“I’m blessed to be doing what I love every day.” – Susie Oliver
Trying to convince your brain to tell your lungs it’s okay to breathe underwater is a tricky thing. That’s why the very first lesson during the “Discover Scuba” course I took was learning to take slow, steady breaths through the respirator in knee-deep water with my facemask just below the surface. It took a couple breaths for my lungs and brain to overpower the natural instinct to panic, but in just a few minutes I had progressed from dropping to both knees in the shallow end to skimming the bottom of the deep end of the pool at the Owensboro Family YMCA.
It was only a 15 minute course. Just a taste. But I get it now. I completely understand why so many people love diving. Those few minutes underwater were some of the most peaceful moments I have ever experienced, and I can’t wait to get back down there. I understand now how peaceful diving is; so quiet and relaxing, with just a low, muffled murmur and the rhythmic swishing of exhaled bubbles rising to the surface.
Now I’m eager to see some real fish, colorful reefs, or some other underwater treasure. But that’s a certification and several more classes away. For now, I’ve finally solved a mystery that I’ve been wondering about for years: What is a deep sea diving place doing out on Highway 81?
Blue Meridian Dive Center
“You’ll never forget seeing your first dolphin underwater,” says Blue Meridian Dive Center (6000 HWY 81) owner Susie Oliver. “It’s phenomenal.” Oliver has been running Blue Meridian for the past 15 years, and in that time has managed to build up quite a community of divers in Daviess County. “I would guess we have about 10,000 divers here in Owensboro. About half of those are active,” Oliver told Owensboro Living.
That’s partly why Blue Meridian can exist here in Owensboro; it’s a niche market and it’s the only place like it in town. Blue Meridian is a one-stop shop for all things diving. In addition to housing a retail shop with a very large selection, they also fill air tanks, service gear, offer certification, rent diving equipment, and organize diving trips.
“Diving, like golf and many other sports, is a very accessory-driven sport,” Oliver explained. “There are the basics, but then there is an enormous amount of trinkets, bells, and whistles. So I have to carry a wide variety to cover all levels of experienced divers.”
Because most people aren’t thinking about diving in the winter, the shop tends to be busiest from May – October. The off season is when they offer training and service the tanks and regulators.
Classes and Certification
The first step to certification is taking the “Discover Scuba” introductory course (which is what I took at the YMCA), then certification classes, which are hosted right at their facility in a classroom in the back corner of the store. For field experience and diving certification, Blue Meridian takes their students to a flooded rock quarry in Illinois. Newly certified divers then have the option to join a diving trip organized by Blue Meridian or dive on their own personal vacation.
For those who are certified, Blue Meridian regularly plans 4-6 diving trips a year. The usual destinations are the Florida Keys, North Carolina, and Panama City Beach, plus an international trip in June to places like Cozumel (Mexico) and Cayman Brac (Cayman Islands.)
Judging by the pictures and t-shirts on the wall from past years, the trips are very popular and there are a lot of return divers.
Throughout the year, the diving community also comes together for charity events like underwater Monopoly and underwater treasure hunts, which are a way to try something different, have fun diving and raise money for the community at the same time. Past events have benefited Team Karlie, Buddy Ball, Dream Riders of Kentucky and other children’s charities.
Susie says her dad helped start those charity events and she is now keeping the tradition alive. “I had seen underwater Monopoly somewhere else. So I contacted Hasbro and they sent me an underwater kit with the weighted board and laminated money.” Now they use their own magnetic board with magnetized hotels and houses. Oliver says it’s amazing to see how divers have learned to cheat. But for the most part, divers resort to hand signals and writing on a slate to communicate. It’s a fun, relaxing day with a cookout and rotation of four players at a time.
The underwater Monopoly day takes place at the pool at Blue Meridian. The underwater treasure hunt is a little more involved, so it takes place at the quarry in Illinois. The cost for the treasure hunt is $35 which includes lunch, a fun day of diving and a guaranteed door prize. Any extra door prizes are auctioned off.
In addition to a fee for certification classes, there is an initial cost for the basic equipment like fins and snorkels. But Oliver says the up-side is they’ll last up to 15 years. Rather than buying all of their own gear, many divers find it’s more cost efficient and convenient to rent. “Our special rental rate for students is about $50 for the week for all the equipment you need to dive on vacation,” Susie said.
As for this first-time diver, now that I’ve taken the Discover Scuba class, I’m very seriously considering pursuing my certification and getting into some real water. I think I’ve caught the bug. If I do, I’ll certainly know where to go.
- Susie’s dad and grandfather were both hard hat divers (like in the Cuba Gooding movie Men of Honor). A helmet they both used is on display in the shop.
- There is a wide age range in SCUBA, which makes it a very family oriented sport. You do have to be 10 to be certified, but Blue Meridian has divers in their 80s who are still active.
- A red rectangle with a white line through it is the recognizable diving emblem. It can be seen on license plates, stickers, etc.
- The phrase “80/80”refers to divers who prefer diving in 80 degree water with 80 feet of visibility.