Interview with Rod Watkins; "Godfather" of San Diego charter tours
I had the opportunity to sit down with the Owner of Scuba San Diego; Rod Watkins. Rod really has quite an incredible story, and I was honored to have him be the first diver that I Interview on this blog. I learned a lot sitting down with him for a half hour, and I am beyond happy to share some of his story with you.
I met Rod like I meet most good things in my life; on Craigslist. I was cleaning boats in all the local marinas, scrubbing my existence away one barnacle at a time, completely unaware of the "gem" that is San Diego scuba diving. Looking for extra cash, I excitedly came across an ad looking for a Scuba Dive master to begin working as a tour guide through Scuba San Diego.
Rod was the first recreational diver to show me the ropes of San Diego diving, and I didn't even realize at that time how lucky I was to have found who I now consider to be the "Godfather" of the San Diego Scuba World. As I continued working around other divers in the community, Rod's name seemed to always come up. Once I learned a little bit more about him, I learned how he made he's reputation and has earned his claim to fame among so many divers. So here it goes, a sneak peak of part of Rod's story.
Q: When did you start Scuba San Diego?
A: In 1983 Scuba San Diego was incorporated and it's we've been running ever since, it's never stopped.
At 74 years old, Rod celebrates 51 years of being a NAUI Scuba Instructor this summer. Beginning his professional scuba teaching career in 1968, Rod is likely the oldest continuous active scuba instructor in Southern California; and he loves teaching. He taught at San Diego State University for over 10 years, teaching courses in Diving Physics and Physiology. And in case you are wondering. Yes, he is still giving tours and certifying students.
Q: Is it true that you were the first person to ever charter a snorkel trip to La Jolla Cove?
A: I was the first person responsible for organizing guided snorkeling and kayaking tours to the La Jolla Cove area.
This was kind of an incredible fact to wrap my head around when I first heard it. Considering the number of companies and individuals making their living off of this concept, it should not be taken with a grain of salt. Rod Watkins, in a very literal sense has paved the way for divers like myself to educate guests about one of the country's largest protected marine parks; the La Jolla Underwater Marine Park.
The road to the promised land of the guided tour life wasn't always an easy one however. Rod explains that he was at the forefront of legal battles with the City for years regarding gaining access to the La Jolla Shores for his kayak business. Which he ended up giving up to focus on the scuba and snorkel tour world.
Q: Do you think the City of San Diego will ever limit access or tax scuba divers who need access to La Jolla Park?
A: No. The scuba dive community has been there already and is not as pecuniary as the kayaking community. No one in the kayaking community can get together and agree on anything so as a result, they have all pretty much laid down and let the city run right over them [with taxes].
Q: What do you think are some of the hardest things for new dive Instructors / Divemasters trying to make a business like Scuba San Diego?
A: This is a very interesting question. I've had many instructors attempt to duplicate what I do and there is a big graveyard of scuba services [failed attempts]. First off, be prepared to be poor. I was lucky, my daughter worked for Hewlett Packard at 18 years old, and set up a website for me in the early 90's, before I even had a computer. I will never go out of business with a strong URL like ScubaSanDiego.com.
A: You have to have a business mindset. If you are going to be in the scuba diving business, you have to realize that you have to make money. You have to charge enough money to stay in business or else you're gone. And if you're going against a powerful URL like mine (even in the 90's), you are not going to do it by simply cutting prices. You have to do something original.
This resonated heavily with me. A lot of my own lack of customer conversions I was experiencing I did directly attribute to lack of URL strength and Google SEO (Search Engine Optimization) logarithms to drive customers to my webpage. When searching for scuba diving in San Diego, ScubaSanDiego.com is the first website to pop up on the organic search rankings along with the slew of the other mega scuba businesses in the area. Zachsscubashack.com however, does not even make the first several pages. Something for myself and newbies to the business need to be aware of.
