Larry Smith, beloved dive pioneer, guide, and critter expert in Indonesia, passed away on March 20, 2007, in Sorong, Indonesia. Larry spent two days in a hospital in Fakfak with what everyone thought was pneumonia. He was on his way to Bali when he passed away at the Pertamina hospital in Sorong from complications associated with pneumonia. Our heart-felt condolences go out to his family and friends.
Larry Smith, in the water
Letters and images have been pouring in for the last two days, and we’d like to share them here. If you would like to share your condolences or a story about Larry, please leave a comment at the end of this page. To send in images and video, please contact us.
- memorial service in Bali on Sunday, March 25, 2007.
- memorial gathering at SeaSpace, Houston, Saturday, March 31, 2007.
Indonesia, Papua, Raja Ampat, Jan.‘06. Larry is a bird lover. This semi- domesticated Sulpher Crested Cockatoo knows Larry from his frequent visits, and when the Adventure Komodo anchors off shore, the parrot flies out to greet his returning friend. (photo: Jones/Shimlock)
Trevor O. Smith writes:
My Father is Larry, He was a good man, even thou he was gone all the time, he loved what he did and enjoyed expressing his enthusasim for what he did. Very sad day for us his son’s Casey, Tim, And myself Trevor and his daughter Breezy. Also his mother Evelin Smith. I know also it is a sad day for all diver and photographers who had seen the Amazing things my father brought to there eyes and all the eyes that saw the photographs of the critters he found.
LCpl Trevor O. Smith United States Marine Corps
Burt Jones and Maurine Shimlock write:
This world lost a big hunk of love when Larry Smith died. Larry loved people and the under water world, and he loved introducing them to each other. Whether you knew him personally or not, Larry Smith influenced the way you dive. He was our brother, our soul mate and our third musketeer.
Indonesia, Lembeh Straits, ‘96. One of Larry’s inspired dive briefings, punctuated with home grown slang and witicisms (“larryisms”), delivered with an East Texas drawl. (photo: Jones/Shimlock)
Eight months ago a friend of ours, Bo, decided she wanted to join us on an exploratory dive trip we were planning with Larry. But Bo was apprehensive because she didn’t yet know how to swim. After she met Larry in Texas last summer, he gave her the confidence she needed to get in the pool and get her C card. Last January we were all together diving in Triton Bay (a trip you’ll read about in a few months). I’ll never forget the sight of Bo, attached to Larry like a little remora, totally rapturous with the rest of us over the wonders we discovered on those remote reefs. It was like that on every dive—no matter where—with every person—no matter who or how skilled. In Larry’s world there was never a bad dive and there were only good people.
Because of Larry we all know what a “critter” is and how to find one. We eagerly dive in places—muddy slopes, mangrove swamps, mucky harbors—we would have shunned before Larry taught us that Edward Abby wasn’t just describing the desert when he wrote “there are no vacant lots in nature.” Larry was the undisputed King of Muck.
Indonesia, Papua, Timika Pantai village. Jan. 1, ‘07. Larry Smith and Kal Muller pose with Kal’s friends for the camera on New Years Day. (photo: Jones/Shimlock)
I think Kal Muller, our honorary fourth musketeer, was the first person to call Larry the “best divemaster in the world”. That was Larry’s public side. But you should know that Larry was also a loving husband, son, brother, and father to three adult sons, a young daughter, and a new grandson. Those people are Larry’s family of origin, but his extended family numbers in the thousands and ranges across the globe from Singapore to London to Longview, Texas. Larry also was a father figure to the various crews he worked with over the years. If you were fortunate enough to have been with Larry on a boat or at a resort, then you saw first hand how he treated his team. He shaped the lives of many young Indonesian men by teaching them how to interact with people from different cultures. Because of their relationships with Larry and his clients, many Indonesians were able to broaden their horizons, learn invaluable skills and improve their lives.
Indonesia, Komodo National Park, Padar Island, ‘98. Larry, enjoying the gentle wave action on this pristine beach during a surface interval (photo: Jones/Shimlock)
Maybe we saved the best for last. We just returned home, having had the gift of diving with Larry and charting new sites near the southwest Papuan coast for six weeks. We had planned this trip for over a year. Kal Muller was with us, as were several of Larry’s favorite clients. Every dive was better than the last, every village trip more exciting than yesterday’s, and Larry found a brand new adventure around every bend. I still feel his hand grab my shoulder after an incredible dive on a new spot, still hear his voice, shaking with excitement. “We’re out here doing it, Maurine,” he’d say. “We’re really doing it, just like we planned.” None of us wanted to leave Triton Bay, especially Larry. When he hugged Burt goodbye he said, “Burt, we’re so lucky, we’ve been to dive heaven right here on earth.” Larry’s spirit will be right there with us every time we slip beneath the surface of the sea, every time we take another trip to dive heaven.
