A sense of direction

Neighbors: Profiles of our community

Warren Blum is living his dream as a dive instructor for Mike Severns Diving and a ride-share driver for Uber and Lyft.

It’s quite evident that Warren Blum has a talent for explaining things. And it’s a skill that certainly comes in handy: As a scuba instructor and ride-share driver, Blum routinely fields questions about marine life, island life — and his life, too.

In fact, Blum says it’s not uncommon for his ride-share passengers to slide into the back seat, catch his eye in the rearview mirror and ask: “So, what’s your story?”

“I really enjoy it,” he said. “I’ve met people from all over the world. I get to hear their stories — and if they ask, I share my story, too. I’ve had so many great conversations.”

There was a time when conversation was, for the most part, a one-way street for Blum.

“I was a dentist for 16 years, so yes, I did most of the talking,” he laughed.

When he’s not underwater or on the road, you might find Warren Blum working on a piece of pottery — a hobby he picked up a few years ago.

Blum’s foray into dentistry began when he was a sophomore at the University of Texas. At the time, he had his sights set on medical school but was vacillating between pre-med majors. One day, he spotted a brochure for the university’s dental school, and on a whim, decided to apply.

“It was a spur of the moment decision,” he admitted. But, as it turns out, Blum’s impulsive decision was a good one.

“It was right up my alley,” he said. “I’ve always been good with my hands. As a kid, I built model cars, airplanes and aircraft carriers, so I loved the precision, the tools and the materials (used in dentistry).”

Several years later, Blum opened a private practice in his hometown of Austin, Texas. But after nearly two decades of filling cavities, making gooey dental impressions and allaying the fears of anxious patients, Blum says he was ready to start a new chapter in his life. A chance encounter with a dive shop along a Houston highway was the unlikely catalyst for change.

“I drove by it one afternoon and it caught my eye,” he said. “As I kept driving, I kept thinking about it. I had never been scuba diving before and I thought: ‘Why not sign up for classes?’ “

The moment he took his first breath underwater, Blum was hooked, and in the years that followed, he explored the underwater realms of Mexico, Belize, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Bahamas, and eventually, Maui.

A newcomer to Maui, Blum heeded the advice of an activities concierge and booked a dive trip to Molokini Crater with Mike Severns Diving. Looking back on it now, he says he wasn’t expecting it to be a transformative experience, but as soon as the boat left the harbor that day, Blum (who, by then, had sold his dental practice) says he caught a glimpse of his future.

“It was different from all of the other dive trips I’d taken, because it wasn’t just a dive boat, it was also an educational boat,” he explained. “It just felt right. I told myself: ‘I could enjoy this for a very long time.’ “

That’s when Blum vowed he would move to Maui someday and work for Mike Severns Diving.

Shortly after returning home to Texas, he earned his dive instructor certification and began teaching classes and certifying rookie divers in the chilly waters of Austin’s Lake Travis. Then, in 2001, he packed up his gear, purchased a one-way ticket to Maui and waved goodbye to Texas.

Today, he’s living out his self-fulfilling prophecy as a dive instructor (and a self-confessed “fish geek”) for Mike Severns Diving. Blum has a clear passion for the ocean and its inhabitants; he relishes the opportunity to get up close and personal with marine life. Among other things, he’s photographed and identified many of the manta rays that frequent his regular dive spots (in fact, one manta ray is named after him).

And teaching the fundamentals of scuba diving is a far cry from dentistry, Blum said.

“For one thing, people are actually happy to see me first thing in the morning,” he joked. “And the view from my office is much better.”

Blum’s work day begins around 4 a.m. and ends when most people are sipping their second cup of coffee. So, he decided to make good use of his afternoons and earn some extra income as a ride-share driver. (Plus, the side gig gave him an excuse to buy the new Hyundai Santa Fe he’d been eyeing.) Blum has been an Uber driver for the past year and a half; he began driving for Lyft when the ride-hailing service launched on Maui in March.

Whether he’s underwater or on the road, Blum is “doing life” — and enjoying every minute of it.

“I’m doing something I love every day,” he said. “I wouldn’t change a thing.”

* Sarah Ruppenthal is a Maui-based writer. 

Do you have an interesting neighbor? Tell us about them at missruppenthal@gmail.com. Neighbors and “The State of Aloha,” written by Ben Lowenthal, alternate Fridays.

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