Friday, April 29, 2011

Apolemichthys arcuatus - Bandit Angelfish of Hawaii...

Here's a pair of Bandit Angelfish. These are the only "large" angelfish you'll likely see in the main Hawiian Islands, as most of our angelfish are dwarf species. They reach up to about 7 inches and are typically found only at depths of 60 feet and below in Kona. I've heard they're found shallower more frequently over on Kauai. They're endemic to the Hawaiian Islands as far as I know, you won't find them anywhere else.

We're always happy to see these guys.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The changing face of Wanna Dive....


Wanna Dive started with me doing guided shore diving and instruction on the side while working for one of the larger companies here. By 2003 I was up to about half time doing my own thing and I decided to pick up the boat. Wow, what a learning experience... when I told my Oceanic rep (my rental gear at the time was from them) I was picking up a boat, he looked at me and said "ya know what BOAT stands for, bust out another thou". Boy was he right, in spades.

With very little actual boat business in '03 and '04 it's been a long slow growing experience. By 2005 I was starting to actually get a fair amount of boat business and it kept growing. In 2007 we decided to take the boat out for 6-8 weeks (our boat guy said it wold be 3) to completly rebuild the boat and change it over from and inboard/outboard to just outboards. After going thorugh 3 chevy 350s and a couple of lower leg units in 4 years it was time to get to outboards... it ended up taking 5 months (that's a lot of downtime, I ended up using the boat of a friend that was starting their own dive biz at the time)... the rebuild and extension of the boat gave us lots more room, a better ride and a lot more reliability and has be completely worth it.

The change in the boat was huge for the business. A couple of summers ago I rented out an office in hopes of eventually turning it into a shop. Well, eventually came last month. Along with the new shop came a new hire (I may be hiring one more part timer this month as well). Talking to the new employee, I found that the spouse was a graphic artist. Well, I've never had an actual logo ever, a couple of ideas but no real talent to do it myself. It was time. I just got the disk, so, I'd like to introduce our new logo we'll be using with printed materials.



Snorkel and scuba diving gear rental in Kona Hawaii with Wanna Dive...

Well, now that we have our shop up and running 9-5 every day it's time to put together a gear rental program.

Looking at masks... it looks like I'm gonna offer 5 different masks for rental: kids, a S-M that'll fit the bigger kids/smaller adult faces, a M-L that'll fit most faces, a large and an XL for the broader cheekbones and temples. I just can't see getting buy with just 2-3 mask choices, there's no such thing as one size fits all, and I want to be able to fit everyone coming in. I've still got to figure out how to do more than one size of prescription mask so I can offer a choice for larger faces.

Snorkels... I've got to bring in a bunch of decent dry snorkels next week to really be able to do this, both kids and adult sizes.

Fins... I've already brought these in. I'm going to try something differnt than many of the rental places by using adjustable fins with soft foot pockets made to take bare feet. Nice thing about 'em is the adjustability for fit and the ability to wear fin socks on all sizes and the ability to wear reef shoes on some of the sizes (gotta figure out to make it all sizes, but I'm gonna have to look for other fins to make that work with big feet). I've also brought in some decent full sized open heel adjustable scuba fins that'll fit over dive boots for rent. I won't be renting fin socks, reef shoes or booties though... lots of extra sanitization involved in that one to make me feel comfortable about it, I think I'll pass.

Wetsuits... we'll have both 3 mil shorties and 4/3 mil (3 mil in some sizes) full suits for rent. Shorties will do awesome for snorkelers wanting more thermal and sun protection, as well as helping keep you nice and floaty. The full suits are great for diving and 4/3 seems to be about the right thickness for most people much of the year here in Hawaii.

BCDs... we brought in a bunch of weight integrated BCs that have been working real well for us this year. In the past I had pouch problems with a couple of brands I used for rental on the boat, this one seems to have solved the lost pouch problem.

Regulators. I brought in several regs that have been holding up for us real well. They're a Cressi reg with a piston first stage and adjustable second stages, very nice. I need to bring in more for rent. All of our boat rental regs have computers, I'm not sure if I'll put computers in the ones for shore rental.

I still gotta deal with the who boogieboard/viewboard thing as well as a few other accessories. I'm gonna have fun coming up with package prices and rental policies the next few days. The goal is to roll it out over the course of May 2011 and be up to full speed by the start of summer. I'll have pricing on my Hawaii scuba diving business' website.

I'm hoping that being on the highway between town and the airport makes us a convenient place for people to do thier snorkel and dive gear rental business. Having a shop now on top of the dive charter business is getting interesting... more to deal with. Fun.

