Retiring business owner Bob Brayman is first and foremost a diver, his passion since childhood, inspired by the television show “Sea Hunt,” starring Lloyd Bridges.
“Scuba diving IS flying,” said Brayman. “It’s weightlessness, it’s freedom, it’s the ability to be uninhibited by gravity.”
But as he deconstructs his Marathon business of 47 years, Hall’s Diving Center & Career Institute, he’s most proud of the unique business model: teaching the next generation of dive instructors not only in the underwater science of the job, but also the business side of the industry.
Every year, Hall’s took in anywhere from 80 to 200 students. They were instructed in a 14-week class how to pass their master-level dive certifications, but also in equipment repair, how to make a brochure, keep the books, customer service and how to close the deals.
“I became a dive instructor when I was 17 or 18 years old, but back then, there was no money in it,” said Brayman. And so after a varied career in retail, insurance and owning his own company (building metal horse corrals), he relocated to the Keys in 1973. His first stop in the Keys was the old Hall’s Fish Camp, located in front of what is now the Blue Green Hammocks Resort in Marathon.
“I think I inherited a cardboard box of broken regulators and a couple of tanks,” he said of the former business owners who declared bankruptcy. “But what I did have was the gift of gab and the ability to manage things and myself. I just simply set out to outwork everybody else, including the ‘hobbyists’ I saw at local dive shops — employees sitting on a stool behind the counter of dive shops reading a magazine.”
From the beginning, Brayman conceived of marrying the vocational school and tourist excursions to the reef. It was, and is, a unique hands-on learning experience. And as one friend pointed out, he was training the competition, as former students struck out to become dive instructors and possibly shop owners.
“I never bought into that concept,” said Brayman. “What I did believe was in the prize at the end of the course: jobs, good jobs. And I saw the opportunity in this niche market.”
General manager Randy Botierri has worked at Hall’s for about a quarter of a century.
“Our training was always one step above what the rest of the industry was providing. It’s based on developing professionals who know how to make people comfortable in the water and we even addressed the psychological aspects of divers’ behavior,” Botierri said. “We’ve had 7,000 students come through the doors who are working all over the world. And it was never just diving; it was always career-based diving that made this school so unique.”
Wendy Hall (no relation) of Tilden’s Scuba Center and Dive Isla Bella is a former student. She said she learned how to dive safely in “heinous conditions.”
“Everytime we go out in heavy seas or with nervous students, I feel confident we are going to make it back simply because of the training at Hall’s,” she said.
In her travels, Hall said she has met many of the school’s former students in the better dive shops of the Bahamas and Caribbean who have entered successful scuba careers.
“The first day I went to work, I jumped into teaching like I had been doing it for years. The same with shop operation. On the first day I was ready to manage a shop,” she said. “You know, I will miss not having Hall’s pool of instructors to employ myself.”
For Brayman, the prize will be yet another career … in something. He said he’s thinking of getting back into sales, where his gift of gab has always served him best. In the meantime, he’s selling off the shop’s inventory, the boat and the building located in the center of town which will become the newest branch of Keys Federal Credit Union. The doors of Hall’s Diving Center & Career Institute will officially close at the end of August, but the impact of this institution will live on for generations.