The Story Behind the DiveViz App
From the founder [Chris Cheezem]:
This whole thing started because I'm a fair weather diver. I grew up in St. Petersburg, Florida, and would go on dive trips with my dad in the Gulf of Mexico, the Keys, and the Bahamas. The warm, clear water lured me in and I loved experiencing the underwater world, especially on a single breath and without any excessive gear.
As we dove I saw first hand how the fish were getting smaller, fewer, and further between. Because I was experiencing this first hand it meant a lot to me and I wanted to do something about it.
My love for the water led me to the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, all I knew is that I loved the water and if I was going to make it through college I would need extra supervision. I got that and much more.
I went through 3 different majors in a year. On a trip home for Christmas I got to go out on our little Boston Whaler for a few days with my childhood friends. I have a terrible memory, but I can vividly re-live the moment where I was on that boat, on the water, and realized that this is what I wanted for the rest of my life. I had no idea what that would look like, but the first step was changing my major for the last time to Oceanography. My first class was with Commander Hager and we all watched a surf movie. It's a small thing, but I knew I was in the right place.
Once I graduated I opted to be a Surface Warfare Officer because again...I love boats, and being on the water. If I stayed in the Navy the goal would have been to become the Captain of a ship. While I didn't stay in long enough to put my name in that hat, I got an incredible amount of leadership and seamanship experience that I wouldn't trade for the world.
I got stationed in San Diego, CA. I didn't know a thing about west coast diving, but I managed to get myself a freediving wetsuit (won it at a raffle, thank you San Diego Freedivers!) and got myself in the water. This only happened 3 times, because each time I went through the process of packing my gear, driving to a dive site, getting dressed out, and getting into the water...once I entered the ocean I could barely see my hand in front of my face. It was awful. Even for someone who was raised in and on the water, I felt so uncomfortable and didn't enjoy the experience one bit. So...I won't lie...I stopped diving, and picked up surfing.
Not the worst thing in the world. I still got to be in the water, and it was a huge challenge for me to learn this new sport as a 22 year old (I still wouldn't call myself an adult). As I immersed myself in this world I realized 2 things.
1) Even though I was in the water, the fact that I wasn't interacting with the underwater life made me think and care about it less. Because I wasn't seeing what was happening down there, it wasn't in my face, it made me care less.
2) Surfers had a similar problem, where people would drive 2 hours to the coast with all their boards and beach gear...only to find the ocean flat as a lake. Mobile apps like Surfline and MagicSeaweed addressed this problem and helped surfers make the most of their time.
As these realizations and thoughts emerged over time I had to wonder...could I make the Surfline for diving? Could I figure out how to predict water clarity?
So I tried. For two months, I took a composition notebook and logged oceanographic data such as swell height, period, and direction, along with wind speed, precipitation, etc. Then I would make a guess of what the water clarity would be. After that I would walk down to the Ocean Beach pier and drop a secchi disk into the water. Essentially it's a frisbee that gets lowered into the water with a line, and as soon as you can't see the frisbee from the surface you mark the depth that it's at...and that's your secchi depth, or your surface visibility! I did this every day for 3 months, and then would scrape online forums such as the DiveBums email list, the San Diego County Dive Reports Facebook page, and any reports I could get from friends who were in the water. After a while I started to see some trends, and thought that maybe, someday, I could predict visibility.
I built my first website and started posting dive reports, but when the Navy deployed me the ships internet didn't work with the site, and when I returned I was immediately sent to dive school in Panama City and then to a shipyard in Virginia Beach. While I did a lot of hard hat diving there, I wasn't as motivated to dive recreationally. I told you I'm a fair weather diver. But the idea of predicting water clarity wouldn't leave me alone.
I decided to get out of the Navy after 7 years, and get my MBA at UCSD. I'm so glad I took some time to slow down and figure out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, it was a rare opportunity that few get. What I realized is that again, I couldn't leave this idea alone. Every project and presentation was built around this idea. I was manic about it.
While I was at grad school I started teaching freediving courses, and also got my captains license so I could run boats. During this time I met Elizabeth, my partner in crime and the much needed adult supervision (it's all relative). We worked on a dive boat until their operation fell apart, and then we somehow stuck together afterwords. She started as our social media manager, and has become the absolute foundation of both DiveViz and Just Get Wet. Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good, and the luck I had to find her and get her interested in these projects is the most impactful thing that's happened on this journey.
But back to me.
We applied for federal funding through a NOAA SBIR (Small Business Innovation and Research) grant, and got $150K to start us off. This was great news because I had cashed in my entire ROTH IRA from the Navy at the beginning of 2020...and when COVID hit I wasn't able to generate any income through classes or charters. I shaved my beard, applied for 60 jobs, got 1 call back, and found antidepressants. Fortunately a couple months later we were awarded the grant, freediving classes and boat charters went through the roof, and I was able to pay off my debts and step away from the brain meds.
The past couple years we have built a prototype of the app, redesigned it, and most importantly built a rock solid, lean mean and extreme team of app developers. It's been 2 steps forward and 1.5 steps back, but we have learned so much on this journey and couldn't be more excited about the updated app we're about to release. We hope you like it, we hope it gets you in the water, and we hope you stick with us as we keep making it better and better!
So similar to my experience. Grew up free diving in south Florida, Bahamas, Caribbean. Trying to figure it out in San Diego. Looking forward to the launch of diveviz.
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