OPERATORS

Dean Shuler

President, USCG 100 Ton Captain, PADI MSDT, DAN Instructor, PADI Tec Deep Instructor, PADI Tec Sidemount Instructor, EFR Instructor, PADI Tec/Rec Gas Blender Instructor

Dean is an accomplished United States Coast Guard licensed Captain and technical diving Instructor.  He gained experience working throughout the dive industry before founding the original company, Pura Vida Adventures, in 2002.

He saw an opportunity to offer the Palm Beaches a unique dive operation that focused on customer service, safety, community and conservation.

Over the years, Dean custom built and grew our comprehensive Fill Station, one of the largest in Florida.  When he’s not behind the helm, he maintains the functionality of our vessels, compressors, and network systems. Dean is the driving force advancing the vision of Pura Vida Divers.

Dean is a leader for the local diving community through his role as an active Board Member of the Palm Beach County Diving Association.  He has served on Florida’s Boating Advisory Council since his appointment by the Governor in 2013. 

Dean is an avid Technical Diver, and holds a Full Cave certification under many agencies. He is Rebreather certified on multiple units, and currently favors his closed-circuit Megalodon 15 Rebreather.  Dean enjoys diving the caves and caverns of Florida and Mexico, but his favorite dive sites are Atlantis and Paul’s Reef, off of Palm Beach.

Shana Phelan

Operator, Environmental Conservation Advisor, PADI Staff Instructor, DAN Instructor, EFR Instructor

Shana holds degrees in both Marine Biology and Environmental Science from the College of Charleston in South Carolina.  She moved to Florida to pursue a career in diving, but returned briefly to the Carolinas to complete her Masters Degree in Coastal Environmental Management at Duke University.

Shana’s passion for protecting marine life extends far beyond diving. She served as a Marine Biologist and Researcher at the Loggerhead Marine Life Center, studying endangered and threatened sea turtles, including the elusive Leatherback.  In 2002, Shana was interviewed by The Discovery Channel in regards to her research, and in 2005 she worked with WIDECAST to create a Sea Turtle Trauma Response Field Guide, which is now used throughout the Caribbean.

Shana is the Administrator of the Palm Beach County Diving Association.  As part of her efforts to promote marine conservation, Shana volunteers as the Diving Vice Chair for the Southeast Florida Coral Reef Initiative, and served as an appointee to Palm Beach County’s Artificial Reef and Environmental Enhancement Committee. 

You will find Shana hard at work behind the scenes, orchestrating the administrative side of Pura Vida.  She is key to our business development, generating and maintaining ties to businesses, nonprofits and governmental agencies throughout the Palm Beaches.

Shana’s commitment to conservation is the motivation behind Pura Vida’s involvement in many environmental initiatives on local, state and federal levels.

RETAIL & FILL STATION MANAGER

Justin Newton

Retail & Fill Station Manager, PADI MSDT, PADI Tec Trimix Instructor, PADI Tec Sidemount Instructor, EFR Instructor, PADI Tec/Rec Gas Blender Instructor

Justin’s passion for SCUBA diving began in the Florida Keys, where he completed his Open Water Certification.  Justin continued advancing his dive education back home in upstate New York, where he earned his PADI Divemaster certification and numerous specialties including Ice Diver and Search and Recovery Diver

Justin put his diving skills to use as a volunteer for several underwater search and recovery agencies in New York, training in the murky waters of the Hudson and Mohawk Rivers.

In 2016, Justin moved south to take full advantage of Florida’s beautiful diving.  Shortly after arriving, he pursued his passion for cave and technical deep diving.  During his time in South Florida, Justin earned his PADI Tec Trimix Instructor and TDI Full Cave Diver certifications.  

When he isn’t behind-the-scenes coordinating Pura Vida Divers’ Fill Station and retail operations, Justin can be found offshore enjoying his favorite sites the Ande and the Danny / Spud Barge, or diving the caves of North Florida.

