The Blue Heron Bridge spans Florida’s Intracoastal Waterway connecting Riviera Beach with Singer Island. It is a massive bridge that replaced a concrete structure, which has been partially kept for fishermen to use. At its eastern end, the bridge crosses Phil Foster Park, a Palm Beach County beach and park that is a popular diving destination as well as a launching ramp for pleasure boaters. Divers make regular trips to “the Bridge” when bad weather keeps boats off the ocean. There are free parking and easy access to the lagoon and shallow water.
Blue Heron Bridge Scuba is located inside Phil Foster Park. It is a full-service dive shop that provides air and nitrox fills, gear rental and service, instruction and a well-stocked store. The dive center was created by NAUI Course Director Peter Friedman (NAUI 43801) and dive instructor Christy Campbell, and the result has been a boon to divers, snorkelers and beachgoers. Kayak rentals are also available. The facility was long overdue and is proving to be a popular NAUI dive center.
Peter Friedman hails from Brooklyn, New York, where he learned to dive in 1974. He was an avid diver, but he followed his career path was as an electrical engineer until about 15 years ago when the diving bug really took hold and he opened a shop in Orlando, Florida. Today he is a NAUI Course Director, a technical diving instructor, and a rebreather instructor.
“Ours is a multi-modular dive shop,” Peter says. “We still have the shop in Orlando and also have shops in northern Florida’s cave country, here at the Blue Heron Bridge, and in Stuart. We will be opening a shop in Asheville, North Carolina. We also specialize in first responder training for fire and police.”
Peter was speaking outside the Blue Heron Bridge shop along a promenade on the water while divers were enjoying a lavish continental breakfast in the dive shop, compliments of Peter and his partners. Some stopped to thank him for the free food.
Peter and his colleagues have brought back the fellowship and camaraderie of diving. On special occasions, they lay out free full breakfasts with eggs, bacon, sausage, gravy, biscuits and all the trimmings. All divers at the Bridge are invited to participate. They do not have to be customers. Bringing together people who love diving and water sports is something Blue Heron Bridge Scuba wants to engender,
Peter’s sidekick in the enterprise, Christy Campbell, is originally from San Diego, California. Today she was at Phil Foster Park beach with her new hot dog cart, another concession of the dive shop.
Christy began diving when she was 12 years old. But then, she explains, “…there was a 25-year hiatus. I was pinned to a reef by a mako shark. The shark wouldn’t let me up. I was in 18 feet of water. It scared me good. I disappeared from diving and only came back to it 10 years ago.”
Christy came to Florida because of school. She became a dental hygienist, but when her boss retired so did she. “I had saved enough money to buy in as a partner in Stuart Scuba up the coast,” Christy says as she dishes out a hot dog and tastefully applied red onions for a patron of her culinary arts. “This food concession is the final execution of our service agreement with Palm Beach County Parks and Recreation,” she adds.
Divers were already enjoying the shallow reaches of the underwater park. The county has placed underwater concrete structures to attract marine life. Photographers love the Bridge as a place to photograph frogfish, seahorses, and juveniles of most tropical species. Instructors use the beach entry to introduce their students to saltwater diving; the water at the Bridge is calm even if the ocean is rough. The best time to enter the water is at slack high tide. There is about 1 hour and 15 minutes without any tidal current, and the water is clearer.
A dive shop alone would be a great achievement at the Bridge, but it was a stroke of brilliance when Peter and Chirsty partnered with David and Lynn Brown, owners of Little Deeper Dive Charters, Inc. David and Lynn had been operating out of the Lake Park Marina further north. With the contract, they moved their operation south and established it at the dock just outside the dive shop, from which it is now a short 15-minute run to the Palm Beach Inlet and offshore diving sites.
Captain Jason Landau, Lynn’s son, runs the Little Deeper, and there is a solid team of instructors, divemasters and crew that ensure safe adventures. Jason came to Florida after college. He started diving in 2005, and when David bought Little Deeper in 2008, Jason started working on the boat while he earned his divemaster certification and captain’s license.
“Driving a dive boat means that there are not as many opportunities to dive,” he says. “When I get a chance, I like to explore new spots where not too many people dive. I’ve made 1,700 dives, and I love Florida diving.”
David Brown is also a licensed captain. He and his wife, Lynn, have put together a dedicated team of instructors and divemasters to help divers on Little Deeper enjoy their experience. They have what can only be described as valet service. Divers park in reserved spaces at the dive shop, and crew handle tanks and heavy gear and wheel it down to the boat. When the vessel returns to port heavy gear is returned to the parking lot. David has installed a hot water shower near the rinse buckets. There is nothing like a hot shower after diving offshore in winter.
Little Deeper’s chief divemaster, Brad Kassay, says he enjoys divemastering more than mass-producing student divers because there is more chance to interact with people. Brad is working toward his captain’s license too. “That way I can spell Jason, and he can get some diving in,” says Brad.”
Many divers remark that they have never heard as good and thorough a boat briefing like the one Brad gives aboard Little Deeper. Jason keeps a notebook that contains satellite pictures of the reefs, so the briefings not only ensure safety aboard but enhance the diving experience with a preview of what the reef or shipwrecks will look like once underwater. Brad is an accomplished underwater photographer and often shares his pictures with the divers he guides below.
Blue Heron Bridge Scuba and Little Deeper Dive Charters are evolving. It is already an amazing opportunity for divers at the Blue Heron Bridge site to avail themselves of a full-service dive shop, and divers can also experience and explore offshore reefs and shipwrecks north and south of the Palm Beach Inlet.
For those who enjoy good diving, convivial atmosphere, experienced instructors, captains, and crew with new, state-of-the-art facilities, Blue Heron Bridge Scuba and Little Deeper Charters have it all. For more information, visit blueheronbridgescuba.com (phone 561-839-5130) and littledeepercharters.com (phone 561-436-5299). For information about Peter Friedman’s and Christy Campbell’s other operations in Florida, visit stuartscuba.com (phone 772-600-8288)