The 30 miles between Gilroy and Monterey Bay didn’t seem like a great distance for diver Mauricio Muñoz–it seemed perfect.
After years in the Silicon Valley corporate world, the lifetime scuba diver decided to open a business that reflected his passion and took a risk on the Garlic Capital of the World, starting the city’s first dive shop, Pacific Ocean Water Sports at 431 First St. in November.
It sells scuba gear, gives lessons and will soon add kayaks and stand-up paddleboards.
“When I found out there was no dive center in Gilroy, I conducted a marketing study,” said Muñoz, 48, a Southern California native who was raised in Costa Rica. “The numbers indicated it would be a great idea. My goal was to find a place a mile from the 101 corridor because I know there will be a tremendous influx of Bay Area scuba divers who go to the ocean on weekends.”
The fact that Gilroy has a college and three high schools also helped.
“It’s a young and vibrant community that has never been serviced for scuba diving,” he said. “It has tremendous potential. A lot of people here don’t get certified because it’s too expensive and too far away.”
Muñoz, who started diving when he was 8, said being underwater is a lifestyle. He started teaching diving at Gavilan College in 2015 to start to spark more local interest. He’s banked his future on bringing the love for the ocean inland.
He had a great chance to learn diving in Costa Rica, where it was only a two-hour drive between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. “I have played many sports in my life, basketball, soccer, football. But I think scuba diving is the best. It’s a lifestyle.”
After 18 years in Costa Rica, he enrolled at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota where he got his masters degree in business.
“People said, ‘How on earth could you pick the frozen tundra?’ I was there to do my graduate education. I needed a place with no distractions. I couldn’t have done it with the distractions of Costa Rica.”
That led him to a corporate job in Boston, working in finance, which led to financial positions with IBM, Levi’s and the Gap. After 20 years, during which he and his wife dived and taught diving, a friend offered him a chance to buy a dive shop. He turned it down, but it got him thinking about being an entrepreneur.
He started a business in 2012 called Cocos Island, which offered investment consulting for businesses in Asia that wanted to sell in the U.S. and Latin America and this year, decided to make his hobby his profession.
He will lead diving trips around the world. His second favorite dive spot is Cocos Island, 33 hours by boat of the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica, the spot that inspired Michael Crichton to write Jurassic Park.
His favorite place? He won’t exactly say because he doesn’t want to see it ruined, but he says it may have to do with the lifting of the Cuban embargo in 2016, where there’s a reef that is unspoiled by tourism and mostly pristine.
Not so for many reefs around the world, which are rapidly degrading. Muñoz teaches environmentally friendly diving techniques to help preserve the reefs around the world.
“My wife and I have gone to Hawaii for over a decade and I can witness to the fact that the reefs have been deteriorating as a result of multiple forces–irresponsible tourism, overfishing and the warming of the water.” Plastics, pollution and even the use of sunscreen has also badly damaged the ocean.
Locally, he said, everyone thinks of Monterey as the main dive spot, but he likes to take people to Lake Tahoe in the summer, one of the most underrated sites.