Langley shop can send you back to nature in style

Her new store is indoors, but she’s all about the outdoors.

“Our focus is on things you can use within 20 minutes of walking out of the shop,” said Sarah Diers, owner of Wander on Whidbey, a retailer of outdoor gear and marine supplies.

“Of course, if you’re talking about a tent, you’d have to be camping in South Whidbey Community Park,” she added with a laugh.

Diers, a lifelong outdoor enthusiast, decided to open her shop after getting caught up in layoffs by the South Whidbey School District in 2009. She had been teaching science for two years to sixth- and seventh-graders at Langley Middle School.

Shortly after the RIF notice arrived, she was leading students on an adventure-education hike in the wilderness of the Washington Coast.

“It’s my former students’ fault,” Diers said of her switch to outdoor retailing. “They said that since I buy all that stuff anyway, I should just open a store and sell it. A year later, here I am.”

Wander on Whidbey offers a full range of items for hiking, camping and backpacking, from food to trekking poles to clothing. Among the latter is “some great Whidbey-style clothes,” she said — sweaters, fleeces and rain-resistant gear.

Wander on Whidbey carries items from Sierra Designs, Kelty, Outdoor Research, Lole, Royal Robbins, Ruff Wear, Hydro Flask, Therm-a-Rest, Bridgedale, Native Eyewear and other name brands, she said.

The shop also has a small marine section, featuring items boaters may require during stopovers at the nearby Langley Marina, things such as two-cycle engine oil, dock lines, fenders and marine charts.

Diers said she consulted marina harbormaster Rick Brewer for suggestions about which items to stock.

She said that overall, she decided to carry a limited inventory while maintaining an extensive list of dealers from which she can special-order other items.

“As long as people are willing to work with island time, I can usually get it within a week,” she said.

Diers, 33, grew up in Seattle, but spent many summers on Whidbey Island, where her family has had property since the 1940s.

Graduating early from high school, she immersed herself into a schedule of four months taking college classes and eight months indulging her love of the outdoors, the more extreme the better.

Her school work eventually paid off in a degree in marine biology from the University of Oregon, but along the way she backpacked, hiked, sailed, kayaked and camped her way through New Zealand, Australia and Mexico’s Baja Peninsula.

Beginning with summer work in a salmon cannery at age 17, she ultimately became a commercial fisher in Alaska, and later a marine biologist.

At one point, she said, she was the only woman working in Alaska’s king crab fleet.

During the summers of 2009 and 2010, Diers also worked with a scientific team in Antarctica.

“But after being footloose and fancy free, I wanted to put down roots somewhere,” she said.

Diers returned to Seattle and attained a master’s degree in education, and moved to Whidbey, were she hooked up with the school district. When her teaching job ended, she made her decision to stay.

“I decided that community meant more than career, so I made myself a new job,” Diers said.

She said she chose Langley because of the nearby marina and the city’s proximity to outdoor activities.

But she said that all of Whidbey is an outdoor enthusiast’s dream.

“We’re lucky to be so connected to the outdoors,” Diers said.

“It’s something anybody can do, and it gives you a better perspective on the everyday rush of life, a little peace,” she added.

Diers said the community has been supportive of her latest venture. Wander on Whidbey had its grand opening this past weekend, including a raffle that raised more than $400 for the Orca Network, the local marine mammal monitoring organization.

“Langley’s a really tight-knit place,” Diers said. “The business community is changing pretty radically. I see good things happening.”

Diers hopes to get back to New Zealand for a backpacking trip early next year.

Meanwhile, she’s content to mind her new store with the help of her dog Lucy, a German shepherd, Catahoulla mix she adopted from the Whidbey Animals’ Improvement Foundation.

“I miss being in the classroom,” she said, “but it’s fun bringing my pet to work with me. People are always coming into the shop to get a little Lucy love.”

Wander on Whidbey is at 225 Anthes Ave. It’s open every day but Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

For information, call 221-1127, e-mail or visit