BROOKFIELD – When Gary Gordon was in his mid-30s, he went on a tropical vacation to Hawaii. While in Maui, he took a scuba diving lesson. In the open waters of paradise, he discovered an unbelievable world, and spent two weeks deep sea diving while his friends “spent time with the pineapples.”
Several years later, Gordon is a renowned master scuba diving instructor who has trained over 5,000 people. Oftentimes, he deep sea dives with his students in some of the most exotic locations in the world like – Grand Caymans, Fiji, Honduras, Micronesia, and Tahiti. He’ also a gold ambassador to Bonaire and visited this top diving destination 50 times.
Along the way, Gordon created a successful business doing what he loves, “teaching people how to have fun in the water,” he said.
Ten years ago, he opened The Dive Shop Aquatic Center in Brookfield, and he has much reason to celebrate.
When doors first opened at 439 Federal Road, word quickly spread how The Dive Shop was “Connecticut’s Largest PADI, 5 Star Instructor Development Center,” for beginners to advanced, and those needing recertification. “It’s also the only scuba diving facility in the State that has a full-size, indoor lap pool that’s perfect for onsite training,” he said.
This brand-new 12,000-square-foot facility also became something else… It began to attract lap swimmers, and a lot of them.
Today, The Dive Shop Aquatic Center is well-known as a family-friendly, all-inclusive indoor swim club, that equally attracts both swimmers and scuba divers, of all ages and abilities.
The main attraction is a gorgeous, heated 25-yard pool with six lanes, and a 12-foot deep-end with a diving board. The water is crystal clear, and the pool and air temperature are kept at a consistent 81 degrees. The ceilings are high, and the lights above are just right. The water glistens when natural sunlight hits the pool.
It’s also the go-to place for water lovers near and far who want to relax and enjoy a good swim.
Centrally located, The Dive Shop Aquatic Center draws members from 15 surrounding towns in four counties, in both Connecticut and New York. Most members come from Brookfield, New Milford, Danbury, Newtown, Bethel, Ridgefield, and Bridgewater.
However, members also come from farther away places like Roxbury, Kent, and Sherman, Connecticut; and Pawling, Patterson, and Brewster, New York, too.
As for the availability of lap lanes to swim or aqua jog, Gordon said that, seven days a week, he makes sure swimmers always have access to the pool; even if scuba diving lessons, swim lessons, and water aerobics are in session.
Dennis Johnson of New Milford, who has been a member of The Dive Shop since it first opened, said, “I love how the pool is never overrun with programs. I swim laps five days a week. I’m retired and like to swim after the morning rush when the other swimmers clear out of the pool to get to work,” he said.
Naturally, swim lessons are a big part of Gordon’s business. 75% of the students learning how to swim are children, from newborn on up. Private and group lessons, from beginners to advanced, are offered six days a week. There are plenty of timeslots to choose from and the lessons are in high-demand.
Sheera DesJardin of Sherman has taken her six-year-old and eight-year-old to swim lessons at The Dive Shop on Saturdays for over a year. “I’m happy with the lessons and the other people seem to be very happy, too. Jeff is an excellent swim instructor with several years of experience. My kids love him, and they’ve already learned so much,” she said.
“Once the children learn how to swim, it’s not unusual to see them practicing in their parents’ lap lanes. We’re the only swim club that I know of that allows this. The children can swim anytime with their parents and don’t have to wait for a scheduled ‘family swim’ time slot,” said Gordon.
The remaining 25% of people learning how to swim are adults, and many seniors in their 70s and 80s have recently taken lessons. “It’s never too late to learn, and it’s the best exercise ever because water is weightless and easy on the body” said Gordon.
Each year, over 200 people learn how to swim at The Dive Shop Aquatic Center, and Gordon is always looking to hire qualified instructors.
American Red Cross Lifeguard Training certification and recertification courses are also offered monthly.
Especially popular with seniors, the Water Aerobics class meets in the main pool every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday morning, from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. Muscle toning, core strength, cardio, balance, and flexibility are the areas of focus. It’s free for members or $18 for a walk-in visit.
The Therapy Pool is a dream come true for those with everyday aches and pains, or who have more serious injuries that respond well to water therapy. The water temperature is kept at a consistent 92 degrees. The jets of varying heights, located on one side of the pool, are powerful, yet gentle, and help with deep tissue relaxation.
Amenities include access to locker rooms and a family changing room, too. There’s also an exercise room with treadmills, stationary bikes, elliptical machines, and weights.
The Party Room is available for rent. Birthday party packages include one hour of swim time, with a certified lifeguard professional.
There’s also a convenient retail store onsite for adults and children. The Dive Shop Aquatic Center is an authorized Speedo dealer, and there’s a nice assortment of swimsuits, goggles, fins, and swim caps to choose from. For scuba divers, the shop carries all the major brands – like Sherwood, Tusa, and Henderson. There’s a wide variety of wetsuits, dry suits, and mask & snorkel kits, too.
March through December, Scuba Scoops is open for business. There are several homemade gelato options to choose from like chocolate chip, cookies & cream, and strawberry. Chocolate and vanilla soft serve yogurt are also available.
Prior to opening The Dive Shop Aquatic Center, Gordon was an auto technician for 36 years, and this skillset comes in handy. As the owner and operator, he can always be found onsite doing much of the facility maintenance and repair work himself.
His wife, Karen, who he met 10 years ago on a scuba diving website for singles, helps run the business. Eight other staff members are also integral to keeping the facility safe and clean.
As for what the future holds, Gordon would like to find a local middle school or high school swim team to call the aquatic center home. “It’s the perfect pool for these young, aspiring athletes. They would have quality practice time here and we can host swim meets,” he said.
Gordon hopes to attract more seniors as well. “They have more flexibility with their schedules to take advantage of off-peak hours in the pool, which makes for a nice, peaceful place to swim,” he said.
Shirley and Bill Lanno, a retired couple from Danbury, are taking advantage of it all. “We’ve been members for over four years now and we love the place. We do the water aerobics class, enjoy the therapy pool, and swim a few laps. We sometimes take our grandkids here to swim with us, too. We love the place because it keeps us moving and its good exercise year-round. We also enjoy interacting with everyone.”
Should there be a demand for it, Gordon can build another 25-yard pool next to the existing one. He built the aquatic center from the ground up and owns the 5.5 acres of land, along with the business.
When Gordon and his wife aren’t running The Dive Shop Aquatic Center, they enjoy spending time with their family and two Rough Collies. Together, they have four grown children, and seven grandchildren. Just like his father, Gary Gordon Jr. is the one who’s the most passionate about scuba diving.
Gordon has a “no hassle” approach to membership options. He doesn’t charge a joiner’s fee and an account can be “suspended” at any time, without charge.
For swimmers who would like to try out the facility, the cost is $18 per person. A 10-pass with no expiration date is also an option for the casual drop-in user who doesn’t want to commit to a full membership.
Members can pay month-to-month or join for one year and get the 13th month free. There are special, lower monthly rates, for seniors and students, in the $56 to $62 range. It’s $69 a month for an individual, $74 a month for a couple, and $85 per family.
Monday through Friday, 5 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.; Saturday, 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Sunday, 6 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Contact The Dive Shop Aquatic Center with Questions: 203.775.2755 / Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Visit The Dive Shop Aquatic Center on Facebook, too.
Article and photos by Alicia Sakal, written for CandlewoodLakeMagazine.com
Underwater photos: Contributed
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