A lot of the other big dive shops in the area are paying for Google Ads to compete with his website and attract new divers coming to San Diego on vacation or who live here. One thing is for sure, ScubaSanDiego[.com] is probably the strongest URL for the scuba tour business in San Diego. And Rod attributes a large part of his businesses' success to having his website established early on when the internet was in it's infancy.
Rod also mentions the value in getting your Scuba repair tech certifications and any specialties that would give you the advantage over other divers. Especially to be a good prospect for the scuba job of all of our dreams in places like Hawaii, Raj Ampat or Palau.
Q: Do you have any suggestions on longevity or habits you have used in your life to be able to continue diving at 74?
A: Well....I was a vegetarian for 30 years. I just started eating meat about 8 years ago [he mentions he only eats hormone-free, grass fed organic meat prepared by his dear friends at Red House Pizza; his favorite hangout]. Reading is always good. I don't have any TV, just a DVD player and the screen. And I don't do any sugar.
Sugar, if you read your history, is the greatest revenge of the Middle East upon the Western World ever perpetrated. Sugar is the key agent in arterial sclerosis. If you can eliminate sugar from your diet, you are going to live a very long time. Sugar is a poison that kills you very slowly year after year and I have a big problem with the diet (American diet).
Q: Could you share with us one of your most memorable dives?
A: This was in Zuma Beach just north of Malibu area. This was my sixth dive. My brother and I were going to do an easy dive at Zuma beach. Back in those days, you could get Pismo Clams. So we were on the dive, I was collecting clams, and I look up and I see a huge grey wall in front of me. I thought to myself, Sheesh. Holy cow, there is a submarine down here!!
A: I couldn't see my brother around, he was collecting clams somewhere around. I surfaced and as I was about to ask my brother if he'd seen the submarine he yelled, "Rod! Did you see that grey whale!?" Before I could even say anything this huge massive grey whale spyglasses in front of us for about three minutes. You could see these huge hubcap sized barnacles. It was a big old fully grown grey whale. And that was it for me. I never stopped diving after that. I have seen so many things here San Diego and other parts of the world.
Q: Are you ever going to retire?
A: No. I just keep going. I have trained a lot of Lifeguards over the years and every once awhile I am out at the cove and those guys show up and ask me if I am still diving, if I am ever going to retire. I laugh and say "You'll know when I'm retired when you have found my body in the kelp forest!" I am not ever going to retire.
Q: What's in the future for Scuba San Diego?
A: I am currently working on a scuba trip to Palau next January (2020). Seven nights in paradise with the most unbelievable coral reef diving you will ever do. I have dove a lot of beautiful coral reefs but these are pristine. Their is an abundance of sea life because the entire island nation of Palau is a ecological preserve. All 3,000+ islands in the Palau. No one can fish in Palau but a Palau-an. It's also the smallest nation with a seat on the UN. The people their speak English, the dollar is the unit of exchange, it's really a beautiful place to go.
The Scuba San Diego Palau trip that Rod is putting together is 7 days from January 18th - 25th 2020. The Palau Adventure Tour includes 5 days of diving, with two dives a day, with free breakfast. The package is priced at $1637 per diver through his website and you can even do installments to make it easier on your checkbook. The link is https://scubasandiego.com/palau-2020-adventure-tour/, but you will want to book now, their are only 7 spots left and those will be sure to be filled.
Sitting with Rod for a half hour and listening to him share his story of how Scuba San Diego came to be was absolutely awesome. Hearing all of his experiences, one thing is for sure. Scuba diving has been good to Rod Watkins, and Rod Watkins has been good to scuba diving. He is very clearly still in love with the sport, it is literally what gets him out of bed, up and active most mornings. One would be so lucky to be given so many days of diving in sunny San Diego throughout the years. Something to shoot for for the rest of us.
As for Rod, be sure to check out Scuba San Diego's website and keep your eyes out for him leading dive trips locally and abroad. Thank you Rod Watkins for your words, your friendship, your guidance and motivation. Below you will find the full audio interview uploaded to Youtube for your listening pleasure. In the interview you will find a lot more tips and stories from Rod himself, be sure to take a listen. Enjoy and please share!