My name is Jill Heinerth and I’m an exploration diver.
I do a lot of different things in the underwater world. I still teach technical diving, things like cave diving or rebreather diving or very specialized photography and videography programs for people. So there’s the teaching component. I do a lot of writing, so in the last year I released three books on technical aspects of diving. I write for magazines, I shoot photography assignments for magazines, I do independent films, I sometimes work as a cinematographer for other production companies, television productions. Sometimes I’m involved in safety or technical aspects of Hollywood or television projects. I also do work for law firms on investigating accidents that happen to people specifically in rebreathers or other technical aspects of diving.
I think that people breaking out into the job market today are probably going to feel much the same way, that they have to blaze their own trail, create their own path, make their own niche out of a hybrid of experiences because it’s extraordinarily competitive. And so I think that if I wanted to tell someone how to prepare for what I would do, I would say get as much education as you can formally so that you understand how to work hard and how to think critically; then jump on every opportunity you can to apprentice with somebody who knows a little bit more than you do; and then don’t be afraid to leap and volunteer and work hard to learn a new skill set because although you might not think that you’re qualified, that’s how you get your chops, is by jumping in, volunteering, and learning something new.
I travel a lot. In fact, I’ve been traveling since I left my Canadian home, boy, I guess, more than 20 years ago now. It’s all been part of the adventure of what I do. I’ve been to Antarctica inside of icebergs, I’ve dived inside of lava tubes in Lanzarote in the Canary Islands, I’ve been deep under the jungle of Mexico and other Central American countries, I’ve been out to Siberia and dived in caves where we had to kick the ice off the surface before getting in. So I’ve been very fortunate to travel, travel the world.
I would say, conservatively, I probably work 80 hours a week. And I don’t regret any of that. That’s a lot less laborious than working 40 hours a week in a cubicle for somebody else. I’m doing my passion and I put every waking hour into what I do. I get to jump right on my email in the morning, but I’m sitting in my pajamas, relaxing in my home office, doing my work. So, I don’t begrudge the hours that I put into my efforts, they’re all full of joy.
I’m rewarded every day with very unique opportunities in my career. I’m rewarded by the very fact that I get to call my own shots and choose the projects that I want to be involved in and have an active engagement in those projects. It’s very satisfying to me to have these incredible opportunities to work with amazing scientists and other divers who are incredibly talented and look at some of life’s mysteries. We get to explore places that people have never been before. We get to be the first people to set eyes on a passage in a cave or a new species of animal. And that is incredibly gratifying.
I think most of my mentors in diving were unknowing ones. They were personalities within the industry, trail-blazing women within the industry that inspired me; women like Sylvia Earle, for instance. But I think my thirst for adventure and learning started much earlier, perhaps in public school. I had some great teachers that really encouraged discovery, encouraged learning, and gave me as much work as I could possibly handle. And I think that’s really what set me up for a life of adventure and exploration.
I think there’s certainly been obstacles for me along the way. Sometimes financial, just figuring out how to find the funds to fund the dreams that I have. I think I’ve had an obstacle at times being a woman in a male-dominated world. Oftentimes I could see the gaze just look through and beyond me to the men standing behind me because I was doing something that was extraordinarily nontraditional for a woman. I’ve even had issues along the way where I’ve been told flat out this is not a woman’s world. And that’s been very frustrating. So at times I’ve had to work twice as hard or jump up and down and scream and say, “Hey, hey, look at me! I want this opportunity, too.” And that’s been hard. That’s been hard at times, but fortunately, I’ve still had a lot of really great opportunities.
Every day is new and interesting to me in my job. I remember, probably 20 years ago going to Highborne Cay in the Bahamas for the first time, my first tropical dive, first time out of a drysuit. I was used to diving in water that was 4°C most of the time. I jump in and do this wall dive and up from the depths comes a school of spotted eagle rays. And at first I didn’t even see what they were, they were just little spots, like constellations of stars down in the depths. And then they took form as the wings were flapping through the water. And they came up and circled around. And I think that was one of the most magical moments I’ve had in the water.Return to profile