They say that learning new things in life keeps us young. And so it is with blogging. This is my first blog and for an old dog, it’s a new trick. My name is Gene and I’ve been passionate about water sports since I was 5 years old. Sitting in front of our television set, watching Sea Hunt with my facemask on, I was amazed by everything that had to do with the underwater world. I learned how to swim, snorkel and scuba dive at very early ages.
At age 15, I joined the Shelton High School Scuba Club and learned to dive at the local YMCA. While in High School, my summers (and winters) were spent diving the Hersey’s Quarry, the Housatic River and Long Island Sound. I even got a chance to dive with the AT&F as a member of the Shelton Civil Defense Diving Patrol! Shortly thereafter, the U.S. Navy gave me a free 4 year pass to “Dive the World Over” as a Naval Submarine Scuba Diver.
Thanks to excellent counseling, guidance and mentorship from my Commanding Officer, Capt. Donald Shelton, I left the Navy after my four year tour and studied Marketing at the University of Connecticut. I now had the best of both worlds to pursue my dream of living and working in the “Business of Diving.”
My college years afforded me some great diving opportunities. I joined the U.S. Naval Reserves and got orders to Deep Sea Diver School and Mixed Gas Deep Sea School. As a Diver, First Class I become a Diving Supervisor and Diving Instructor during my summer vacations. Teaching Hard Hat Diving in Little Creek, Virginia during my semester breaks gave me an opportunity to meet all types of Navy Divers. Back at the University, I taught scuba diving classes, became a NAUI Instructor Course Director and bought a boat. Diving from my boat, “Sea Robin”, I keep my freezer filled with Lobsters, Scallops, and Rhode Island Clams. Life was good.
It’s been a great 46 years, living the life of an Entrepreneurial Scuba Diver. Right out of college I was hired as NAUI’s first Marketing Director to bring the business side of diving to NAUI. Founding and directing the Association of Diving Retailers enabled me to work with the heartbeat of the diving industry – The Retail Dive Centers. My time with ADR motivated me to work at and manager a successful Retail Dive Center, California Skin Diving Schools, and lead me to start my own store, Undersea Showcase. Without a doubt the next seven years were the most enjoyable days of diving I had up to that point. Diving the California Channel Islands, filled with playful Sea Lions, majestic kelp forests, abundant lobsters and tasty abalone, was second to none, worldwide. To add icing to my cake, I was currently involved with the U.S. Naval Reserves and serving my country as a Diving Supervisor with our Team of Divers on Reserve duty in California, Hawaii, Guam, Palau, Panama, etc, etc. Who could have asked for a better life of diving?
But not all good things last forever. At a time much too early for me, I started to suffer with Arthritis and just could not continue with my active pace of physical activity that a life of diving required. Unable to deal with the change in lifestyle I entered into what I now call my period of darkness, my “Lost Years.”
Not being able to teach scuba diving, safely supervise divers in the water, or work 80-100 hours a weeks at Undersea Showcase, I made the decision to close the store. I got a job at Action Plus Wetsuits as their National Sales Manager, retired from the Naval Reserves and three years later accepted a Product Manager’s position at U.S. Divers. I did a little diving but mostly worked at my desk when I wasn’t globe trotting, and had a number of operations for the progressing arthritis. I traveled to Canada, Mexico, Hong Kong, China, the Philippines, Taiwan and all over the U.S., putting together a wet suit product line. I visited Manufacturers, Dive Retailers and Trade Shows. I even got to meet Jacques Yves Cousteau and his son Jean Michel Cousteau, who I made some wet suits for. My work at Action Plus and U.S. Divers was immensely rewarding and productive, but my inability to deal with my pain prevented me from seeing that new doors had opened in my life and what I thought was a curse was actually some of the biggest blessings I have ever been given. U.S. Divers merged into AquaLung and it wasn’t in the cards that I be part of the move to Vista, California. So you go with what you know and for the next three years I started Undersea Designs to design and manufacture some of the best wet suits and accessories the dive industry had ever seen. Then my life changed forever when I met the love of my life.
