Sometimes, though it may not make sense on the surface, deep down inside, you know it’s the right thing. Especially when something comes along and finds you when you weren’t especially looking for it. That’s the way it was back in early 2000 when I first discovered Aquala.
That was a time in my diving career when I began venturing beyond recreational scuba. My local dive shop started a project to train a group to dive the Italian shipwreck, the Andrea Doria. The Andrea Doria sank in July of 1956, off the coast of Nantucket, Massachusetts. Because of its depth, age, the difficulty of surrounding conditions, and for the lives, it has claimed, it’s known as the “Mount Everest of Wreck Diving”. Making such a dive requires months or even years of training. Mixed gas dives in excess of 200 feet, with mandatory decompression, in chilling temperatures, aren’t taken lightly. Drysuits were part of our dive plan, so I began to research.
I first came across the big names of the day. Predominately the companies making nylon laminate suits, with a few vulcanized rubber and compressed neoprene suits in the mix. I learned about their differences, familiarized myself with their product lines, and learned about their histories.
Then I came across something different. As I searched, I found a site called Aquala.com. The site was simple, the suits were simple, and there was a genuine honesty to it’s entirety. Then there was their history. A pioneering brand which had been around since the 1950s, far longer than the other companies I was considering. That spoke to me, and as I researched further I kept coming back to Aquala.
As the dive training progressed, the day finally came to purchase a suit. My first stop was Aquala, but something had changed. The homepage was different and now it said: “The Aquala Company is for sale”. So not only could one buy a suit, they could buy the entire operation. I enquired, a few emails later and I was on my way to Rye, New Hampshire.
John Meehan was the owner at the time. John was a New England surfer so he focused his ownership on Aquala’s surfing heritage. It was a noble effort, but the surf community didn’t accept Aquala as he’d wished. After making an honest run of it for seven years, he decided to sell.
I spent two days in Rye, reviewing financials, seeing how the suits were made, and inventorying the hard assets. It was as honest and basic as it had appeared on the web, and I knew it had to return to it’s diving heritage. I also knew the challenge would be great, but regardless, John and I made a deal. By November of 2000, I was moving the entire operation to Shreveport. However, I didn’t realize how great the challenge.
Since the 1980s, Aquala has had an uphill fight. Large European corporations, with millions in R&D, production, and advertising funds swept the commercial drysuit sector. Laminate nylons, with their technical aesthetic and vast color selection, swept the sport drysuit sector. Yet through it all, Aquala survived.
It survived because there are divers who appreciate tradition, and the hand-built quality that only a suit built like this can make. They appreciate a workshop of craftsmen who understand the artistry and the detail that is required to make a suit such as this. A workshop that builds suits in the exact same manner which Bill Barada built suits in Los Angeles throughout the 1950s. The same way they have been built through every decade.
The same thing that speaks to those divers is the same thing that keeps me going after 18 years. The dream Bill had, which was born from the love and necessity of spearfishing to the dreams that every owner has had. Almost seventy years of diving heritage that I will not let end on my watch.
Yes, we are small, but we carry on because of our commitment to making suits one at a time – the way it was done in the beginning. We think it’s important to maintain the craftsman workshop. When we make your suit- it’s personal. What we have built here is a community- one suit at a time, and one diver at a time.