DIRECTOR OF TRAINING

Jillian Blakkan-Strauss

Director of Training, PADI Course Director, EFR Instructor Trainer, DAN DFA Pro Instructor, PADI Tec Sidemount and Tec 40 Diver 

Jillian began diving as a bucket list adventure with a Discover SCUBA Diving session in Hawaii, where she earned a Masters of Fine Arts in Theatre from the University of Hawaii in 2012.  Jillian laid the foundation for her future as a SCUBA instructor by teaching acting students in masterclasses, as well as at the university level.

After graduation, Jillian completed her Open Water SCUBA certification just steps from Times Square in New York.

It wasn’t until she returned to Hawaii years later as a vacationer that Jillian dove the tropical waters and realized what she had been missing!  With her passion for diving re-ignited, Jillian pursued her professional dive ratings throughout the Caribbean.  Jillian first joined Pura Vida Divers as a student.  Sparked by her interest in technical diving, she completed the PADI Sidemount and Tec Sidemount courses here before advancing her professional certifications.

Jillian’s enthusiasm for teaching is instantly conveyed through her quick smile and upbeat attitude. She is motivated by the philosophy that the more she learns, the greater the wealth of knowledge she has to pass on to her students and fellow divers.

When Jillian isn’t in the water teaching, you will find her returning to her shore diving roots and exploring the Blue Heron Bridge. She loves the diversity of wildlife found there, where no matter how many times you return to the site, each dive is exciting and different from the last.

DIRECTOR OF MARKETING

Melissa Johnson

Marketing Coordinator & Logistics, PADI Divemaster, DAN O2 Provider, Emergency First Responder, PADI Tec 45

Melissa grew up exploring the waterways of Jupiter, Florida under the guidance of her parents, both professional SCUBA divers.  She earned her PADI Junior Open Water Diver certification at age 12, and began crewing on local dive boats as soon as she was able in her teens.  Since then, Melissa has expanded her scuba diving adventures throughout the Florida Keys, Mexico, Thailand and the Bahamas.

She received her Bachelor’s Degree in English from Florida Atlantic University, with specializations in American and British Literature.  After joining the Pura Vida Divers’ team in 2016, Melissa continued pursuing her underwater education and earned her PADI Divemaster certification.

Inspired by the growing technical diving program at Pura Vida Divers, she completed the PADI Tec 40 and Tec 45 courses to begin exploring Palm Beach’s deep wrecks and reefs.

You’ll find Melissa on the beach at sunrise, as she gathers data for Sea Turtle nesting surveys before heading to Pura Vida Divers to arrange another exciting event! She is an avid shark tooth collector, and has found them on many of her favorite sites including Midreef, the Mizpah, and Flower Garden.

COURSE DIRECTORS

Barbara DeClerque

PADI Course Director, DAN Instructor Trainer, EFR Instructor Trainer, Former USCG 100 Ton Captain

Before becoming a PADI SCUBA Instructor, Barbara taught mathematics as a Professor at Fordham University in New York City. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Philosophy from Fordham University, and a Master’s Degree in Chemical Engineering from Columbia University.

Barbara began her professional diving career in Manhattan, New York, but decided early on to move south to enjoy warmer climates and endless diving opportunities.  She traveled extensively and taught classes throughout the American and British Virgin Islands, eventually choosing South Florida as her “base of operations.”

Barbara holds the highest PADI dive professional certification as a Course Director.  She relishes the opportunity to transform recreational divers into professional instructors for PADI, Diver Alert Network (DAN), and Emergency First Responder (EFR) programs.

 Barbara worked closely with the Department of Veterans Affairs to establish Pura Vida Divers as a VA-approved Education Facility capable of offering our Veterans career opportunities in the SCUBA diving industry. 

Barbara guides Veterans and professional students through the PADI Pro certification process.

When not in the classroom teaching new Instructors, you will find Barbara underwater on her favorite dive sites, the Mizpah wreck or the Blue Heron Bridge.

Dave Wilemon

PADI Course Director, EFR Instructor Trainer, PADI Tec Trimix Diver, DiveRite CHOPTIMA Diver

Dave Wilemon traveled the world over the course of a distinguished career in the U.S. Marine Corps. He has explored underwater from the seascapes of Okinawa, Japan to the kelp forests of California. Dave has been diving with manta rays in Hawaii, and hunted for fossilized Megalodon teeth off the rugged coast of North Carolina.

