Today's Blue Lagoon Dive Shop is a far cry from the humble wooden dive shack established on Nov. 13, 1973. The business started with a borrowed air compressor, and rented scuba tanks.
Today's modern, air-conditioned shop has 250 aluminum 80 cubic foot scuba tanks, 3 compressors, and a fleet of 10 dive boats with 10 dive masters certified by PADI.
A Nitrox and mixed gas facility completes the picture."
I never wanted to open a dive shop", professed Kimiuo.
"I didn't know what a dive shop was.
I never knew anything about running a business."
In fact, by 1970 island standards, Kimiuo was doing quite well with with his hourly wage at the Marine Resources office, where he served as dive master for the crown of thorns starfish control team.
Guam scuba instructors Dianne Strong and her husband, Ron, were among the first to take dive tours to Truk. She recalls the first trips they led, "We knew there was no dive shop in Truk, so three days earlier we shipped ahead our 20 empty scuba tanks. We made our first dive on the Shinkoku Maru on June 9, 1973, and our second dive the following day on the I-169 sub. The vessels that served as our dive boats varied."
As Kimiou's reputation expanded so did his friendship with many of Truk's visitors. Among them, the well known movie producer Al Giddings who worked on projects such as "Titanic", "The Abyss", and "The Deep". Another influential friend was Ken Seybold, President of Bay Travel, Inc., a well established dive travel company in California.
The attraction to Truk as a diving destination expanded even more with the February 1972 issue of Skin Diver Magazine. February's issue included a detailed feature about the newly located "Shinohara" submarine wreck, I-169. The accidental discovery of the sub was made while Giddings, Seybold, and Paul Tzimoulis (Editor of Skin Diver Magazine), were creating a film about the adventure and beauty of wreck diving.
The publicized information led to a surge of visiting divers.
Unlike diving tourists from Guam, scuba divers from the U.S. could not bring scuba tanks all the way to Truk. The need for a dive shop on Truk kept growing. As Truk's first certified dive master, many believed Kimiuo was the right man for the job.
Arthur Travers, President of Poseidon Adventures, a California travel agency specializing in diving adventure tours, joined Seybold and Giddings in trying to convince Kimiuo to quit his job and start a shop. They brought tanks to Truk for their clients to use, and then left them with Kimiuo, renting them out to him. "They paid me $5 an hour to run the compressor, I was the only one who knew how," Kimiuo recalls. "And they tipped me very much money. I was making $500-600 a week, and the same amount from Fisheries pay - that part I gave to my wife. I was very happy." With each trip, Seybold would leave more tanks behind, and Kimiou's wealth continued to grow.
One night, after pumping 20 tanks, Kimiuo paused to let the compressor rest. During his break the conversation with Seybold started up again, as Kimiuo recalls. "Ken asked me, 'are you making money?' I told him, 'yes, plenty!' He asked me if I wanted to make more money. He said, 'tell your boys,' I said 'what boys?' He said 'the boy's you're gonna hire to drive your boats to take out your divers.' - He really wanted me to open the dive shop!"
By that time Kimiuo owned 60 tanks and the diving tourism kept increasing, he realized there would be a real future in this business. Giddings convinced him to apply for a $7,000 construction loan from the Trust Territory. Truk's then Distad John Sablan pushed for approval from Saipan headquarters, and also authorized loan of the Marine Resources compressor.
Blue Lagoon Dive Shop was thus born on rented land about a half mile from the one-mile long airport runway. Kimiuo cracks a grin and his eyes dance as he recalls that first day. "I pumped all the tanks, bought a six-pack of beer, and invited Barry Connell (Truk High School Principal) to come over to the shop. I told him to invite all the American teachers to come out for a free dive the next day. No charge! That was Nov. 13, 1973."
Blue Lagoon Dive Shop had been launched
Micronesia's first dive shop opened with 36 steel scuba tanks and backpacks, the compressor, and one Trukese wooden
speedboat driven by the late Koichi Peset.
The first dive guide, was Kimiuo's stepson, Kelep Souken, now a father of seven, who after 25 years still safely guides divers to Truk's underwater attractions. But success didn't come easily for Kimiuo Aisek.
Steel tanks had to be hydrostatically tested on Guam, and eventually were
discarded and replaced with aluminum tanks. Compressors also died and had to be replaced.
An ever growing number of dive masters had to be certified and outfitted with
the necessary gear. The customary stresses of extended family members wanting to be paid but not showing up for work often contributed to financial losses.
Kimiuo's fortune was made and lost several times. But each time diving friends from the mainland U.S., members of Truk's Air Force Civic Action Teams (CAT), and others would come through for him, - money for a boat and motors, mechanical assistance, or the free shipping of a new air compressor all the way from Los Angeles, courtesy of Continental Airlines.