Indonesia, Papua, Raja Ampat. Jan. ‘07. Larry loved the critters. Here he had found and was posing with a tiny Wobbegong Shark. The shark was docile and unafraid as Larry gently supported it on the back of his hands. (photo: Jones/Shimlock)
Indonesia, Papua, Raja Ampat, Jan. ‘07. From left to right; Burt Jones, a friend, Larry, Dr. Mark Erdmann, Director of Conservation International’s Indonesian Marine Science division, Dr. Gerry Allen, the world’s leading tropical marine ichthyologist, and Rod Mast, VP of Conservation International. Photo taken on dive deck of Larry’s last liveaboard, Adventure Komodo. (photo: Jones/Shimlock)
Larry and Denise Tackett write:
It’s hard to believe Larry Smith is no longer with us, but it’s easy to imagine the robust redhead sitting upon a cloud looking down on us and smiling as if we were his “critters.”
Larry was one of those rare creatures who never had a bad dive and never tired of exploring the underwater world. His great gift was his ability to share his love of the sea with others and then to delight in their sense of wonder at this newfound world.
Larry will be missed and the dive industry will be poorer for his absence but much richer for having known him.
Steve Drogin writes:
Larry Smith with Steve and Hiro Drogin, Sorong, Indonesia, December 2004 (photo: Eric Cheng)
Larry Smith was one of my favorite guys in the entire world of diving.
I have known him for many years. He was the consumate…..NICE GUY…...and a joy to be with on a boat and underwater. He could tell stories better than anyone. He surely was one of the most knowledgeable divers I have ever met. Nobody knew more about the underwater world of the Indo Pacific than Larry. His enthusiasm for diving and his desire to share his knowleadge with others was like nobody I have ever met. His presence will be sorely missed by everyone. I extend my deepest sympathies to his family. I will think about him a lot and will keep the memories that I have of our time together. He had a huge influence on everyone he met and dived with.
Tim Rock writes:
Larry Smith never had a bad dive. He always came up amazed and excited at the sea and its inhabitants. And that enthusiasm was contagious. And he was indeed a wonderful friend and loving father and husband. He leaves us having touched people around the world. Truly one of a kind.
Chip Scarlett writes:
For those of us who had the privilege to know and dive with Larry Smith, it is simply impossible to believe he is gone. Texan to the core, despite many years spent in his adopted home of Indonesia, Larry was larger than life. He was a true pioneer of muck diving, and his knowledge of critters, their habitats and their behavior was encyclopedic. Sitting and listening to Larry carry on about an animal found on the last dive, was to hear a man in love with the sea and all creatures large and small within it.
Among all the people who dived with Larry over the years, he was particularly revered by serious photographers. I remember the first time I worked with him taking pictures of pygmy seahorses. As usual, it was dark, deep, and a nasty current was whipping the fan to and fro, making it impossible for me to even find the bloody animals, much less focus on them. Larry came up, locked down my left arm with his right arm to stablize me in the current, delicately spread the fan with one hand, and put his pointer next to the most photogenic of the seahorses with the other hand. As I banged away, he subtly moved the fan, and my arm, and the seahorse to get just the right composition. When we surfaced, Larry was more excited than I was, exclaiming how shots 5, 9 and 15 were really good ... he had, of course, been counting the exposures and watching the strobes lighting the animal with each pull of the shutter. Simply amazing.
Indonesia, Hard-To-Find Rock, Nusa Tengarra, 2003. Larry demonstrating his patented arm lock on fellow diver, Susan Scarlett (photo: Chip Scarlett)
However, even Larry’s professionalism paled in comparison to the sheer joy he brought to every dive. Larry had the twinkling eyes and incandescent enthusiasm of a true explorer who absolutely knew that your next dive with him would be the best ever. And who will ever forget hearing his “waa-hoo!” sung through his regulator at the top of his lungs, calling you to share with him another treasured critter found under a leaf or hidden in a stand of coral? What would we all not give for just one more day or one more dive with Larry?
Larry leaves behind a profound legacy as a true pioneer of Indonesian diving, as the manager behind the scenes of numerous successful dive operations, and as the premier teacher of a whole generation of superb dive guides. We will all cherish our memories of Larry as a loving and attentive father, husband and great friend.
