of “Close Encounters”.
On the shark dive, with 50 or 60 reef sharks, untold numbers of yellowtails and amberjacks swarming around what is affectionately known as a ‘chumsicle’, Wes was in the middle of it … kicking that slow, measured frog kick that cave divers use to avoid stirring up silt in an underwater overhead environment, but which, once you learn it, just seems natural.
Cave diving is just flat dangerous. Wes had spent more time in Florida’s aquifer than probably anyone. His footage of that amazing, mostly unseen world in “Water’s Journey” and elsewhere is breathtaking, and one of his photos is on the cover of the August National Geographic. For him to lose his life in an open-water dive in the usually calm waters off Florida is probably more shocking than to think that he’s gone. But every diver knows, or should, that every time you strap on the tank and start towards the bottom, you’re in a hostile environment that can be very unforgiving.
Sometimes we’re privileged to have our lives touched by very special people. Wes was that kind of person. I wish I’d have had an opportunity to know him better. He was the rare person who took his passions in life, in Wes’ case diving and videography, and became one of the best in the world. And I know I’m the richer for having made his acquaintance.
Auf Wiedersehen, Wes.