Boji Divers Provide Diving Service to the Iowa Great Lakes
Deep below the surface, a whole new world awaits - treasures, history, and nature. The beauty found in the underwater environment captivates and continuously draws Boji Divers Jose Barba and Kevin Pernick to its depths.
“Every piece of water I’ve been, draws me in, I want to dive in and explore. I have such an emotional connection with the water,” Barba shared. “I love the feeling of no gravity and the silence. It’s a place where you can space out the outside world, be in the moment, and explore the beauty hidden in the water.”
Boji Divers opened in the Iowa Great Lakes area in 2020, providing hundreds of divers the opportunity to explore area waters, as well as the ability to gain 17 different types of diving certifications.
“Located out of Okoboji Water Works, we provide experiences for beginner divers to training sessions for law enforcement,” said Barba. “We also offer rentals, sales of diving equipment, guided tours, and refresher courses.”
Both Barba and Pernick love the water and their experiences defying gravity are fascinating, whether they are exploring the Gulf of Mexico, Pacific Ocean or West Lake Okoboji.
At age 15, Barba first fell in love with the sport of diving.
“I’m originally from Mexico City and my best friend’s grandpa owned one of the oldest dive shops in Mexico. I took a six-month diving course, and from there, I learned how to dive and gained a huge passion for water,” he said.
Soon this enjoyment also helped Barba make money. While studying biology at the University of Mexico City, Barba attended classes during the day and worked as a dive instructor at night.
“I would take people out on guided tours around the gulf, and I fell in love with everything you can find below the water. Every experience is so different and always an adventure,” he said.
Barba has explored areas of the gulf and its hidden treasures. He’s had sharks swim towards him and is amazed at the fish seen 20-30 feet below the surface. In the depths of West Lake, he knows the local historical spots and the best spots to run into large muskies or gar fish.
“When a shark does come at you, it looks you over and you enter a stare down; it tries to decide if you’re interesting. I would say each of my experiences, the shark will move away first,” he said. “Now, a big grub fish or muskie in West Lake can look just as scary when they open up their mouth and show their teeth.”
Barba’s biology background finds him captivated with the water’s ecosystem.
“The water is like being in a huge natural aquarium,” he said. “I even love watching how a clam moves and leaves a trail in the sand.”
Pernick grew up learning to dive in West Lake Okoboji, locally gaining his certifications and training. What drew him underwater was an experience snorkeling in Puerto Rico, during a coral reef exploration.
“We were exploring this beautiful coral reef, and I saw bubbles coming from the dark below but didn’t know what it was,” he remembered. “Then two divers came up and were pointing at things deeper along the wall. This is when I went, ‘Why do I stay up here? I want to explore deeper and learn more!’”
Pernick’s passion for water has only grown in the 15 years he’s been diving. He enjoys the peace and freedom he finds underwater, especially during those times when focused on just breathing.
“Everything else in the world becomes irrelevant,” he shared.
Both Barba and Pernick recommend diving with a partner.
“While not only a safety measure, it also gives you someone to share the experience with,” Pernick added.
A typical dive with Boji Divers lasts 45 minutes to an hour. They provide training prior to diving, going over equipment, breathing, and diving techniques. Depending on the type of diving, the training may become more extensive, especially when preparing for a winter dive and then extra precautions and procedures are learned. Communication takes place by using hand signals.
A dive can take place from the shore or off a boat. Boji Divers will provide options for a dive, but weather and wind can play into a destination.
“The way the wind is blowing can play into visibility and how well you see under water,” Pernick explained. “As instructors, we love putting a smile on our students’ faces because under water there’s always a surprise factor.”
Because of their experience and high certification levels, Barba and Pernick certify divers from around the state. Usually over a nine-week period and four days a week, between 50 to 100 divers become certified.
“We can take between 150-200 people out for pleasure dives in a week’s time,” Pernick added. “We also train many of the area departments, including DNR, fire and rescue, and sheriff.”
Barba also currently serves on Arnolds Park Fire and Rescue, and Pernick has in the past.
“Those are the dive calls you don’t want to answer,” Barba said. “We are both certified in dive rescue and hope we never have to use those skills.”
Both men got antsy in the spring for the ice to melt and are always excited for the dive shop to open for the summer.
“I definitely get antsy during the spring, especially this year with the ice thickness,” Pernick said. “My favorite part of being an instructor is taking people under the water for the first time and showing them that they can do it. This first breath under water in the spring is my favorite.”
Other summer dive projects include partnering with the University of Iowa and local protective associations in cleaning up the water.
“Every time we go up, if we find trash, we make sure to bring it up and get it out of the water. We want to do our part to keep the water clean,” Barba added. “We may find an artifact at times as well. The imagination is the limit when searching around sunken shipwrecks or historic places underwater.”
He added that a lot of treasures can be found underneath the Arnolds Park pier and the wooden tower by Milford.
“There’s a lot to offer a diver in our Iowa Great Lakes area,” he said. “Because of the spring-fed lake, the water is very clear, clean water at a deep level.”
The passion for exploring the water’s depths has brought two friends together, and through Boji Divers, they gain the ability to share their love of the water with thousands of divers a year. For more information on Boji Divers, contact them at (712) 338-0438 or visit bojidivers.com.
Join them for a dive this summer – you never know what treasure awaits!