- Story by Sean McIntyre Photography by Don Denton
David Smith is a hard man to reach, but that should have been obvious based on his bio: “entrepreneur, builder, racer, adventure-seeker and so much more.”
Smith has been an entrepreneur on the Saanich Peninsula since the early 1980s. His company, Professional Components Ltd., employs more than 50 full-time workers in the Sidney area and produces high-end, custom marine suspension seating for power boats and off-road vehicles.
Customers include the Canadian and US Coast Guards, the RCMP and a roster of international military and commercial organizations and acclaimed racers. Overseeing a company with global reach from a Saanich-area industrial park would be enough of a task on its own, but that’s only the tip of Smith’s exciting and high-powered life.
“I’ve always had a passion for racing,” he says, and indeed, Smith’s life of speed dates back to the 1970s, when he got a job building chassis for race cars on the NASCAR circuit. The gig lasted nearly 20 years and paved the way for his marine suspension seating company on his native Vancouver Island.
The early years saw Smith assembling the cars, but in building his company, he’s had the opportunity to get a whole lot more hands-on. These days, he tests the marine seating products that excel in choppy seas at high speeds in some of the world’s most isolated regions.
“The racing industry is just right at the forefront of technology. It’s virtually a melting point for all the best technologies in the world,” he says. “Shockwave Motorsports, a division of Professional Components, was an opportunity for us to get even more hands-on and for myself, to be not just the person who was setting up the cars and building the cars, but to actually be the one who was out there and driving the vehicles.”
As an inductee to the Victoria Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 2011, Smith is described as a bit eccentric and a little wild, but as someone who could design and build a race car unlike anyone else.
That same year, he teamed up with Bear Grylls to set a new world record by crossing the 12,000-kilometre Northwest Passage in fewer than 300 hours in a 33-foot RHIB equipped with the first iteration of the ICE Console, a fully suspended, triple-axis marine suspension unit, designed and patented by Smith himself.
Always on the lookout for a challenge, three years ago, Smith thought it would be interesting to get behind the wheel of some high-level racing, which led to the 69-year-old’s participation in the Trans Am racing series, which visits cities across the United States. Closer to home, islanders may have spotted him as a regular at The Keg Drivers Challenge and the Canada 200 at Langford’s Western Speedway.
If it sounds like Smith’s personal biography has all the elements of a movie — or at least a television mini-series — that’s because it does. Part of the reason it’s so hard to get Smith to sit down for an interview is because he’s got a film crew trailing him for a good portion of his life these days. With filming set to wrap up this fall, Smith says work will soon begin to get the show ready for screening on either the Discovery or National Geographic network.
“It’s been a lot of work, and it’s really something to have your life out there on display for everyone,” he says. “The average person does not want to be David Smith. There are times when I’m tired.”
Part of the impetus for the show came from Smith’s latest battle: fighting and overcoming cancer. The road hasn’t always been easy and Smith readily admits that his good days may be great, but that the bad days can get really bad. Perseverance, he adds, has always been a part of his life, so this latest fight has tapped into his innate skillset to overcome a formidable opponent. He hopes his story will inspire others facing similar hurdles in life.
“This isn’t everyone’s cup of tea and there are all sorts of mountains to climb in life, but I find that if you don’t ask, you rarely get, and if you don’t put yourself out there, you’ll never really know what’s possible,” he says. “You don’t really live life unless you put yourself out on the fringes.”
Off the track and outside the office, Smith is also an outspoken advocate for coastal fisheries. Smith, who owns a holiday retreat in Tahsis near Nootka Sound on northwest Vancouver Island, has seen the effects of poor logging practices, irresponsible corporate fishing practices and unenforced regulations first-hand. Firstly, as a boy growing up on the Coast, then as a young man employed in a commercial fishery, Smith saw an unmatched bounty off Canada’s West Coast. Today’s efforts to protect what’s left, he says, are not only too little, but likely also too late. Nevertheless, he continues to work with local fishers and community organizations to rehabilitate coastal streams and to nurture precious spawning grounds in the hope of saving what’s left of British Columbia’s coastal fishing legacy.
“Being situated on the West Coast is ideal for our business,” he adds, coming back to the company he’s built. “Our marine suspension seating products require rugged ocean conditions to properly test the capabilities, strengths and weaknesses of our suspension systems.” With products going to the military and law enforcement organizations around the world, testing needs to be rigorous, in the most severe conditions. “We have plenty of opportunities here to get our products out on the water in rough seas to test, re-test and perfect our marine- grade products.”