Overlooking the stunning bright shores and crystalline waters of Fort Lauderdale, Florida is Sea Experience: a scuba diving establishment that has been a beacon for divers local and abroad for nearly two decades. A combination charter operation and dive center, Sea Experience unveils the world of southeast Florida diving, and its myriad diving destinations, to a wide range of divers; and it works with local organizations and groups to protect and preserve the beautiful, yet fragile environment.
By John Tapley; photos courtesy Sea Experience
We spoke to Sea Experience founder and owner Bill Cole on the origins of the business, its services, and its role in helping foster a stronger aquatic environment in southeast Florida.
John Tapley (JT): Thanks for joining me this morning, Bill. To get started, could you share the history of Sea Experience with our readers?
Bill Cole (BC): I started Sea Experience in 2002. I was with another dive shop, which was in the same location I’m in now; it fell apart so there was a need. I started Sea Experience, first of all, as a charter business, taking little steps. We eventually moved into a retail space, started the store, and bought another boat. Today we have two boats, a retail store, and we’re a PADI redevelopment center.
JT: Do you train scuba students in-house or is there a local place you go?
BC: We have a really unique location on a resort and hotel that has a big marina: located right on the ocean in Fort Lauderdale. It’s almost unheard of: where the hotel, dive shop, swimming pool, and boats are right on the beach. We’re only 10 minutes from the Fort Lauderdale airport, which is another big plus. It’s usually inexpensive for most places to fly into.
JT: Could you share some details on the Sea Experience staff?
BC: We have around 25 staff members – some are part-time –
and includes mostly instructors. Four of us are PADI course directors.
JT: It sounds like you have classes going around the clock.
BC: We’re very flexible in our class scheduling: we’ll do ones and twos as they come in. We have seven full programs we run throughout the year: from open water through resort specialists, which includes rescue and divemaster instructor. We call our first section TIP (total immersion program), which is like a zero-to-hero: they start in open water and complete dive master. Phase two is the professional dive master program; three is open water instructor.
Phase four is resort specialist, which will include a new
class called Eco-Pro, which we’re very excited about. Professor Alex Brylske,
one of the original PADI guys – “the man who wrote the book” – is going to
teach that for us. Eco-Pro is an eight-day program that’s essentially an
environmental IDC (instructor development course). You don’t have to be an
instructor to take it but it’s along the lines of a PADI IDC. We’re thrilled to
train everyone on how to be more ecologically-minded. That course will start in
JT: Do you have regular programs and events related to environmental stewardship?
BC: We do it all the time. In the past few months, we’ve eliminated plastic bottles from our boats and have a container with filtered ice water; and we offer, cheaply, a reusable metal container for people to drink from if they prefer.
JT: What are some favorite destinations people like to go when they visit you?
BC: There’s a lot of them. We have a plethora of wrecks and reefs. Some of the favorite [wrecks] include Hog Heaven, Tenneco Towers, the Mercedes, the Merci Jesus, and the Tracy. Favorite reefs are Hammerhead, Fisher’s Pedestal, Oakland Ridges, Barracuda Reefs, and Margaritaville. We flex our schedule to where someone can be with us for a week and they don’t have to see the same place twice.
JT: Do you go further south to the Caribbean?
BC: This basically is the Caribbean so everything you see in The Bahamas you can see here. Plus, you can drink the water and you don’t need a passport. We’re very close (about 48 miles from Bimini), and there are some ferry boats so people who visit us can always jump on one and get a hammerhead dive in.
JT: Back to Florida. Is Sea Experience involved with any local programs or community events?
BC: We work with a lot of reef conservation places down here. There’s REEF (Reef Environmental Education Foundation), the lionfish derby, and we’re involved with Earth Day. They’re getting ready to do a project at Port Everglades, which is the port we go out of, and we’ve been involved with those groups in mapping coral formations. We’ll go out and do bleach watch – we’ll have people go in and train you on how to find a problem with the coral reefs – and we’ll go out with the group to look for places with coral bleaching.
JT: Thank you for the interview, Bill. Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers before we wrap things up?
BC: We have boats that run daily, including a glass bottom boat for snorkeling: if a family comes down, and maybe mom and the kids aren’t divers, they can go snorkeling. We try to make things convenient and easy for everyone, and we try to have a lot of fun.
For more details on Sea Experience, including upcoming trips and information on scuba certification classes, visit www.seaxp.com.