The deep end of the ocean
A scuba shop 300 miles away from the ocean? What kind of idea is that?
That’s what Beverly Mercier-Ward was wondering five years ago, when her husband, Mitchell Ward, first proposed the idea of opening Blue Planet Divers.
“I thought he was absolutely nuts. I thought he was absolutely crazy,” Mercier-Ward recalled Wednesday.
But landlocked Nevada County has been good to the scuba business, which had humble beginnings as a class in Club Sierra’s swimming pool. Now, Blue Planet Divers has a high-visibility store on E. Main Street in Grass Valley, a recently-purchased shuttle bus to take people on diving trips and more than 500 members in its diving club.
“There’s a lot of scuba clubs in Los Angeles that would love to have 500 divers,” said Mitchell Ward, a jovial, 45-year-old scuba instructor.
Ward grew up in Nevada County. He moved to Belize in his late 30s to work as a dive master.
“I guess I had kind of a mid-life crisis,” and decided to work in Belize as a dive master.
It was there he met his wife, Mercier-Ward, also a scuba diver. The two decided in 1996 to move back to Nevada County, so her son Jean-Luc could go to school here, instead of Belize.
They made a two-week journey to get here, traveling across Belize, Mexico and California in an old Land Rover packed full of belongings.
Along on the way, the couple had to figure out some details, such as what they were going to do for a living.
To Ward, the idea of a landlocked scuba shop wasn’t farfetched at all.
Ward made his first scuba dive at age 12, when he lived far from the ocean in Fort Worth, Texas. A year later, his family moved to Nevada County and Ward fell in love with the sport, diving in the kelp forests near Monterey.
Here’s another interesting fact: per capita, Colorado has the most scuba divers, Ward said.
“You just need people that are active, outdoor people, and they’ll want to do the sport,” he said.
“It’s a part of the earth that you never see,” Ward said. He said only one-tenth of one percent of humanity ever ventures into the watery deep, a world which can be rich in wildlife and unforgettable experiences.
For example, the first time a dolphin comes swimming up alongside you, you never forget it, Ward said.
There’s no charge to join Blue Planet’s dive club, called Scuba Bums. The club dives a lot, typically three weekends out of the summer and once a month in the winter, traveling to such places as Ft. Bragg, Lake Tahoe and Donner Lake, the Channel Islands, Hawaii and Mexico.
Blue Planet doesn’t make a profit off the club’s activities, Ward said. People just split the cost of gas, food and other expenses. The club meets the last Thursday of every month at Larry and Lenny’s Pizza at the corner of Highway 49 and Alta Sierra.
Blue Planet has 4-week diver certification classes every month for $199.
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