Drew Wong writes:
I first met Larry when he was just leaving the Tropical Princess in 1990. Here was a jovial Texan with infectious enthusiasm for all things scuba, just married and flying off to the US with his new bride. I later met him again when he worked at Kungkungan Resort, where he pioneered the diving in Lembeh Straits among other places. I still remember arguing with him over the use of the word “muck” to describe the diving in Lembeh. It’s just black volcanic sand, I’d reason. “Yeah, but it’s fine sand and when you kick it up, it turns to muck!” Larry would counter. Never one to miss a good joke, his staff named a dive site called Retak Larry (Larry’s crack), which Larry took with good humor.
I never dived with Larry again after that, but would meet him in Bali(for his BBQs) and wherever there were dive shows over the years. Here was a man who shared his experience and knowledge with whomever wanted to learn. I’ll miss his hearty chuckle and genuine smile. I hope those who do too will find solace in the fact that he has touched thousands and his legacy to Indonesia diving will be appreciated by future divers of dive sites he found.
Larry Smith with Bill Acker (photo: Tim Rock)
A quote from an article in Diver Magazine written by John Bantin:
Larry, our guide, is in his ‘50s and from Texas. He has a bull neck, a beefy body, and talks like a cowboy. “Time to saddle up and mosey on down to the dinghies,” he drawls.
His briefings are short on detail but drawn out in delivery. Why does it take 20 minutes to tell us it’s going to be a fun dive around a BFR (a big f****** rock), with currents from mild to wild and, yes, there will be marine life? I expect him to say we’ll all meet up later at the OK Coral! In his black wetsuit, he looks like a shiny black pebble - or perhaps another BFR!
It seems contradictory that Larry is obsessed with the smallest forms of animal life. He gets his rocks off looking at pygmy seahorses less than a quarter the size of your pinkie fingernail. He adores skeleton shrimps.
During one dive, he shows me a mushroom coral crawling with what look like long, white worms. They have snake heads and are very active. I show them in turn to Dr Rob. Larry later insists that they are not worms but fish, and Dr. Rob confirms that they were “gross”. I’m glad I’m not alone in that sentiment.
I hear Larry’s underwater hooter. He has found something exciting. I join him, ecstatic beside a fan coral. I can see nothing. To my amazement, he pulls out a large magnifying glass, and I see through it some minute skeleton shrimp. I am armed with a camera with a super-wide-angle lens. Later I joke that some people have larger animals living in their pubic hair! He boasts that everything is smaller here - he has been away from Texas too long.
Larry Smith with vampire teeth he found during a dive (photo: Todd Mintz)
Patrick Sproull writes:
I met Larry Smith at DEMA on several occassions. Every time no matter how busy the area was, Larry always greeted you with a smile, a jovial hello and a sincere interest that you come explore this amazing underwater world with him. I will remember Larry as someone who represented diving and the experiences you could enjoy with laughter and fun as a child feels with a new toy. Larry helped remind us all to cherish the incredible opportunities we are privileded to enjoy. Our hearts and prayers go out to his family, friends, collegues, and loved ones, he is missed.
Larry, cooking smoked BBQ for friends, Thanksgiving 2003 (photo: Robert Delfs)
From Gabrielle Villarino, Adventure H2o:
IN MEMORIAM - Larry Smith, the Dive Legend
Larry, the great spotter, dive guide, critterfinder, explorer & adventurer .. Larry Smith, the great human being ! A man. who respected all living creatures - above & below water !
Everyone enjoyed Larry’s enthusiasm for his job, his love for Indonesia and his family, his endless stories from above & below water. All of us loved his wonderful outlook on life and the big hearted Man he was!
Larry was a great human being and he showed it in little ways, as the way he treated our crew, our guests and the locals.
Larry deserves the huge respect he has always had and will further receive from the worldwide dive industry…
AdvH2o honors all of his achievements in his spirit will keep the same manners as Larry taught us, and our Team believes in….... !!
From David & Lynette Lyles:
My name is David Lyles and Larry and I were 1st cousins. His father and my mother were brother and sister. We had the fortune of visiting with Larry in September when he came to visit his mother Evelyn in the states. We will always treasure those memories. Our love, thoughts, and prayers go out to Dewi and Breezy and all the family during this time of tragic loss. He was a super guy who lived life to the fullest and he will be missed forever.
From Allen Dragge:
Larry had an extraordinary knack for ‘seeing’ what he looked at. He also had a gift for getting others to look with fresh sight. I think he may have changed the world. He certainly changed the way many of us live in it.
From Annie Crawley:
Larry the Legend lives within all of his students.
When I first heard Larry’s name it was like a whisper across the water. That was more than fifteen years ago as we both worked on boats that had itineraries in Eastern Tengarra before the tourism explosion. There are many stories regarding Larry I know from boats a fire and crew jumping ship to diving in unchartered territories. Yet, when I heard of his passing my heart skipped a beat as memories of Larry came racing to my mind and all I could think of was how he lives within so many of the now dive instructors, masters and guides within Indonesia.
