The Bixby Knolls Deep Blue Swim School. Photos by Keeley Smith.
When Deep Blue Scuba and Swim Center owners and Long Beach residents Jonathan Hall and Jacquie Ferneau spoke to the Post last week, they were surrounded by an empty pool and freshly painted walls. What was to be the locker room of a brand-new swim facility in Bixby Knolls appeared as a blank corner at the foot of the pool.
Today, the 40-by-20 foot pool is filled with iridescent water, and a tiled locker room partition stands proudly in the blank corner’s place. By the weekend, the facility’s new look will be complete.
Hall glanced at the pool from the new Deep Blue Swim School reception area, listing off the opening activities for the new building, beaming.
“It’s nice to start with a blank canvas,” he said, noting his and his wife’s excitement for the Bixby Knolls facility’s public opening party at its location on June 6 during Beach Streets Uptown. “Our party will really be a thank-you to the community, because that’s what we’re all about,” he said.
Deep Blue Scuba and Swim Center is expanding to Bixby Knolls from its decades-old original location in Belmont Shore for a swim school. After a renovation of the dive shop and swimming lesson center at the original location, Ferneau and Hall said their one-on-one swim lessons were “knocking on capacity.” That, coupled with a large number of customers hailing from Bixby Knolls, led the couple to decide it was the right time to branch out and build Deep Blue Swim School.
“Because of demand, we were looking at 70 to 80 percent capacity,” Ferneau said of the Belmont Shore location. “It pushed us to reach out.”
Ferneau and Hall opened Deep Blue Scuba and Dive Center in 2010, after the shop appeared under other names and ownership teams dating back to the mid-1940s. As the company’s website explains, the Belmont Shore location site was opened in 1959 by proprietor Bill Hogan, who sold the shop to a former colleague of Jacque Cousteau named Sam Lecocq.
Hall said his own father earned his scuba certification at that very location. From there, diving became a family pastime. After swimming and diving throughout high school, Hall worked for the Navy as a hard-hat diver, conducting his first solo dive on the USS Missouri, before serving for decades as a Long Beach public safety diver.
Hall’s dives as a public safety diver inspired the overall mission at Deep Blue Swim and Dive Center and Deep Blue Swim School. He recounted his years of diving to the bottom of the ocean to pick up the bodies of men, women and children who had drowned.
“I saw the worst possible outcome of the [swim lesson] industry not succeeding,” Hall said, shaking his head.
When the time to open the Deep Blue Dive and Scuba Center arrived, Hall and Ferneau were determined the shop would provide a swim lesson component that emphasized safety and survival.
“[Swimming] is a life skill—a life-saving skill,” said Hall.
The two had recently retired—Hall from his job as a public safety diver, and Ferneau from the Pacific Maritime Association. Dubbed the “business professional" of the two and with a Masters in Business Administration from the University of California, Irvine, Ferneau said the shop’s existing pool upon purchase allowed them to conduct scuba lessons and one-on-one swim lessons for small groups. A later “reconditioning and re-opening" improved upon the original facilities.
“It’s an 82-to-90 degree pool, and kids take lessons in the pool,” said Hall, emphasizing a “calm” environment and “fewer children” than the municipal and YMCA swim lesson approach. The Belmont facility is limited to only hosting four people in the pool at a time, a constraint that the two say the Bixby Knolls location won’t have, given the pool’s size.
However, the swim lesson philosophy will remain the same: small class sizes, warm pool water and attentive instructors that put teaching water survival skills and proper technique above graduating large classes of students.
Hall said municipal classes, while they do help children become more comfortable in the water, take place in larger, colder pools made for working out, where a child’s lips may often “turn blue.”
“You’re not going to find this lesson at the YMCA,” said Ferneau, taking care to note that YMCA lessons serve a purpose as well. “We treat this like every kid is our kid.”
Deep Blue’s lessons at both pools welcome children as young as three months old and focus on building basics. According to Fernau, the average age of their swimmers is three years old. The company uses the “back float” method—emphasizing comfort in the water and the importance of floating on one’s back in the case of an emergency before building with stroke and swim technique skills.
The final step of the swim lesson program involves a pre-competitive swim team. The company rents out a larger, 25-yard pool where the kids can compete in swim meets once they reach that level.
For the younger kids, Hall said the focus is on water survival skills and teaching them to “crawl out of the pool on their own.”
“Sometimes it takes three, four, five, six months before they stop screaming,” he said, but they eventually get the kids comfortable in the water. When the parents are upset, Ferneau talks to them, as water comfort is the first step in learning water survival skills.
An element of the new pool that has Hall excited involves the water and air quality. Although the couple was restricted to retaining the “four walls” of the new space in Bixby Knolls, the pool is new, and the water quality is unparalleled, according to Hall.
Instead of chlorine the pool uses ozone, which makes the pool water “drinking-water” safe, according to Hall, and less harmful to the hair, clothes, and bodies of swimmers.
Hall said the other benefits of the Bixby Knolls pool include its indoor, covered nature (prime for water conservation), photo sensors, and its own ventilation system.
The new facility will have a small scuba kiosk, but its sole focus will be on teaching swim lessons to the community. The original Deep Blue location will continue to offer scuba lessons and swim lessons, in addition to selling scuba gear.
The public grand opening party for the Bixby Knolls Deep Blue Swim School will take place June 6 (at 3640 Atlantic Avenue), during the city-wide Beach Streets Uptown event, with activities, entertainment, and food.
This article was updated on 5/25/15 at 9:03PM clarifying the date of the public grand opening and party for the Deep Blue Swim School.