When I decided to write a series of articles about people who made their dreams of divers all or part of their lives, I’m obviously going to listen to the exciting story of John’s impressive project.
Who knows John?
Long-time friend of Didier (my partner in life and diving), I had met him a few times and I was surprised by the character. Because it must be said, John is a character that surprises.
In diving, there are surprising destinies in tenacity and constancy. John’s is certainly one of them. And yours ?
Scuba diving : first contacts
Since childhood, John has been dreaming of diving. Bathed in Cousteau’s documentaries, which he was looking at secretly, John finds every opportunity to go underwater, to make an apnea in the swimming pool, … Nevertheless, respecting his father’s decision, he will have to wait until he is 16 to finally discover the joys of scuba diving.
It is in Sardinia, during holidays at the “Club Med”, that he will finally make his first dive in the big blue.
After waiting eight years, the passion of the diving world will be immediate and will not leave him.
In 1978, he participated in the creation of the club for students of the ULB (Free University of Brussels) where he continued his studies of Engineer.
After his military service, while studying geotechnics and facing the lack of employment in this sector, he finds himself hired in the automotive sector where he will live his first professional experiences for four years.
When John decides to make his dream come through
Just before the age of 30, John can not stand his life any more and decided to give up his job as a young dynamic executive to fly to Guadeloupe in the idea of achieving (finally) his dream of becoming a diving instructor. He then swaps the attaché case and the tie against scuba gear.
“That’s where my real life started,” he says with a smile
His French diving instructor’s diploma in his pocket, he returns to Belgium and continues the work with a constancy:
“The job had to fascinate me”
In work as in diving, John is guided by passion. Also, in parallel with his job, he started a diving school from scratch.
“We were the only Belgian club delivering French and Belgian certifications,” he says.
For him, this makes sense because he observes that at that time many Belgian divers plan their holidays to dive in France.
John continues his involvement in this associative club for several years until the beginning of his incredible project.
The idea of a crazy project of a diving enthusiast
Curious to understand what is happening in the various agencies present in the world of diving, John will discover what is happening there by passing levels of instructor in several of them (NAUI, PADI, SSI, CMAS , FFESSM, ADIP, DAN …). This in the idea to understand what is best in each of them.
At the age of 36, with a good experience of the reality of diving and a broad knowledge, John dreams his unique project in scuba diving: a project that would link his skills as a civil engineer and his passion for diving.
The prospect of creating NEMO 33 fascinates him and he then starts the first sketches of the project.
Birth of Nemo 33
Although the first sketches of NEMO 33 will be made in November 1996, it will be necessary to wait until early 2000 for the laying of the first stones and May 2004 for the opening of this impressive swimming pool.
The process is extremely long because, at the time, another project in the world of diving in Brussels proved to be a failure and banks are therefore cautious to give a loan for this type of achievement.
To convince the financiers, John offers them not to be paid until the business is profitable. “It will be my part of risk,” he says.
He makes the risky bet that the project would be profitable, lives on his savings, drastically reduces his lifestyle and, a few years later, fully reimburses investors, because a bank, in view of the success met, then agrees to finance the entire project.
“NEMO 33 is my first baby and I wanted him to grow up well. I deprived myself of everything, I worked hard during these years “he confides me.
At the opening of NEMO 33, John says he had weeks of 100 hours of work: hold the cash register, go up to do the briefings, go down to checkout, sometimes do a dive between the different times of reception, fill all the administrative tasks, etc. It was a period he defined as “heroic period”. John had to show a lot of courage, tenacity and confidence in his project.
“NEMO 33 is the project of my life so far”
And we can not help but smile when we know that John has designed, built and managed NEMO 33 since its inception, reducing construction costs.
Did you say NEMO 33 ?
Difficult not to know NEMO 33 when you live in the world of diving.
The deepest swimming pool in the world for almost ten years, “NEMO 33” is a 33m deep aquatic area offering different areas of evolution and therefore accessible to divers of all levels.
And to top it all, an opening every day of the year, a clear water at nearly 33 ° C and your equipment is included in the price (excluding fins, masks and computers) so that your personal gear can be light (but we leave sometimes a little heavier because it is difficult to resist the excellent Thai restaurant of NEMO 33 ;-))
A place where it is clearly pleasant to start diving, to do a refresh dive, to dive when the weather conditions are disastrous, to relax after a week of work, …
Evolution of the project
If at the opening of NEMO 33, only five people were working in the company, today there are some 35 people working on the evolution of the project ! A beautiful evolution.
To make the business viable and allow thousands of divers to take advantage of this exceptional environment, John quickly puts in place related activities: fitness, aqua bike, swimming lessons, events, dive shop, etc…
Impact of NEMO 33 on John’s life
For a few years John lived a bit like a hermit before delegating to others part of the tasks and being able to free himself some the time to be with his two young children, already passionate about diving, even if they are limited today to come enjoy the hot water of the pool staying close to the surface.
Although today he remains (at least in spirit), 7 days a week at NEMO 33, John does not see it as a constraint but as a pleasure to him who always wanted to change the job paradigm work = painful .
As when we have fun, we do not count our hours, John chose to live his work as a pleasure.
Positive and negative points of the NEMO 33 project
Positive, John is convinced that his project has improved the safety of divers by allowing them to learn in good conditions before immersing themselves in more hostile environments such as the waterbodies of Northern Europe.
He is also happy to have created 35 jobs, which is a great achievement for a company and a great responsibility in terms of management. Indeed, it means for John to feed 35 families. No question then of imagining to make cuts in the personnel without valid reason. Each hiring must be considered in the long term.