My new friend wasn’t impressed with what I had done in my past diving life. She was more interested in what I was doing about my current situation and my inability to “move on.” Maybe not this stern, but the conversation went something like, “Stop your winning and go to the VA in La Jolla. See if they can do anything for the arthritis.” Well, I took her advice and the rest is history. The arthritis pain stopped. No further joint damage, no more stiffness, no psoriasis. My “Lost Years” were over and a new dawn had arrived.
As I entered a new learning period in my life, I was fortunate to discover the abundant resources of the Small Business Development Centers. I received entrepreneurial assistance for my wet suit company and was asked to come aboard as a part time Marketing Consultant. As part of my research, I tried to find statistics on the diving industry. Looking for industry statistics in our professional diving community, I found nothing that could help an entrepreneurial start-up. I could not believe that the diving industry did not have the dedicated resources or educational materials to help start up companies like mine or to help Dive Retailers become better business people. Information on the business of diving was severely lacking.
Enter Dive Industry Association. In the fall of 2000, I conducted a feasibility study to determine if our industry needed and would support a second trade association and one that specialized in promoting diving as a recreation while promoting its members worldwide. The answer was a resounding YES and in April 2001 the Dive Industry Association was born. Our Mission is “Building a Better Industry, One Member at a Time” and our goals are to: 1) Unite the industry in a common purpose and foster the spirit of cooperation. 2) Provide our members with the necessary tools to make them more professional, productive and profitable. 3) Generate maximum marketing expose for our members to bring them increased business opportunities and business. 4) Promote recreational scuba diving to the general public and work to protect and preserve the water environment we call home.
The Dive Industry Association has grown tremendously since 2001 and yet we have only scratched the surface when it comes to uniting the industry and moving it forward. The association has welcomed 325 members since our beginning and our active membership fluctuates from year to year. We actively promote our members and the diving industry by using web sites, newsletters, directories, a weekly press release service and now this blog. We have led the industry in our sponsorship of the two annual Surf Expos and the six Travel & Adventure Shows. We have promoted the diving industry better than any association by exhibiting at numerous consumer dive shows across the country. Our sponsored Industry Luncheons at the Tacoma Dive Show are examples of what we can accomplish with industry cooperation and support.
In 2002 we moved the Dive Industry Association corporate office from California to Houston, Texas. I was able to go to work for the University of Houston as a Small Business Development Consultant and acquire knowledge and experience with the business tools we currently use to help small dive businesses start, grow and succeed. In 2004 we incorporated the Dive Industry Foundation and received our 501(c)3 non-profit, tax exempt IRS designation. Ten years later we said goodbye to the Great State of Texas and moved our corporate headquarters to the Watersports Capital of the World – Florida.
Since 2012, Dive Industry Association, Inc. and the Dive Industry Foundation have called the State of Florida its home and we are excited about our future in the growth of the watersports community. After 46 + years of living and working in the business, learning the ins and outs, ups and downs and the best and worst of the “Business of Diving” I can see where the industry has grown and where it has missed opportunities to grow. I admire the core strengths of our professional retail dive centers but see opportunities not yet taken advantage of. I feel the frustration with manufacturers in establishing buyer-seller relationships with their Dealers. I see the need for resort destinations and dive operators who worry about booking enough heads on beds and butts on seats. I can see the logic but disagree with the direction some companies have taken to control our industry. I understand the differences between a trade show and a professional development conference. I see the problems associated with industry fragmentation and long for the day when we can unity the industry to a common purpose and grow our recreation and restore it to its glory days. I see the need to work together, acknowledging that we all may have different goals and objectives and overlapping customer bases.
This blog is all about unity. It’s about starting an industry conversation between all the Industry Professionals. It’s all about showcasing the immense talent we have in the industry. It’s all about letting the world see the talented individuals we have in our community. This blog is all about divers doing what they love – diving, teaching, exploring, photographing and video taping the wonders of the environment, as well as the business side of what they are doing. This blog is all about you! Comments?