Toyah Tomkins must pinch herself every time she arrives for work in the morning. From the age of 18, it was her dream to have her own dive shop.
After a decade travelling the world, she returned to her island home and bought the Bouley Bay Dive Centre which she has run for 11 years.
For a time this summer, the pivotal role the business plays in the diving and leisure community in the bay looked like it may come to an end, because development of the Water’s Edge hotel, of which the Dive Centre is physically a part, created huge uncertainty.
Pictured: "I loved it and I was so determined to be an instructor because I found it so difficult.”
Once the old hotel had been turned into homes, would there even still be a centre? And if so, in what form? What would the terms be on the new lease?
But, in recent weeks, it looks like an agreement has been reached, which gives the current owners a hope for the future.
Express went to meet them…
There is no doubt that Bouley Bay is special. Just look at how many people love swimming out to the pontoon, or visiting the café, and going diving, paddle boarding or kayaking.
“It really is a small world,” remarked Toyah as we sit by the railings overlooking the beach as the dive centre compressor hums in the background, filling air tanks for the busy day ahead. We were talking about our scuba diving histories and had established that we had both dived with the same instructor in Vietnam. In my case as a paying customer on a trip over twenty years ago to Nha Trang where a diving instructor from Alderney took me and a friend to a nearby reef. When Toyah was travelling and working as an instructor a few years later, he was her boss.
But that’s diving for you. It’s a tight knit community of people who, no matter how many they have done, still find nearly every dive they do as amazing as their first. In theory at least.
Toyah’s first dive didn’t turn out as she had expected. Travelling during her gap year, she decided to give scuba diving a go in Fiji.
“It scared me,” she admits. “I was shocked that I was so scared, but I needed to do this so badly. I kept going until I wasn’t scared anymore. I loved it and I was so determined to be an instructor because I found it so difficult.”
Pictured: “It was my dream to have a dive shop, so whenever I was working, I was looking at things that I could take away if I was given the opportunity to have my own shop."
Instead of following the plan to go to university, Toyah decided to extend her gap year, and has been doing so ever since. Her diving career has taken her all over the world, and prior to buying the dive shop in Bouley Bay 11 years ago, she had only dived in Jersey when she was doing her advanced open water course.
“It was my dream to have a dive shop, so whenever I was working, I was looking at things that I could take away if I was given the opportunity to have my own shop. But I never thought it would be in Jersey. I always thought I would work away and never come back here. But as soon as the opportunity came up, I wanted to buy it. I worked a lot of hours to try and buy the shop and I have never regretted having it here. It’s the dream job and it’s in my home.”
Since Toyah took it on, she has expanded the business to include paddle boarding, rib trips with snorkelling, yoga, SUP yoga and kids' clubs. The busy time is July and August when Toyah and her 5 employees rarely make it home.
“A lot of customers come in and say they only like tropical water and there isn’t any fish here. You do sometimes have to look for the fish here, but I actually prefer that. Every time I dived in Egypt I knew exactly what I was going to see and where I was going to see it. Whereas here, anything can pop up. I saw 15 rays the other day, but next month they won’t be here anymore. In April you get the spider crabs coming in covering the whole seabed. It’s cool watching the different life come in as the season changes.”
Pictured: Toyah helps out the entire Bouley Bay community through the centre, whether it's information about the beach or tracking down a missing GoPro.
A typical day for Toyah will start at 06:00 with a cliff path run with the dog before it’s time to open up, start filling air tanks and get ready for the day. Toyah had two paddle board lessons to teach during the day and a dry suit course to run in that evening. It was a conscious decision of hers not to be stuck behind a desk when she became a business owner.
“When I was travelling, I looked at other dive shop owners and I made a promise to myself that I didn’t want to be like that. If you are going to sit in the office all day, you may as well become an accountant and get some decent money and have some normal hours. I don’t teach as much as I’d like to, but I still try and do as much teaching as I can because that’s why I do it. I still love diving and want to share that with other people.”
The business has longevity, and that’s clear in its pedigree as one of the oldest dive shops in Europe. There’s been a dive centre in Bouley Bay for 70 years. But for a time this summer, that looked about to change.
Planning permission to demolish the former Water’s Edge Hotel and build apartments has already been given, but now a second application for a single property set back into the landscape has attracted a huge number of public comments, mostly in support of retaining the dive centre. The plans include making provision for a diving business to continue there, but it wasn’t clear to Toyah, or to others, whether that meant her business will stay there, or what the new lease terms and cost would be.
“It’s a tradition to have the café and dive shop here but the hotel needs to come down. But the dive shop has always had this rustic feel and so has the café. People like that because it’s so hard to find something in Jersey that feels traditional. It’s all clean cut, modern and posh. We’ve got a club so people feel a part of something, they can go to the café and have a drink after a dive. It brings a whole community together.”
If you think about it, a lot of people rely on Toyah and her team. Just looking at diving alone there are the scallopers, those who dive commercially and those who go for leisure. They come in to get air fills and accessories.
The dive club that’s run from the shop has over 150 members. They go on guided dives and meet up for barbecues. Then there are the schools that are taught there, with one school including it on the curriculum. There are the kids' clubs that do the camps in the holidays. The paddle boarders, yoga enthusiasts and then, of course, the visitors and locals who learn to dive.
Pictured: Toyah published a statement a few weeks ago saying that an understanding has been reached between the dive centre and the new owner of the Water's Edge Hotel.
Visitors to the bay rely on Toyah and her team for all sorts of other things too. Whether it’s information about the beach, tide times, or looking for a missing GoPro on the seabed, people naturally head to the dive centre.
"This is the difficult thing because if we had to move, it would no longer be the Bouley Bay Dive Centre, a name that’s been here for 70 years. People say to me ‘please don’t let the dive community die’. I’m one girl and I am trying. It would be sad if we had to go to a different bay, such as St Catherine’s. We are called the Bouley Bay Dive Centre. We do have to stay here.”
There is reason to be hopeful though, as a few weeks ago Toyah published a statement saying that:
“Following productive and encouraging discussions with the prospective new owner of the Water’s Edge Hotel, I am pleased to publically confirm an understanding has been reached between the dive centre and the new owner which will secure the future of the centre at Bouley Bay.
"From these discussions, it is very clear the new owner is committed to ensuring the continued operation of all the activities the centre operates thereby providing security to not just myself, the business and the current users of the centre but in fact, the community as a whole.
"On the basis of how we have engaged so far, I believe the relationship between the centre and the new owner will grow and this can only benefit the area as a whole, residents of Jersey and visitors to the Island. I am very pleased with the commitment the prospective new owner has demonstrated.”
Pictured: Toyah has dived all over the world, seeing creatures such as a hammerhead sharks in the Caribbean to seahorses in Bouley Bay.
So, while change is on the way, the feeling of anticipation you get as you snake down the hill and arrive in the bay never fails to take your breath away. Toyah has dived all over the world and there are a couple of experiences that stick in her mind. The first was in the Galapagos when she saw hammerhead sharks for the first time.
“I’ve actually got a tattoo of a hammerhead on my foot. I desperately wanted to see a hammerhead. When we descended, they were circling around. That was amazing. But there’s also the diving here in Jersey.
"The first time I saw a seahorse in the bay I was super excited because that’s also one of my favourite marine species. I try not to compare places and it’s one of the things I say to people, don’t compare your diving in the Caribbean to the diving here. They are different but just as good as each other.”
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