Diver Down in Grayton Beach
May 2, 2016 by Manny Chavez
Just a few years ago, starting a scuba company wasn’t even on Andy McAlexander's radar, much less his bucket list. Funny what time will do, and Andy is all smiles now as he kicks back outside his new shop in Grayton Beach.
Andy and his partner Laurie Schmitz Janowski opened Grayton Scuba Co. on March at 26 Logan Lane at the Shops of Grayton in the old Shooz of Grayton location. The former shoe selections have been replaced by the latest in scuba/snorkeling gear.
As president of the Board of Directors for SWARA (South Walton Artificial Reef Association), Andy worked tirelessly with a dedicated group of locals to obtain the permitting and funding for Walton County’s first artificial reef deployment. The first reef habitat was installed last July just 750 feet from shore behind Grayton Beach State Park. Now that Gulf water temperatures have warmed, snorkeling and diving begins in earnest and Grayton Scuba Company is stocked and loaded.
It took only a brief conversation during a chance encounter back in May, 2015 for Andy and Laurie to start the wheels in motion toward their scuba/snorkeling business venture.
“Laurie had been in the scuba business in Destin for a couple of decades and we were aware of each other’s involvement regarding artificial reefs and the overall scuba experience,” says Andy. “The thought of there not being a dive shop in Grayton came up and we figured that it would make perfect sense to partner up for this purpose.”
Laurie, who had worked in the scuba instruction and retail business in Destin, just knew that the time was right for SoWal to embrace a snorkeling/scuba enterprise.
“We are a full-service dive center,” explains Andy.” “You can take lessons, charter tours, and rent or purchase gear, fulfilling our goal of bringing awareness to the new marine activities now available in Walton County.”
For tours, groups will meet at the scuba shop for pre-dive checks and then travel to Grayton Beach State Park, or whatever location they are interested in. The park entrance fee is included in the tour cost which varies according to the experience of the divers. Shore diving (as opposed to going out by boat to dive) opens up snorkeling and diving to a lot more people. The depths at the artificial reefs out from Grayton Beach State Park are only 12-18 feet. All tour participants MUST be able to swim. An experienced, professional underwater videographer can also be included for an additional fee.
“To have your experience documented professionally will extend that memory for the visitor,” explains Andy.
All Grayton Scuba Company instructors are certified PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors). Scuba and snorkeling gear is available for rent by the day or week or can be purchased at the shop.
“We have been blessed with this SoWal community and environment where people coming here to relax can now enjoy what is underneath that beautiful emerald water. There is a whole new world of life beneath those waves,” continues Andy. “The community will benefit significantly because visitors will take their experiences with them and, hopefully, through those memories, will become active supporters of conservation and the maintaining of our resources for future generations.”
Laurie likes to think of the process as “educating through entertainment” and she feels that “they get it” when they participate in this way.
Their shared excitement over this diving adventure is palpable, and both Andy and Laurie already have “one foot in the water.” Grayton is soooooo close, and the artificial reefs are already brimming with marine life. We all know how beautiful it is above ground around here, time to check it out down under!
For more information on the Grayton Scuba Company, please call 850-231-0496 or visit web site www.graytonscubacompany.com Current shop hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily with summer hours to be extended to 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Location: 26 Logan Lane, Grayton Beach, Fl.