Dave Wilemon holds a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology from Northeastern State University in his home state of Oklahoma.

Constantly seeking excellence, he tackled new challenges earning recreational and then professional and technical diver certifications. Dave is currently in pursuit of his PADI Tec Deep Instructor and Closed Circuit Rebreather Instructor certifications.

As of 2021, he is certified to dive the Hollis PRISM2 and the DiveRite Chest Mounted OPTIMA rebreathers.

As a PADI Course Director and military veteran, Dave shares his vast experience by mentoring Pura Vida Divers’ professional candidates. His passion for instruction is fueled by working closely with students in pursuit of their Divemaster and Open Water SCUBA Instructor ratings.  

Dave Wilemon’s favorite site to explore offshore is the Ana Cecilia, where you are likely to encounter a massive Goliath Grouper lurking on the wreck.

INSTRUCTORS

DAVID PARKER

PADI MSDT, EFR Instructor, PADI Tec 45

Dave Parker’s passion for the ocean was inspired by a summer visit to Hawaii with his grandparents as a child.  During a 21 year career in the Air Force, Dave snorkeled in locations all over the globe.  

After retiring from the Air Force as a Master Sergeant, Dave spent 10 years honing his teaching skills as an Instructor for a defense contractor.  

Dave’s professional diving career began in Costa Rica in 2017, where he and his family earned their PADI Open Water Diver certifications.  He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Adult Education from Bellevue University, which ties in well with this “third career” as a SCUBA Instructor.  

Now, Dave is a Master SCUBA Diver Trainer here at Pura Vida Divers.  As an MSDT, Dave is able to share his love for the underwater world with students by teaching a variety of PADI specialty courses.  

When he isn’t instructing, you will find Dave welcoming you aboard a charter, or advancing his technical diving skills in pursuit of his PADI Tec 50 certification.  Dave’s favorite dive site is Juno Ledge, a deeper site with a 10’-15’ ledge where you never know what new and amazing animal you will encounter.

DAVID PERKINS

PADI MSDT, DAN DFA Pro Instructor, EFR Instructor

Dave kicked off his SCUBA diving career here at Pura Vida Divers.  After retiring from a two decade long career in the U.S. Army, Dave Perkins enrolled in our Fast Track program and worked his way up from Open Water Diver to Divemaster under the guidance of our pros. 

He joined the PVD team in 2021, and soon after, Dave’s passion for diving and ambitious nature led him to take the next step in his professional development.

As a veteran, Dave put his GI Bill benefits to use for a second time and earned his Open Water SCUBA Instructor certification.  As Dave tutored new divers to develop their skills, he also continued advancing his own diving knowledge and abilities.  

In December of 2021, Dave Perkins completed the comprehensive Resort Operations course.  He gained experience in Fill Station operations, earned multiple PADI and DAN specialty Instructor ratings, and explored behind the scenes of a successful dive operation.

EMILIO MENDEZ

PADI Staff Instructor, EFR Instructor

Emilio joined the Pura Vida Divers team after gaining extensive experience as an Instructor and Dive Guide throughout South Florida, North Carolina and his hometown of Xcalak, Mexico.

He enjoys working closely with students of every level to help improve their SCUBA skills and comfort underwater.

In 2011, Emilio was honored with the national level PADI Diver Acquisition Award at DEMA. Since he began teaching is 2010, Emilio has helped over 900 students begin their Open Water journey and advance their certifications.

Emilio is an avid outdoorsman. He led trips as a Flyfishing Guide in the coastal lagoon ecosystem along the Mezoamerican Barrier Reef, and was an official member of a fishing cooperative in the Mexican Carribbean before he moved to the US.

If he is not underwater instructing students, you’ll find Emilio enjoying his days off beachside with his wife and young son. His favorite dive sites are Paul’s Reef, 4th Window, and of course the reefs of his former home in Xcalak.

