The Short of It.
In 1973, Underwater World was established by Art Pierce of Huntington Valley, PA. Initially setting up the business in the garage of his home, Art moved it to a small duplex on Easton Road in Horsham later that year. In 1978, the business was purchased by Mike Guckin and moved to its present location in 1985. That move substantially amplified our showroom space, allowing us to display some of the quarter-million dollars worth of equipment we normally carry. Underwater World has long been a NAUI Pro Center but has also employed both PADI and YMCA Instructors. From 1973 to present day, Underwater World has taught approximately 14,000 students how to dive. Our courses go from Intro To Scuba, all the way to Instructor courses. We have taught at numerous YMCAs, Community Adult Schools, swim clubs, and Universities. We continue to be the premier scuba instruction facility in the Philadelphia area, also providing dive travel, equipment service, rental, and equipment sales.
The Long Of It.
If you want to know all the details, let's go back to the beginning. 1973. Scuba diving was still in its infancy. Art Pierce, an Upper Dublin schoolteacher and a scuba instructor from Huntingdon Valley, along with a buddy, Herb Haigh, decided to start a scuba business. Art started Underwater World in his garage in Huntingdon Valley. He quickly realized (with a little bit of spousal pressure, I hear) that he needed to find a retail location. He purchased half of a duplex at 393 Easton Road, a block south of our present location. For the next five years, Art (Herb eventually moved on) would open the store after he was done teaching every day to service the small but growing number of divers. Most of the teaching took place through the Abington Adult School at Abington High School. A few other independent instructors would work through Underwater World for equipment and air. At that time most equipment and air was purchased through sporting goods stores, such as Polly Brothers. There were about 3 or 4 other dive stores in the Philadelphia area.
During those early years, Mike Guckin was one of those independent instructors. A YMCA Instructor, who had learned to dive and who had become a dive instructor while at Penn State, Mike had just come out of the military and had started teaching a course at the Hatboro YMCA. In a short time, Art asked Mike if he would like to teach a second course for Underwater World at the Springfield High School. Also in those early years, Mike taught two students who would later play significant roles with Underwater World. In one of Mike's first classes after returning from a 3-year stint overseas with the military, Mike taught Jeff Smith and Mike's brother, Ed to dive. That was actually 1972. Underwater World was not yet on the scene and we used to get air from a sporting goods store in Ambler, which later became Mid-Atlantic Scuba Center. Jeff would go on to become an instructor and continues with Underwater World to this day, the next senior instructor to Mike. Ed would move away from diving a bit but come back again a number of years later, become more active, earn a NAUI instructor rating, and become a key instructor, advisor, and trip leader.
But back to Art's reign. By 1978, business was getting brisk and Art realized that it was getting beyond his time constraints. He decided to sell the business. There were two contenders - Jeep Snyder and Mike Guckin. Mike and Art managed to come to an agreement that was beneficial to both and in November 1978, Mike took over Underwater World.
A year or two before the transfer, Art had purchased an old limestone quarry in Paoli, off Swedesboro Road, with the intent of turning it into a training site. It was used for several years before Mike determined that it was not ideal for that purpose. There was very little land surrounding the quarry for parking and infrastructure. It was 180 feet deep and got there very quickly. Additionally the temperature below the thermocline rarely got above 40 degrees, even in the summer. The opportunity to sell the property presented itself and Mike took advantage of it.
As diving moved into the 80's, Underwater World expanded both its teaching staff and the locations at which courses were taught. Classes were held at the usual suspects - Hatboro YMCA, Ambler YMCA, Abington YMCA, Abington High School, Bucks County Community College, as well as many locations as far as Mercer County Community College, Garnet Valley High School, Pottstown YMCA, and several locations in center city Philadelphia.
By 1984, we realized that we had outgrown our present store and started looking for another property. After sizing up a number of different locations, we found the property at 495 Easton Road that had started out as a drive-through milk store (really) and eventually had become a gun shop and marina. Guns and boats. But an arson fire had destroyed the building. Mike purchases the property, which at that time included the corner property. The corner was sold off to help finance the construction of the new building and in 1985 Underwater World moved into its present location, a building designed from the ground up as a dive shop. The sales floor had increased five-fold. Two compressors and 25 storage bottles were installed to service an ever-expanding business. The rental department consisted of 100 tanks, 100 wetsuits, 48 regulators and the same number of BCs. A sales rep said that at that time, it was one of the 5 nicest dive centers in the country. The instructional staff at Underwater World reached a point where it was 12 instructors strong and the most experienced staff within hundreds of miles or more. The top three instructors alone have well over 100 years of teaching experience combined, which is passed on to those who have followed.
The 90"s bought us continued growth and our travel program expanded with it. Although our first trip to the South Pacific (Truk and Palau) dated back to 1983, the 90's found us traveling further and more often. Besides trips to Bonaire (with as many as 55 people), Little Cayman, Cozumel, Belize, and La Paz, we also found ourselves in Egypt, Kenya, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, the Maldives, and more. Our travel program became one of the best in the area, with a cadre of experienced instructor/trip leaders. With decent sized groups and return trips to many locations, we became known by the resorts we visited and were given white glove treatment for our customers. Then, of course, came 9/11. The shift in attitudes about travel were at first disturbing and had an effect on business, but divers, being resilient travelers, quickly returned to the checkout counters, and on 9/11/2002, we found ourselves back in Malaysia, one of the most populous Muslim countries in the world. (The people were great.)
As we passed our FORTIETH anniversary, we continue to service the Philadelphia area with great instruction, equipment maintenance, dive travel and with equipment prices to rival out internet competitors, but with service and advice they just can't match. As we start ticking off the years towards our 50th anniversary, Jeff Guckin, Mike's son, has started to take a more active role in the operation of Underwater World. And this means that the Guckin family wants to continue to bring in new divers to be part of the Underwater World Family. We hope that you will find your way here.