Getting Through COVID-19 and Keeping Dive Stores in Business
The following is a guest bog by Mike Brickman, Recreational and Diving Instructor, Seattle WA
The last few months have been tough for people around the world. People are hurting. They are losing their loved ones, their jobs, access to food/shelter, and their connection to the outside world. COVID-19 is wreaking havoc and destruction like nothing we’ve ever seen in our lifetimes. I’ve been relatively fortunate all things considered and I’m thankful for that, but I miss diving. A lot. Diving is my sanity. It’s my peace. My escape, my serenity, and my relaxation. It doesn’t matter what’s going on around me or the things in my life that stress me out, upset, or anger me – when I put that reg in my mouth and dip my head under the surface, everything else just melts away.
Perhaps what I find myself missing the most is the sense of community and belonging. I joke with my open water students that the reason I became an instructor was because all my friends got sick of me talking about diving, so now strangers pay me to do it. There’s some truth in that statement. It’s not just the diving that I miss, but everything that surrounds it. The chatting while setting up gear, going over the plan in detail, the pre-dive team checks, and that satisfaction when the last minute of deco reads “all clear” and everybody has that same feeling that it’s going to be ok. And of course, the debrief. The food, the booze, talking about the dive from an hour ago like it’s a fond memory from childhood. Other dives are relived, war stories told, and plans made to do it all again soon. I almost always arrive home much later than originally planned.
As the world remains shut down, there is a lot of uncertainty for business owners. Restaurants, boutiques, service providers, and many others may not survive this. The dive stores and operations that we all depend on for repairs and fills might not make it. This is not necessarily a new concern, but rather a spark in a powder keg waiting to explode for a long time. It’s no secret that the internet has not been kind to brick and mortar retailers over the last decade. Big retailers from our childhoods and our parents’ generation are disappearing. It’s like they were never there. The majority of what my household purchases comes from online. This trend has only accelerated with social distancing. Dive stores are not immune.
This isn’t meant as a soapbox sermon about all of us needing to support local dive stores, take more classes, and buy more gear, but it is true that if we only rely on stores for gas and servicing that they likely won’t all be able to remain in business. It’s also true that the virus may have accelerated the arrival of what seems like an eventuality for many dive operations, but one word comes to mind when I think about the ones that will survive: community.
Community is what draws many of us to this sport. I love that feeling of connecting with others via a common passion! Divers can always spot each other anywhere and make friends. It’s happened to me at airports because I saw a gear bag. It’s happened to me at parties because I’ve heard somebody talking about a trip. It even happened to me once while interviewing a candidate for a software engineering position, because they were wearing a dive shirt. It’s that sense of community and belonging and connectedness that I’m missing. I believe it’s also a predictor of which dive operations are here in 3-5 years and which ones won’t be.
Think about your experiences. For anybody lucky enough to have been to Truk Lagoon with Pete Mesley and Lust4Rust, you know it’s not just world class wreck diving with logistics made easy. It’s red wine and laughter for days on end. It is stories, it is gear suggestions, and it’s tips on getting that perfect shot. You can show up a solo traveler and leave with 20 new best friends – they get it. For anybody that has seen their local GUE community rally around a diver who’s had gear stolen or loaned a full set of gear so an out of town visitor can get wet, they see the immense connection to others just like them – they get it. For anybody that’s been to a dive conference like TekDiveUSA and was up into the early hours of the morning “socializing” with some of the biggest celebrities in diving – and some of the folks from Divetech too, who treat them like part of the inner circle – they get it. My friend John who let me come over and mix gas when local stores weren’t open to fill – he gets it. It’s about the people, it’s about the community, and it’s about sharing a world that few are fortunate enough to see with anybody who is even a little interested.
It’s hard to say when things are going to go back to normal or even what the new normal will look like, but the thought of getting back to diving and my “family” is keeping me going. As divers, I’ve been loving all the virtual meetings and catch ups. If we can’t dive, this is the next best thing. If you can, try to support your favorite dive operation. Make a small purchase, book that trip a bit early, whatever you can do, they will appreciate it. I’d encourage all my fellow dive professionals out there to try to connect with your students and customers. And if you’re a dive operator, start thinking about how to grow that community and connect people. Not by rushing people through silly classes or by peddling unnecessary gear, but by bringing people together for shared love. The future of diving is in all our hands.