TITO OLIVERAS

PADI Master Instructor, DAN Instructor, EFR Instructor

Tito relocated to Palm Beach from New Jersey in 2014 and joined Pura Vida Divers’ Instructional staff.  Although Tito has a regular “day job,” you will find him teaching divers of all levels on the weekends.

Tito holds more than 30 PADI Specialty Instructor ratings. They stand as a testament to his commitment to continue his own diving education, in order to better instruct students.

Tito is a patient and passionate Instructor, who educates students of every level, from Open Water all the way to Assistant Instructor.

When he is not in the water with students, Tito enjoys Technical Diving. He is a certified PADI Tec Rec Trimix diver, and is easy to spot underwater when diving Sidemount. 

Tito is already planning the next step in his own comprehensive dive education and plans to don a Rebreather in the very near future.

ASSISTANT RETAIL MANAGER

CARLY GOMEZ

Assistant Retail Manager, PADI Rescue Diver, PFI Freediver

A native South Floridian, Carly grew up snorkeling and freediving in the Florida Keys. She joined the Pura Vida Divers staff in 2017, and is the friendly voice on the other end of the phone sharing exciting news of the arrival of your special ordered items.

Carly earned her Open Water SCUBA certification in 2016, and is a certified Performance Freediving International Freediver.

She recently beat her personal best depth goal, and dove to 120 feet! Carly plans to continue challenging herself to set more personal freediving records. 

Carly is currently enrolled at Florida Atlantic University, where she is pursuing a Master’s Degree in Marketing.

At any given time, you’ll find Carly out and about exploring Florida’s freshwater springs, and searching for new freediving spots. 

When she’s out of the water, Carly spends time at the beach searching for fossilized shark teeth, seashells and sea glass.  She uses these to create unique, hand-made jewelry that supports marine conservation efforts.

CREW TRAINER

SARAH WALLS

Crew Trainer, Web Content Creator, PADI Staff Instructor, EFR Instructor, PADI Sidemount, PADI Tec 50

Sarah received her Open Water SCUBA certification with her Mom in the Florida Keys as a high school graduation present, but her love for the water began long before that.  Growing up snorkeling in the Florida Keys and Abacos, Bahamas, Sarah always knew her heartstrings were tied to the ocean.

In 2017, she graduated with a B.S. in Psychology from the University of Georgia. Shortly after, she hightailed it to a little Caribbean island off the coast of Honduras called Utila.  She planned to stay there for 2 weeks to complete the Instructor course, but island life drew her in.  Before she knew it, 2 years had passed and she’d taught countless students the best thing (in her opinion) the world has to offer: how to scuba dive. 

Sarah’s love for the ocean and sharing what she’s passionate about led her to Pura Vida Divers.  You can find Sarah crewing aboard the boats and writing articles for the website.  She’s grown very fond of all the marine life in Palm Beach County, from octopus to bull sharks to loggerheads, she really can’t believe how much there is to see here!  Her favorite sites are Fourth Window, Juno Ledge, the Princess Anne, and the Corridor.

When she’s not in the water, Sarah spends her time on Juno Beach searching for shark teeth, weaving macrame, and writing stories about scuba diving.

PURA VIDA DIVERS TEAM

JULIE BLAIR

PADI Assistant Instructor, Sales Associate, Brand Ambassador

Even as a baby, Julie loved being on the ocean. She would ride on the bow of her parent’s boat in a play pen, and she earned her “sea legs” with the very first steps she took. At age 4, Julie learned to surf Florida’s east coast waves, a passion she continues pursuing today.

Julie began working at Pura Vida Divers in 2017 as an Open Water Diver. She completed her first Boat dive during our 2017 Ladies Dive Day, and instantly fell in love with being a SCUBA mermaid.

She quickly continued her underwater education to include Advanced, Nitrox and Rescue certifications under the tutelage of our talented Instructors.

In 2018, Julie earned her PADI Divemaster rating and later her Assistant Instructor certification. Now she’s in pursuit of her next goal, obtaining a Captain’s license.

When she’s not the smiling face greeting you at the shop, you’ll find Julie diving local reefs in search of Lobster, or catching waves at the Pumphouse.