Divers’ Delight: At The Water’s Edge continues to find success in the scuba business

  • Bert McCasland, owner of At The Water’s Edge in Westfield, talks about the dive shop business. McCasland says business is going well and that his company is one of the last dive shops in the region. GAZETTE STAFF/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Bert McCasland, owner of At The Water’s Edge in Westfield, has collected some of his underwater finds in a display case at the dive shop business in Westfield. GAZETTE STAFF/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Bert McCasland, owner of At The Water’s Edge in Westfield, talks about the dive shop business on Monday, April 30, 2018, in Westfield. GAZETTE STAFF/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Bert McCasland, owner of At The Water’s Edge in Westfield, has collected some of his underwater finds in a display case at the dive shop business on Monday, April 30, 2018, in Westfield. GAZETTE STAFF/KEVIN GUTTING

  • At The Water’s Edge is located in Westfield and caters to all of western Massachusetts. Photo taken on Monday, April 30, 2018. GAZETTE STAFF/KEVIN GUTTING

  • At The Water’s Edge is located in Westfield and caters to all of western Massachusetts. Photo taken on Monday, April 30, 2018. GAZETTE STAFF/KEVIN GUTTING

  • At The Water’s Edge is located in Westfield and caters to all of western Massachusetts. GAZETTE STAFF/KEVIN GUTTING

  • At The Water’s Edge is located in Westfield and caters to all of western Massachusetts. Photo taken on Monday, April 30, 2018. GAZETTE STAFF/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Diver Bert McCaslin swims near an 18-foot Manta Ray in Raja Ampat, Indonesia. This picture was taken during a dive on At The Water’s Edge’s trip to Indonesia in January. Norman Vexler

  • Diver Bert McCaslin swims at a famous dive site in Raja Ampat, in Indonesia, called “The Passage.” This picture was taken on At The Water's Edge’s trip to Indonesia in January. Norman Vexler

  • Diver Bert McCaslin swims near a giant clam at Arborek Village in Raja Ampat, Indonesia. This picture was taken during a dive on At The Water’s Edge’s trip to Indonesia in January. Norman Vexler

@BeraDunau 
Published: 5/6/2018 3:44:33 PM

WESTFIELD — Bert McCasland runs one of western Massachusetts’ last dive shops because he is, in his own words, a failure.

“I’m here because I’m a failure,” said the co-owner of At The Water’s Edge.

That’s what McCasland tells entrepreneurship classes when he speaks to them, but it doesn’t mean what you might think. Rather, McCasland said that his willingness to try new things and fail has been key to his success in the dive shop business. It’s also ensured that he gets to have a lot of fun.

“I play for a living,” he said. “You can’t beat playing for a living.”

At The Water’s Edge is located in Westfield, far from the ocean and by no means next to the Connecticut River.

“In all reality, we shouldn’t exist,” McCasland said.

Yet McCasland says that business is going well, and he’s even preparing to roll out a new program aimed at youth.

At The Water’s Edge’s business has a number of components. They include equipment, classes, repairs and even guided trips to exotic diving spots like Indonesia and the Florida Keys.

These different portions of the business work together, however. McCasland noted that his classes are small, three to six people, which allows for more training than larger classes. In turn, this increases the chances that people will buy equipment from him. He noted that he personally tests every brand of equipment he sells in the shop, and that he will train people on the equipment they buy.

“The internet is not going to train you,” he said.

McCasland is also starting a program for children this year, which will have kids doing an underwater obstacle course, spoon race and torpedo shoots with diving gear in only 4 feet of water.

“The parents love it,” he said.

At The Waters Edge is also about to start an online business.

“We’re always changing and trying new things,” said McCasland.

A small but notable portion of McCasland’s business comes in the form of people hiring him and his fellow divers to find objects that they’ve lost in the water.

“I get a lot of those,” said McCasland.

Some of the items he’s been hired to find include wedding rings, glasses, car keys, wallets and fishing poles, although McCasland notes that the success for finding such lost objects is not high. Earlier this spring, the company went looking for a Northampton Community Rowing dock that had fallen into the Connecticut River, which it found.

Diving in the river has also allowed McCasland to see some crazy stuff, including stolen cars, hammers, bowling balls and even a safe.

“It was already opened,” he said.

One thing he hasn’t found is a body, something that McCasland seemed more than happy not to have encountered.

“I’ve been pretty luck with that,” he said.

McCasland has also started collecting the antique bottles he finds at the bottom of Connecticut, some of which date from the 19th century. He got turned onto this hobby by one of his customers.

McCasland said that the bottles are there because the river used to be a dumping ground for trash.

“We can get the stuff that most of the people can’t get,” said McCasland.

He also said that the shifting riverbed means that new bottles are exposed as time goes on.

Still, those that dive in New England are an exception for McCasland’s customer base. Most are looking to explore outside the region.

“Eighty percent of our people are travel,” said McCasland.

McCasland grew up in western Massachusetts, and he started diving as a matter of chance, after the employer whose store he was working in bought a dive shop in 1996, and asked him to get trained on the equipment so he could work there. McCasland was 22 at the time.

“He said here’s your stuff,” said McCasland. “Your lessons start tomorrow.”

Once he started, however, McCasland was hooked. And in 2003, McCasland got the opportunity to purchase Hampshire Scuba and Fitness in Westfield, which subsequently became At The Water’s Edge.

“Since then we’ve thrived and seen many other shops go out of business,” said McCasland.

For the past few years, McCasland has also worked on the Combat Wounded Veteran Challenge in the Florida Keys. The Florida Keys challenge helps to test new prosthetics, while certifying combat wounded veterans to scuba dive.

McCasland has been involved with the challenge since 2015, and leaves for a minimum of two weeks every year for it.

McCasland is the primary worker at the Waters Edge, doing everything from teaching classes to repairs to inventory, although some other people in its ownership also put in time there. He also has two other diving instructors who work for the company as independent contractors.

For a time, McCasland walked away from the dive shop to sell used cars. However, he returned to it full-time in 2015, and today spends an estimated 350 days a year doing scuba related things.

Indeed, McCasland characterized scuba as nothing short of a way of life.

“It’s a lifestyle,” he said.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.




Daily Hampshire Gazette Office

115 Conz Street
Northampton, MA 01061
413-584-5000

 

Copyright © 2019 by H.S. Gere & Sons, Inc.
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy