Recreational & Scientific Diving

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Recreational Diving

Sport diving and spear fishing were being practiced in many European countries during the l920s and were introduced into the United States in the late l920s. On the West Coast, spear fishermen and Los Angeles County lifeguards ventured into the depths of the Pacific with mask, fins, spears and no thermal protection - a hardy group to say the least. It wasn’t until the early l950s, with the ready availability of compressed-air SCUBA, that the popularity of sport diving started to accelerate to its present status. In order to appreciate the evolution of undersea exploration and recreation in the United States, one must return to the early years of the late 1940s. Cousteau and Gagnan had developed the aqualung in 1943. However, the first compressed air aqualung was brought to the United States by Commander Francis Douglas Fane of the U.S. Navy’s famed World War II Underwater Demolition Teams in about 1947.

In 1949 a young marine biology graduate student at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Conrad Limbaugh, acquired an aqualung from Commander Fane and the modern era of scientific and recreational SCUBA diving began. A scientific diving program and training course was established at Scripps in 1950. Bev Morgan, Ranisy Parks and Al Tillman were among the first to be trained as SCUBA Divers in the new Scripps program. In 1951 these men led the development of the Los Angeles County Underwater Program and American recreational SCUBA diving was born. Concurrently, a young man at Woods Hole Institution of Oceanography named Dave Owen, guided the development on the East Coast. In 1955 Owen published A Manual for Free-Divers Using Compressed Air, one of the nation’s first SCUBA diving manuals and considered to be a classic today.

The aqualungs were made available to the U.S. public for the first time by Rene Bussoz in his Westwood Village, California store, Rene Sports. Around 1950 Cousteau was futilely trying to get someone in the U.S. interested in handling his new Aqua Lung. Rene contacted him and Cousteau agreed to sell him 20 Aqua Lungs. Bussoz soon discovered that no one would fill the French cylinders because they were not ICC rated. Fortunately, they did get them filled on the sly at an unnamed university. In one year Bussoz had sold only 20 Aqua Lungs. When Cousteau inquired about a reorder Bussoz’s associates apparently advised against it declaring: ‘The U.S. market is saturated.”

Shortly thereafter the U.S. Navy begin buying Aqua Lungs and training Underwater Demolition Teams (UDT) in their use. Along with the Navy, the motion picture The Frogmen starring Richard Widmark made the nation Aqua Lung conscious. Bussoz was able to use the Navy orders and the popularity of the Aqua Lung to found the U.S. Divers Company.

During the 1950s a number of clubs, diving councils and local organizations began teaching SCUBA diving and even certifying instructors. The first nationally accredited SCUBA instructor certification course was conducted by the YMCA in 1959. The National Association of Underwater Instructors (NAUI) held their first instructor training program in 1960. The Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) began issuing instructor certifications circa 1968.

Many factors contributed to the growth of sport diving. The simplification of diving apparatus, training programs, and exploitation of naval diving groups such as the Underwater Demolition Teams (UDT). Also, Sea, Air and Land Teams (SEALS), the increased interest in ecology, oceanography and related disciplines, brought about more divers. Finally, the general increase in need for leisure and recreational activities helped increase the popularity of sport diving.

Scientific Diving

The first recorded scientific dives were made in Sicily by H. Milne-Edward in 1844. Over the years, many scientific dives were probably made by breath-holding and with helmet or bell-type diving apparatuses. Engineering survey dives were also made in the 1800s. Geologists during the late l940s, used a deep-sea and shallow water surface-supplied diving apparatus for underwater observations. In 1949, modern scientific diving had its true beginning in the United States, when Conrad Limbaugh introduced self-contained scientific diving at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. In 1950, Limbaugh established the first formal scientific diving program and training course. Since 1949, Scripps and the Navy Undersea Warfare Center (formally, U.S. Navy Electronic Laboratory) at La Jolla, California have the largest and most active groups of diving scientists in the world. Currently, nearly all research groups studying the freshwater and marine environment utilize divers to various degrees.