Here's a group of yellow tangs, whitespotted tangs and a few other fish grazing on the reef down at "Two Steps" outside the Place of Refuge. It's one of the state's top snorkel and shoredive spots.



EDIT September 23, 2011: We've decided to change strategies on the retail store and won't be manning it full time, please read the link for more information.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The manta ray night dive has been crazy nutzo in Kona Hawaii the last little bit...


Just a heads up... the manta dive off the airport is going off bigtime right now. We had 9 on Wednsday of this last week, not bad, then on Saturday's dive we had 19 mantas (we were one of the last two boats to leave and it was boiling with mantas around our boat at the end of the dive, had to turn off all the lights and shine a beam off to the side just to start the engines and get out of there). Last night the report was 20 mantas at the site.

I won't be roped into picking a "season" for manta rays, however we've had some of our biggest number nights in May over the years. Hopefully it'll keep up for a while.

Here's a pic I took several years ago on the night dive. Imagine having bunches of these coming over you.



Saturday, April 23, 2011

Busy April for me.. which brings up a subject... When to book your scuba diving and other activities in Kona Hawaii...


I've been very busy this month between manning the shop and dive charters. Tomorrow's Easter and I'll take my second day off of the month since I've no charters and a decent excuse to be out of the store.

I'll try to touch on my opinion of when to book charters and other activities. This post will kind of ramble... People are so varied as to when they book activities, I used to wait 'til last minute and then do a lot of calling around myself, nowadays (since I'm in the biz) I lean towards booking things earlier for best selection.

The reality is, most of the time if you aren't interested in a specific operator and your schedule's somewhat flexible, you can wait 'ti the last couple of days and find a spot somewhere. At least among the dive businesses in Kona, most are pretty good about referring people elsewhere when they can't make your charter happen. Not sure if the other activities businesses in town are the same though. Once you have a specific operator, or a specific schedule in mind, then it probably behooves you to try to set something up in advance. We do have some really busy times here, Christmas, spring break and such, where it can be tough to find seats on short notice. Christmas week of '09 for instance, I had every charter fully booked by the first week of November... I remember it because that was right before I had my website crash (if you go back in the blog to that time you'll find my griping about it).

Every business is a bit different. I was talking to one operator a couple years back that does diving with more of a snorkel lean, and was told that about 90% of their business booked within 72 hours of the dive. For me, that'd scare me to death... I probably book 90% of my business at least 2-6 weeks in advance. It'll be interesting to see how that mix changes as the shop starts picking up. Currently I have a fair amount of biz booked in May, some in June and July, and 15 charters started in December. Late summer and fall are quiet for now. My goal is to more or less know my schedule well in advance, and then fill in the gaps with walkin customers.

Some people are surprised so many divers actually book in advance. The question I get from time to time is "what happens if it's just us on the boat 30 days from now, are you gonna cancel at the last moment?". Well, that can vary from operator to operator. In the past I have worked for operators that made the late afternoon or evening call the night before the dive to cancel on occasion because the boat wasn't full enough to run at a profit. I did it myself a couple times when I first started the boat charters, but frankly I felt bad about it and decided that's not the way I'd like to be treated as an early booking so I decided to honor all early bookings (no matter how painfull financially). What I've found is that for the most part, if I book a diver or two a few weeks in advance, 80% of the time it works out that I end up booking on top of them and it's all worth it in the long run. I get my share of "private dive" days, but they're fewer and further between than early on. I was looking at Tripadvisor earlier today and noticed a new review from one of my advance booking customers that went out solo with us. Nice to see he had a good time.

So what happens on short notice bookings? Well, that can be another story altogether. I get my share of larger groups (4-6 divers) that call on short notice wanting to go out, but I've already got 2-3 passengers on board and can't fit them on... I end up referring them elsewhere. I wish I could help them out, but it's first come first served. Sometimes I'll get a single or couple that come in and want to go diving three days from now and I've got the day open... unfortunately, in my mind I'm under no obligation to book a money losing charter on short notice. Luckily most of the short notice divers have a flexible schedule and we can usually pick a day that works for both of us or I'll refer them elsewhere. We'll be coming into our busy season here in a few weeks, and with any luck the store will start picking up and the walkin traffic will improve to the point to where I'll be able to go out every day even on short notice.

Bottom line, every industry and operator is different, some are primarily last minute bookers, some book well in advance. It's well worth checking in advance to at least get a feel for any activity or operator you're interested in.

Here's a black phase Longnose Butterfly from Kona. Hawaii has an endemic species of longnose butterfly with a longer nose than those found elsewhere in the world. In Kona we sometimes see a black phase. Nobody's sure exactly why it occurs, but they can go from yellow to black and back.