Dive Lore - Q&A with Dr Samual Miller

Dr. Samual Miller saw and was part of the emergence of SCUBA diving where it started in California. I did some corrosponding with him and like myself, he is fascinated with the history and lore of the sport. He just knows more of it than me. So, this page is from that corrospondance, in the form of Q&A. It tells many things about the sport that have become mostly lost over time.

Dr. Samuel Miller, III
LA Co U/W instructor #11
PADI 2241

Ah... I would have loved to see diving when it was young and the reefs barely explored, though I started diving in 1970, so I saw some of it. I do try to preserve the diving lore as I can.

I began in 1943 with goggles to protect my eyes from a re-occurring eye infection. I went to Churchill fins and a Sea Net mask in 1950. Later I wore a homemade Sturgil mask. (Patrick Smith has a picture of me with the mask -perhaps he will post it or seach for a copy of Discover Diving --Or Check out www.portagequarry.com Legends of diving- The Mask. First SCUBA on Memorial day 1951 with used equipment

My knowledge of biology suggests that way back when, most reefs you would have seen would have had a "reef master". A huge alpha bull lobster that would likely have challenged even divers.

There was an upper as well as a minimum size limits on lobsters until about mid 1950s, then the F&G established the current size restrictions. The reduction of a bag limit from 10 to 7 occurred a few years back.

The late Charlie Sturgil (LA Co UW instructor) was the master of the bugs- very very difficult to top. I had several in the 20 pound class that I mounted and placed on display for many years in the popular LA Co UW Instructor Ron Merker's Aquatic Center in Newport beach. Only one has survived- an almost 18 pounder now on display --way up high - at Depth Perceptions Dive Center in San Luis Obispo. It is possibly one of the last big ones the public will ever see

I suspect that today's divers would not recognize diving in the earliest days. Most divers these days don't spend time in the warm shallows that I must guess were the rich hunting grounds of the first divers. For that matter, few divers are now hunters. I think you will agree that that is quite a change. Hunting releases ancient instincts and makes one so much more perceptive of the waters around them.

I totally agree..110%. Early divers were breath hold divers and when the Aqua Lungs were introduced they were so unreliable that diving was confined to as deep as one wanted to make a free ascent. Early LA Co UW instructors course (UICC) required a D&R from 35 feet and a free assent from 100 feet.

I look at diving and think of how it must have been. I suspect that at one time Palos Verdes may have been among the best diving on the coast. Laguna would have been amazing.

PV was generally cold, Laguna and OC beaches were generally warmer with the prevailing swell coming from the south therefore the Orange County beaches were the areas of choice. Spear fishing and shell fishing was the primary activity and generally participated in by athletic young men. In a survey by Al Tillman in 1970s he discovered most had been HS & College athletes. However there were exceptions: Dottie Frazier was the very first woman in the world to became a UW instructor in 1956, Barbara Allen was in 1957, followed by Zale Parry and Lyn (Yost) Chase-- They are all alive and still diving..Suggest you read Legends of diving for some insight on the early divers.

It is suggested that you read my article below titled "You can't go home again." I wrote it some time ago and at this junction can't recall who published it. It is interesting I have contacted a number of local, national and international magazines about preserving recreational diving history. Only one accepted, a French magazine- and they printed 3-4 articles and being French refused to honor my invoices..So history is not a popular subject--It does not sell magazine or attract new divers.

I really do enjoy the lore of diving, but like other lore, some of it is so contradictory. Do you know if it is true that Jack O'Neill using neoprene as padding under carpet in airplanes when he decided to make a wet suit with it? He does not get credit for making the first wet suit these days, but I hear it was him.

Jack O' Neil is Popular lore--actually utterly nonsense!

Wet suits were serendipitously discovered in San Diego by the late Hugh Bradner and Willard Bascome. I knew them both and had conversations with them (Also suggest that you read Crest of the Wave (and Waves and Beaches) by Bascome)

The material was sheet rubber which had been used to line the exterior of WW11 aircraft and vehicle gas tanks to make them "self sealing." At the time of the Brander/Bascome discovery there were two manufactures of the material Rubitex back east and Kirkhill in Brea..