He also notes that NEMO 33 is now known around the world and that divers do not hesitate to come from far away (very far sometimes) to enjoy this unique environment. The swimming pool of NEMO 33 is a great success which he describes as being the Rolls of pools for divers.
But what John loves most about his job is most definitely the creation
“Starting from a blank page and creating everything”
On the negative side, John is very clear: he hates the administration, which he sees as “an evil that paralyzes initiatives and weakens our Western societies”.
He hates texts, laws and other regulations that prevent him from creating jobs and stifling people’s creativity.
“In Belgium, we are in the triumph of good thinking badly thought,” he said.
It must be said that John is a creative mind and that to discuss with him is to be able to see arise, hear and understand 1000 ideas per minute 😉
Very clearly, if John loves his work, he dreams of a world with fewer rules that he considers “idiotic and inhibiting of creation”.
John has projects on his mind. In addition to improving signs to get to Nemo 33 and office expansions, 20 rooms will be built at the front of the building to allow divers to stay for a getaway, training or just for the pleasure of combining diving and restaurant without the inconveniences of a return by car the same evening.
But the big project in Belgium that is currently attracting all of John’s attention is the construction of an artificial diving quarry that should be operational in the course of 2018: an outdoor pool that will allow the finalization of all certifications from beginner to professional, all year long, 365 days a year giving the advantage to a very practical training solution for all dive training agencies.
New concept, this learning quarry will have a sufficient volume to carry out the necessary exercises and propose depths adapted to each level of diving.
The goal is clearly to improve learning conditions and not to make it a place of discovery as is the case for quarries in the country or at sea.
Sensitive to the environment for a long time, since the construction of NEMO 33, John wants to let live his quarry without chemicals but with upstream solutions to have a water quality that will see life gradually and naturally settle.
On the other hand, John is engaged in restoring a historic recreation site in his home region with the idea of giving it back a lush that he had at the time, but that’s another story.
Favorite diving spot
If asked about his favorite dive spot, John has a hard time answering. It must be said that he has traveled a lot and seen many extraordinary spots.
However, he loved a lot the particular night dives in Hawaii with Mantas rays that take advantage of light beams to eat the plankton.
And diving, does it evolve according to you?
When I ask him about his opinion on the evolution of diving in the coming years, John says that he thinks that the federal systems will continue to suffer because there is, according to him, a shortage of volunteers and more and more demanding requests from people in learning how to dive.
Thirty years ago, there were more volunteers willing to devote their time to passing on their love of diving to others and on the other hand, the students had more recognition. It seems to him that there is less connection between these two poles.
In return “professional or non associative” systems seem to have more success today.
Is it because they respond more adequately to the expectations of customers who are willing to pay a price in exchange for a service that meets their quality requirements or because the commercial structures correspond more to a reality of “consumption”? for fun ? Customers testing one year diving, another riding, another skydiving, … without there being any real birth of passion.
According to John, the dive market is evolving and it is necessary to work with tools that are adapted, professional, safe and able to adapt to the changing world of leisure in general and the habits of new consumers.
And from your perspective, did you see any changes ?
In addition to his knowledge of the world of diving, John has acquired through the NEMO 33 project, an extraordinary experience that makes him call all over the world as a specialist in this type of infrastructure.
The flip side is that, of course, when you embark on a large-scale project, you have to expect to be subject to criticism and not be shattered in your motivation.
As for John, the meeting of a tradition of volunteering in the world of diving and the business of a project of the magnitude of NEMO 33 is not without leaving traces.
The remarks telling him that he “makes money”, he says he heard them a lot.
But what to do when one is at the head of a project of such magnitude that has cost millions? A project that allows 35 people to feed themselves? Can we afford to volunteer ?
NEMO 33 anecdote: Did you know ?
The customer who moved from the farthest destination to come to NEMO 33 and dive there, came from … Easter Island!
The customer with the most dive at NEMO 33 totaled more than 700 dives!
Retired, this client who has spotted a particular aspect of Nemo 33 comes every week to have fun for a hot water dive enjoying the relaxation aspect, much like a weekly yoga session.
To start new projects in the world of diving in 2017, is this still possible ?
If John’s character is surprising, and certainly not insensitive, it’s his tenacity, his passion for diving, his sense of management and his creativity that I will retain as success factors for his great project.
Where some may say that John was lucky, I see the audacity and courage to leave the comfort zone of a good job to pursue his dreams.
And if recreational diving in Europe in associative mode seems to be losing momentum, for the young (or not so young) who would like to go abroad to start a dive business, John thinks that there are, all around the world, opportunities to highlight their technical or/and managerial skills, … learned during their studies.
But this can not be done without courage, without tenacity, without belief that it is possible to achieve it, without the mobilization of all the resources, without the capacity not to be shattered by the non-constructive and untrustworthy own project.
And you, will you try the adventure ?
Will I be coming back soon to NEMO 33 ?
Of course, I will be coming back soon to NEMO 33 because, to make it short, John tells me that soon he is planning to set up two new projects related to diving, but I will not give any clues about their objects because at present, this is still confidential 🙂
To be continued…
Meanwhile, John, Didier and I enjoy the moment to have fun together in this incredible indoor diving area.
Do not hesitate to discover all the information on NEMO 33 by following this link
Do you have a project in the world of diving ? Do you know NEMO 33 ? Tell us all while posting a comment below
… it will make me really happy to discover all that diving brings you
Good bubbles and do not forget to be happy 🙂
If you also want to highlight the action you take, do not hesitate to contact me via the contact form on this page
This article is totally independent of the company NEMO 33. I received no compensation in return for this article. I test for pleasure to discover new places and new dive experiences. Do not hesitate to contact me if you also want to highlight the action you take via the contact form on this page. I will be happy to come and discover them as far as I can.