Article By John Tapley; Photos Courtesy Dive Connections
Founded in July of 1998 and officially opened in October of the same year, Dive Connections of Charlottesville, Virginia is a PADI 5-Star Instructor Development Center (IDC), which provides a host of scuba diving services: bringing divers of all stripes and skill levels together.
We spoke with Chip Earle, owner and founder of Dive Connections, about the origins of his business and its ultimate purpose: to build a community of divers and fostering a better future for scuba.
John Tapley (JT): What was your inspiration for founding Dive Connections?
Chip Earle (CE): I’ve been diving for a long time, and as an instructor, I felt the existing options in the community weren’t satisfactory, and I
couldn’t work out a way to make it. I thought, “I’ll go ahead and open
a dive shop.” Little did I know what an effort it would be, but it’s been a wonderful growth over the last 20 years.
We’re not a dive operator, per se, but we are the portal for the community to access [local] diving resources. We’re more of a clubhouse than a retail place: trying to make connections; allowing them to interact with one another; creating relationships. Hopefully they’ll want to make their own diving opportunities. We facilitate that by planned trips and events we hold.
JT: Where have you traveled to?
CE: We were in Roatan back in February; Grand Cayman in May; Bonaire in October. I’ll be in Belize in November. We run three or four trips per year during the summer to Morehead City [North Carolina] to dive the Graveyard of the Atlantic.
We have a monthly club meeting, where we go to movie screenings, barbeques… anything you can do to get people working together. Our club, the Sea Devils, decides what they want to do: a Halloween party or trips to the quarry or nearby Lake Phoenix.
JT: Lake Phoenix. Do you do a lot of local diving?
CE: It’s our nearest proper dive site, down south of Petersburg (about a two to two-and-a-half-hour ride) and we’ll go down there for a weekend. You’ve got some level of visibility at about 35 feet and there’s a huge, maybe three-acre, part of the lake with a hard bottom that gives you an opportunity to work with new students: to give them the freedom they need to develop as divers.
There are other places but they don’t have the facilities. A number of folks here dive with the rescue squad, going into lakes and other bodies of water, but it’s not conducive to recreational diving.
JT: Personally, what are your most favorite memories with Dive Connections?
CE: We had a [trainee] who’s an independent movie producer who films his love of the ocean. We’ve got folks who have gone on to be conservationists who have worked with NOAA and groups like that. We have published photographers… people from all over the country, and who have far exceeded my capacity as a diver. It’s wonderful that we allow people to grow… a stepping stone to do something better.
About 10 years ago we got together with a number of other shops and spearheaded the creation of ScubaJam. It’s been a labor of love for me because it allowed me to meet and know dive shop owners throughout the state and region: 16, 17 different shops with lots of people involved. They’re all working together, donating money, and making an event that’s good for kids.
JT: You’ve been planting a lot of seeds over the past 20 years.
CE: We hope so. I think divers are explorers by nature, but they aren’t simply joiners: they like people and all but they also step on their own. Diving is logistically challenging, and we try to take the hassle out of it: getting trained, getting gear, and going on a trip.
We think of ourselves as a facilitator for other peoples’ growth. Whatever you want to do, we’re here to help you. That’s our philosophy.
For more information on Dive Connections, including upcoming trips, visit www.connect2diving.com .