Larry changed diving in Indonesia forever. Period. Yes for travelers, but more for the local people in Indonesia.
Many people will never know the influence he had on the Indonesian Nationals. When the first resort opened in Lembeh Strait, it was Larry Smith who trained the dive guides. It was Larry Smith that gave them their site of the amazing critters of the underwater world…making it possible for the photography explosion of critter diving. He trained them, mentored them, fathered them. It was Larry Smith that shared his passion, his strength, his humor, his discipline, his laughter, his vision of what the area was possible of. Years after he left to conquer yet another destination and help influence it, I worked with these men of Lembeh. I believe all of them are still working in the industry, and many have gone on to become legends of their own. Larry has many Indonesian sons that he helped find their way as working men. You never forget the dive instructor that gave you your first breaths underwater…and Larry gave this to so many.
Larry lives in my heart and the heart of every single people he trained and coached in the industry. I am able to hold him still here with me, especially when I think of all the people he lives within who still are diving around the 17,000 islands that Larry calls home.
From Ampaipan Samansareesak (Bo):
Larry was one of the amazing person on earth. He helped expand my world. Prior to the trip with him, I had no idea how magical the underwater world is. We were lucky to get to spent 16 days with him. He had such a great positive energy. He took me into his arm and made sure I was safe and had the best time of my life. And I did! Our trip with Larry will always be in our memories for the rest of our lives.
From Mik Bjorkenstam:
This is undoubtedly the hardest thing I have ever had to write. It has taken me days to actually sit down and commit to this for fear of the emotions it would cause to surface. Larry Smith was one of the most influential people in my life. He was a mentor, a best friend, and a soul mate.
Our paths crossed - accidentally - in the spring of 1995. I was on a high school dive trip with the Singapore American School. The original trip was meant to go to PNG, but a last minute decision by the school board cancelled it. The back up plan was a dive trip to the Banda Sea aboard the Cehili with Larry Smith. Little did I know at that time, that my life was about to change and that the experience was about to open up doors that I never dreamed were possible. Our paths would continue to cross over the next 12 years. Firstly over the summer months when I was at university and would help him out as a dive master at KBR, and then working for him aboard Sea Contacts.
Larry taught me so much ‚Äì everything you can imagine about diving ‚Äì from critter hunting to fish calling (my 19th Birthday present). But it wasn’t only about the diving, but about Life, Love, and Friendship and People. It is largely because of the opportunities Larry gave me and the experiences that I have shared with him, that I am who I am today. Words will never be able to express the gratitude I have.
Unfortunately I have never had the opportunity to meet Larry’s family in Texas. One day hopefully I will be able to meet all of them and let them know how much Larry meant to me. To Dewi and Breezy ‚Äì I know nothing I say can make the pain of your loss any easier, but my heart goes out to you and I know that one day soon we will meet again and together share wonderful memories about Larry. Your husband/father was a great man, one of the greatest I have ever known.
I am scared to end this letter as I feel I am saying the final goodbye to you Larry and I don‚Äôt know how to say it. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for all you have given me. You will forever be a part of my life and I know deep down that just as our paths once accidentally crossed‚ that they will cross again. It’s been an honour and privilege to be your sidekick.
Sampai jumpa lagi My Friend.
From Brenda & Richard Dunn:
We are so sad to have heard the news of Larry’s passing. We were on a dive boat in the Turks & Caicos, when a fellow passenger told us that the dive master we so fondly spoke of had died. We were new divers in Oct. 1988, with just over 50 dives, when we went to Pirate’s Point in Little Cayman. We were the only 2 tourists on the resort, since Hurricane Gilbert had hit just a few weeks before and everyone else had canceled. Larry was just back to the resort, after almost losing his life, attempting to save a diver that had committed suicide under water (a note was later found in his room).
Larry in Little Cayman, 1988 (photo: Brenda Dunn)
He expressed not knowing how he would feel the first time back into the water….he focused on us completely. I understand now that was just Larry. He videoed our every dive, while also giving us classes in the appropriate viewing and treatment of all the creatures. He was so gentle with us & them! Little did we realize at the time how incredibly lucky we were. I can tell you though that after almost 700 lifetime dives; he is the only resort dive instructor that we have remembered his whole name and continued to relate our wonderful experiences that we had with him! The things he taught us, his concern and love for the ocean animals, was so contagious that we never forgot him or them! Even though we never went to see him in Bali, we never lost what he gave us in fabulous memories.