Jaywalking: Mackin living a dream

  • Once a diver like Josiah Mackin gets used to swimming with the sharks, he actually enjoys it and harbors no fear of the underwater predator that could tear him to shreds. submitted photo

Monday, February 19, 2018

What Turners Falls native Josiah Mackin calls work, most people call vacation.

The 36-year old is a diving instructor in Utila, a small island (11 kilometers) off the northern coast of Honduras. For the past nine years, the 1999 graduate of Turners Falls High School, who played football and basketball as well as lacrosse with the Catamount program at Indoor Action Sports, has done more than 5,000 dives as well as everything from exploring underwater caves, to feeding sharks, and everything in between. Now, he uses his experience to teach courses to those wishing to become instructors themselves, as well as leading dives.

So how exactly does one go about working for his family’s construction business, to working on a beach?

Mackin spent his post-high school years working for Mackin Construction. During that time, he spent his time away from work traveling around the world. That led him to Australia in 2001, where he was vacationing with three friends. The four friends decided to do a diving class during their trip.

“I was the worst one and I was the most afraid,” Mackin recalled of his first time.

In the years that followed, Mackin worked for the family business during the spring, summer and fall, and continued to travel across the globe during his time off in the winter. During that span, he continued diving for leisure, but realized he wanted to get a job where he could constantly travel.

“Someone told me to go where there are umbrellas in drinks and girls in bikinis,” Mackin joked.

In 2009, he told his family he was going to quit the business and go to Honduras to train as a diving instructor. It’s one of those conversations that might seem a bit difficult to start, but Mackin said his family was very supportive.

“In an area like this, where we don’t live next to the ocean, it’s not really something people do,” Mackin said. “I quit the 109-year-old family business. I told my dad I was going to quit and he said, ‘I want to be the first person you certify.’”

The past nine years have been exactly what Mackin had wanted when he set out to become a diving instructor. After getting certified in 2009, Mackin spent 3.5 years in Honduras before he left to work in Fiji where he managed an island resort. He worked on a small island where there were no cars, no stores, just tourists. He did a bit of everything there, from leading dives to fixing boats. During his time there, Mackin helped lead a shark dive, which goes out three days a week, and divers get to hand feed sharks. Oh, and there are no protective cages. You are swimming alongside tiger sharks, bull sharks and lemon sharks. Eight different species, according to Mackin. He admitted that there was some trepidation the first time he went into the water with sharks, but that you quickly realize that it’s nothing to fear.

“When you take people on these dives, you get to see what sharks are really like,” he said.

Following his two years in Fiji, Mackin moved on to work in Indonesia, on a small island called Gili Air, off the coast of Bali. There, he did a lot of the same things he did in Fiji. That eventually led him to Mexico, where he worked at Carmen Beach, just south of Cancun on the Yucatan, Peninsula. It was there that he learned to cave dive, perhaps the only thing that could be more frightening than jumping into shark-infested waters.

“If you cave dive long enough, eventually you’ll die,” Mackin said, perhaps only half-joking.

Mackin said he would lead dives into “cenotes,” which are huge underwater caves. Many are fresh-water, and were used by the Mayans to speak to the Gods. They are absolutely beautiful (I would suggest Googling it), but also not for the faint of heart.

“I was timid at first,” Mackin explained. “Imagine visibility is zero and you’re wedged between two rocks. It’s definitely the most unnerving part of your life. You might go underneath a highway, and you can hear cars over your head. It’s freaky.”

From there, Mackin went to work on the island of Zanzibar, which is off the east coast of Tanzania. He worked at a small resort there that catered to wealthy individuals and featured incredible diving. After a year, Mackin moved back to where it all started, returning to Honduras where he has spent the past 13 months teaching diving instructors at the Utila Dive Center and is now the course director of a class that runs three weeks each month and graduates are PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) certified.

When leading dives, a typical day for Mackin begins at 6:30 a.m. as he prepares all the equipment and the boats leave at 8. Mackin said a typical group does two dives in the morning and two dives in the afternoon. The boats then head back to shore, where most people hit the dive shop for drinks on the dock and taking in the sunset. Sound like quite a nice job to have? It is.

“Everyone is always in a good mood, too, because they are on holiday,” Mackin added.

As for the dives themselves, Mackin said they dive with one tank of oxygen and most go to about 130 feet down. He said that with one tank, the “end of the line” is 300 feet, because after that other tanks are needed, including a helium tank that is very expensive. Mackin said the deepest he has gone is 250 feet, and there is still plenty of light at that depth.

He is now 5,000 dives into his career, with many more to come. It’s a far cry from the 2001 tourist who dove with his three friends. Since then, two of the friends have gone diving a couple of more times, while the other never went again. Mackin, meanwhile, has discovered a nice career in a competitive field, one that includes some beautiful scenery.

“Every time I teach an instructor’s course I tell the students, ‘The reason you are here is because you want to teach people and take them places most only see on TV,’” he concluded.

Jason Butynski is a Greenfield native and Recorder sportswriter. His email address is jbutynski@recorder.com. Like him on Facebook and leave your feedback at www.facebook.com/jaybutynski.