Bascome was not interested in the monetary gain but Bradner, a grad student was ..In early 1950s he presented the wet suit to the "Underwater swimmers Panel" of the "National security council" who promptly declared the wet suit "Secret" and would not allow civilian production.

After the Korean war in early 1953, Brander began marketing wet suits under the banner "Edco" via advertisement in SDM very expensive $$$$$.

SoCal divers discovered Kirkhill Rubber Co and began picking up all the surplus sheets they wanted for free, later the sheets were $1.00..I some how suspect the guard pocked the money. One sheet of would make a wet suit--the glue was called Black Magic and was also a dollar. My son who is in early 40s first wet suit was made from a sheet I obtained from Kirkhill for free.

LA Co UW instructor Bill Barada developed the dry suit in the late 1940s

(See my antique three part article "Exposure suits" or something near that title)

There are picture (s) of me in the SDM Anniversary issue painted by the famous diving artist John Steele wearing a pre-wet suit costume. If you have the copy you will note I am diving on a 27 pound Sheepshead (one of the few I shot) using a rigged Arbalete attired in green Churchill, a Sturgil mask, no snorkel, in a WW11 surplus GI khaki sweater for thermal protection-- That was the costume of the diver for many years. Yes I have several John Steele painting and prints in my home.

Los Angeles County was the first organization to offer a certification program for divers. It is still considered the most comprehensive certification. Why were Los Angeles County SCUBA instructors called "Underwater Instructors"?

The primary breathing equipment was the "Aqua Lung" Imported by Rene Bussoz, therefore self contained diving was called "Aqua lung" or "Lung" diving. The word SCUBA was in the lexicon but was not popularized until many years later--it is a long story.

In 1954 LA Co in order to avoid commercial endorsements and for lack of a better term for the activity the Instructors became "LA Co Underwater Instructors." In August 1960 when NAUI was established by the LA Co instructors they used the same terms; National Association of Underwater Instructors. Ten years later when PADI was established from NAUI, SCUBA was becoming in common usage but the founders, Cronin, Chow and Erikson chose Professional Association of Diving Instructors..It was a big political thing..

With your long experience in diving, you have acted as an expert witness in legal cases involving diving. Apparently you were involved in getting the Divers Flag officially recognized.

I began my professional diving witnessing career in 1962 (48 years ago!) with the first defense of the then recently introduced and untested Divers Flag which involved a diver who was injured by a boat while flying the flag. We prevailed and the case forever established in a court of law the rights and privileges of a diver flying a flag .

So in legal terms, what is the meaning and history of SCUBA diving?

In 1941, an American, the late Dr Christian (Chris) Lambertsen designed a rebreather for the US Army. In order to distinguish between surface supplied units such as the Mark V, Jack Browne, Thompson,etc, he identified his unit as SCUBA 'Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus'. Therefore, with the advent of Dr Christensen's unit the term SCUBA entered the divers lexicon and has come to represent any form of diving in which the diver carries his air supply on their person.

During the short history of our recreational activity there has been numerous names for self contained diving with in the American diving community, to wit:

1) Hans Hass - his books and his B&W movie "Under the red sea" he and his divers were equipped with oxygen rebreathers and the activity was identified as "Swim Diving".

2) The late James Dugan introduced the US to self contained air diving and called the activity "Cousteau Diving".

3) When the Cousteau units were introduced to the west coast by Bussoz the locals identified the equipment and the activity by the label on the regulator, ie. "Aqua lung" therefore the activity became "Aqua lung" or "Lung diving" in order to distinguish between the then popular free diving & spear fishing.

4) In the mid 1950s the term SCUBA was in the common domain so Dick Klein founder of the pioneer diving manufacturing company Healthways obtained exclusive rights to SCUBA and from that time forward his products were identified with a prefix of SCUBA.

In the ealy 1960s after Dick had passed away and Healthways had closed its doors, Gus de la Valle and Dick Bonin purchased the rights to the fledgling Healthways professional line called SCUBA Pro, which as you know is alive and well.

In the 1970s Klein's cousin Don Bresco established a short lived company called SCUBA Master.

5) In the late 1970s diving had expanded to the hinter lands of the US and the term SCUBA was embraced by the mid western and eastern diving community and soon became the standard name for self contained diving.

Portage Quarry Historic Dive Museum