Over the years medical problems had plagued Kimiuo. The dive shop reached a real turning point in 1989 when Kimiou spent six months in Hawaii for medical care. Enter Gradvin Aisek, his son. "I had been an apprentice to Dad for 14 years when he left for Hawaii," Gradvin proudly recalls. "I started in 1975 driving the boats, and learned to locate the wrecks. When I learned to dive in '75 we had steel tanks, a double hose Aqua Lung regulator, no depth or pressure gauge, a J-valve reserve and no dive computers!"
Kimiou echoes his son's pride in learning the business. "After the CAT team hooked up my first "owned" compressor, I taught my son to dive. He learned everything," Kimiuo recalls. "Today I would say he's better than anybody in diving technique. I'm very proud of him."
Gradvin fixed up the dive shop in 1989 with some paint and air conditioning. He increased the selection of wreck dive t-shirts, and improved the shop's equipment servicing. He had interned on Guam with Bill Spurlock and Jim Brandt at Island Scuba Repair and later at Micronesian Divers Association (MDA). When Kimiou returned, he knew his son had proven himself. Gradvin then became manager of Blue Lagoon Dive Shop.
Before the days of electronic web sites and scuba bulletin boards, word was gotten out about Truk through publications showing the unique beauty of these WWII wrecks. The cover of the May 1976 National Geographic featured Al Giddings' photo of a main battle tank on the deck of the San Francisco Maru, shot at a depth of 170 feet. The 36-pages of the issue's "Life Springs from Death in Truk Lagoon" were written by Sylvia Earle, Ph.D, and photographed by Giddings. The Giddings- Earle expedition of 1975 included John Kennedy Jr., then age 15, and his cousin, son of the first Peace Corps Director "Sarge" Shriver. Jackie Onassis had trusted her son's life to Giddings, who in turn, placed his trust in Kimiuo and his dive masters. Today JFK Jr's dive knife and backpack are on exhibit at the new Blue Lagoon Dive Shop with Giddings' photo of John - signed,
"To Kimiuo: Thanks for teaching me everything I know about diving! P.S. I'm prettier now!"
Information about the world's greatest concentration of divable wrecks expanded greatly with the publishing of Klaus Lindemann's Hailstorm Over Truk Lagoon in 1982. Hailstorm quickly became the Truk wreck diver's definitive "Bible."
The second edition was published 1992. Klaus had initiated a long, systematic wreck search and together with Kimiuo discovered, rediscovered and identified many of today's popular wrecks.
In 1999, Klaus published his Hailstorm - The Dive Guide - which he dedicated to Kimiuo: "This book is dedicated to my good friend Kimiuo Aisek, the great Micronesian Navigator and Custodian of the Truk Wrecks. I owe him deep gratitude and cherish his friendship. I have been diving with Kimiuo since 1978 in Truk until he retired from diving some 15 years later. In 1980 we went on an extensive wreck search - without the aid of the photographs which have since been unearthed nor GPS, with just Kimiuo's 36-year old recollection - which we referred to as 'Kimiuo's Scientific Nose,' - and a simple depth recorder. We discovered and rediscovered literally all wrecks, some of which have become very popular now.
"Kimiuo, you showed us the wrecks and you told us the story. I was privileged to record what you remembered. It will never be lost. It is part of your legend in Hailstorm Over Truk Lagoon."
Another wreck locator, Dan Bailey, then residing in Kwajalein, published WWII Wrecks of the Kwajalein and Truk Lagoons in 1992. Both authors were in Truk in July 1998, expanding their materials for additional books.
From print media to video, Truk's images and stories have been captured over the years with the able assistance of Kimiuo and his Blue Lagoon Dive Shop.
Then President of Sea Films, Inc, Al Giddings was the first to produce a commercial quality film about Truk. "Search for the 'Shinohara' I-169 Submarine" competed for honors in the television Emmy awards. His dive boats and dive guides were supplied, of course, by Blue Lagoon Dive Shop.
In January 1998 Giddings returned to Truk for 32 days to shoot high definition film of 24 hours on three wrecks. "Truk Lagoon: Underwater Odyssey," was an hour-long special aired by TBS on August 30, 1998.
While Kimiuo's initial supporter Ken Seybold had passed away, Giddings and Kimiuo's other decades-long friends sent Blue Lagoon Dive Shop their best wishes on Nov. 13, 1998. Visiting divers at the Blue Lagoon Resort celebrated the day with free diving and free meals at the Blue Lagoon Resort Dining Room.
The anniversary special commemorated the day when Kimiuo offered free diving to launch "Truk's first dive shop".
The new Blue Lagoon Dive Shop is located adjacent to the Blue Lagoon Resort.
The 2,400 square foot facility is where dive travel bookings and diving operations are managed from.
Over the years Kimiuo shared the history he personally experienced with the many divers and visitors to Truk Lagoon. In his last few years he could sometimes be found in a captain's chair at the dive shop, eager to 'talk story" to any diver who suspected who he might be.
The dives Kimiuo made, the sights he had seen, the history that has been unearthed, and the friends he made through diving - this is what is at the true heart of the Blue Lagoon Dive Shop - celebrating over 37 years of wreck diving history.