In this ongoing series, we speak to the people who run dive centres, resorts and liveaboards from around the world about their businesses and the diving they have to offer…
What is your name?
Sarah and David Hellevang – husband and wife owners/operators.
What is the name of your business?
Golden Rock Dive Center
What is your role within the business?
Owners/operators: David does all of the maintenance and repairs and most of the captaining. Sarah does marketing, finance, administration and dives or captains a few times per week. We have two other full-time PADI Instructors/managers at the dive shop.
How long has the business operated for?
Originally established in 1994. Sarah and David purchased in April, 2017.
How long have you dived for, and what qualification are you?
We fell in love with diving in 2008 when we went to the Philippines as our first dive travel. We became PADI open water dive instructors and quickly decided we wanted to run our own dive center the way we had envisioned: not under the confines of so many shops that overload their boats without good diver supervision or run a small operation without the safety and high quality equipment.
What is your favorite type of diving?
Slow, relaxed, looking for all of the little things. I find a slow hovering dive allows me to see the natural marine activity and often the sea life comes to me! I could spend hours with my head under a rock playing with cleaner shrimp or looking for frogfish!
If you could tell people one thing about your business (or maybe more!) to make them want to visit you what would it be?
Want to return to how diving used to be? Small groups of experienced divers with quality service without being pretentious; authentic island get-away without the mass tourism; relaxed atmosphere where our divers feel like family, not just another diver on an over-crowded boat.
Diving on Statia is so eclectic! With over 30 dives sites, most of which are with moorings, Statia boasts several new wrecks, old historic wreck diving with anchors, blue beads, and bottles from the 1700 and 1800’s, well preserved coral encrusted lava flows, and more… all under the protection of the St. Eustatius Marine Park and Reserve since 1996.
What is your favorite dive in your location and why?
So many good ones to choose from! I really enjoy both Hangover and Double Wreck, where I can spend hours searching for the macro sightings as well as a turtle or two that will often swim directly up to divers.
What types of diving are available in your location?
Several distinct diving ecosystems: historic archaeological dives with old anchors and glass bottles from the late 1700, several new wreck dive sites including the prestigious Charles L. Brown, isolated rock outcroppings surrounded by huge Caribbean sand rays, deep wall dives, coral encrusted lava flows from the Quill eruption around 40,000 years ago, sandy bottom muck diving with flying gurnards, sailfin blennies, historic artefacts including the opportunity to find a Statia Blue Bead. Statia has diving for all levels and interests.
What do you find most rewarding about your current role?
We are having fun renovating and updating the business since we purchased two years ago. When my husband and I purchased Golden Rock Dive Center we had the vision of providing dive services that are safe and attentive, yet relaxed and authentic. We have incredible staff that hold dear the same vision.
I love when our customers leave with smiles on their faces from an amazing day or week of diving and feel they were catered to on their special dive vacation. “Leave feeling like family, not just another diver on a boat.”
What is your favorite underwater creature?
Ohh! I love them all. Anytime I find a nudibranch I am happy and sea turtles will always be dear to me. But, my ultimate favorite is summer time when all of the juveniles bloom in the water and I get to find the juvenile trunkfish. They make me smile the most!
Are there any exciting changes / developments coming up in the near future?
As new owners, we are constantly updating, especially after our rebuild from Irma. We are back in our old location with new digs and loving it! We are also in the process of some new program development… keep tabs on our Facebook and website in the coming months for more details.
As a center what is the biggest problem you face at the moment?
Hurricane Irma basically destroyed our main international flight hub in St. Maarten (SXM). There were many cancellations due to this and the last two years has been a struggle getting people here to St. Eustatius (EUX) because of the limited flight options. However, SXM is making amazing progress each month to re-establish their full flight schedule and we look forward to having people return.
Is your center involved in any environmental work?
Absolutely! Beyond the daily protection of our Marine Reserve by educating divers to have good buoyancy and respect for the marine environment, we regularly organize or participate in land and underwater rubbish clean-up. We offer Project Aware and REEF dive training and participation. Statia has many local and visiting research divers on the island conducting multiple marine research programs. These researchers are regularly on our boats and around our shop providing tourists the opportunity to dive with and learn from researchers. These scientists provide educational talks and dives directly to our customers which is a fun way to learn about what is going on in our underwater world.
How do you see the SCUBA / Freediving / snorkeling industry overall? What changes would you make?
Mass tourism in general and mass dive tourism specifically with no oversight and no education is damaging our fragile marine and land environments. Though all-inclusive resort vacations are inexpensive and convenient, tourist, especially divers, miss out on any authentic and personalized experiences as they are hidden behind the walls of the resort and end up diving without any personalized touch.
What would you say to our visitors to promote the diving you have to offer?
With over 1000 hectares of protected coral reef, we have almost more reef environment than Bonaire and Saba combined. Combine this with the authentic and safe island experiences, coming to Statia is like stepping back into the Caribbean 30 years ago.
Only one dive boat is allowed per dive site, so divers get a truly personalized diving experience. Our boats leave from the local fishing pier directly next to the dive center where divers can interact with the local fishermen and we regularly host local fish and lobster BBQ’s at our dive shop.
Where can our visitors find out more about your business?
Facebook: Golden Rock Dive Center
Instagram: Golden Rock Dive Center