Rich Walker is a full-time instructor with Global Underwater Explorers in the United Kingdom, but has worked for nearly 15 years at the University of Sheffield as a researcher studying how blood flows around the body. His knowledge of physiology and physics gives him a unique edge as a diving instructor.
Where did you learn to dive?
In 1990, I was a medical physicist designing electronic diagnostic equipment based at St Barts Hospital in the City of London. One day, I walked past a colleague’s office and recognised a BCD and a set of regs hanging up. I’ve always had the desire to dive right from when I was a small child. The key influence had been my parents because Mum and Dad met through scuba diving.
From a very early age, I can clearly remember gear lying around the house and playing with it in the bath. But in the 1970’s, children were not encouraged to go diving by BSAC, so it just didn’t happen.
Now was my chance to embrace all things rubber, and I asked my colleague how I could start. “Come down to the club on Tuesday night,” he said, and it went from there. I joined the Polytechnic of North London Sub Aqua Club.
I’d always been a swimmer, so to be able to be underwater and breath at the same time was just mind blowing. And when I dived in the sea and saw fish and wrecks, I was hooked. I trained up to BSAC Advanced Diver level and became an Open Water Instructor spending my weekends happily exploring the myriad of South Coast wrecks, from Swanage to Plymouth.
Then my boss dropped a bombshell. He’d been given funding to move him and his team up north, and I had a choice whether to continue with my PhD or not. I was two years into modelling the Femoral Artery, and with two years work to go, Sheffield seemed the right move.
As I was still technically a student, I joined the Sheffield University Sub Aqua Club and served time as their Diving Officer and their Advanced Training Officer. It was whilst I was at Sheffield that I got introduced to Scottish diving.
My first trip was to Lochaline and the Sound of Mull. It’s fair to say that it blew me away. I couldn’t believe that there was all this diving completely neglected by South Coast divers. The life was more prolific, the wrecks were in better shape, easier to get to and the Sound of Mull was far more sheltered than the South Coast. For five years, I pretty much dived Oban and Lochaline solidly with an odd trip to Ullapool and Scapa Flow thrown in for good measure.
And then I dived out of Aberdeen. One of the women in the dive club came from Aberdeen, so we stayed at her house for a weekend, and we hit the East Coast. You know how some dives are forever etched on your soul? Well, what I remember was being astounded by the incredible viz coupled with big, big wrecks and seriously large animals. It was my first experience of Wolf Fish, and they were everywhere. And then, you got the usual marine life, but it was supersized. When I eventually dived Norway, it reminded me vividly of diving Aberdeen.