Early Scuba Training??? You know; I have to be honest and say that I don't really remember any formal training in our area back in my early days of diving. I grew up in Redford Township, Michigan which is a suburb of Detroit, and like many of you I got hooked on SeaHunt! I can also remember a dive shop opening up in Detroit (The Skin Dive and Ski Shop), and my first visit there. One trip there was all it took after looking at those Aqualungs for the first time and I knew this was something I really wanted to do! Well; that was all well and good except for one BIG problem since I was only around 11 or 12 at that time, and that problem was Mom & Dad. Something about their words of: "No Aqualung until you're 16" told me that this wasn't going to be easy, and it wasn't since they kept to their word. I was told that I could swim and snorkel as much as I wanted; but no aqualung until I was 16. Well that then set me up for my "Formal Training" on learning to dive for the next several years. That "training" consisted of reading every book I could get my hands on at my school and local library; religiously being in front of that small 12" RCA black & white TV set every Saturday night for my next episode of SeaHunt, and hanging out at The Skin Dive and Ski Shop as much as I could to meet as many people as I could who were involved. This also meant that there was a six mile bicycle ride every month to the dive shop to get my cop of Skin Diver Magazine, and by then several of my buddies were also interested in diving so I always had some to make the ride with. It was during this time that I remember seeing adds and articles in Skin Diver for NAUI, and The Red Cross was beginning to offer classes at our local high school (Redford Union). One of my buddies (Roger Kline) and his Dad who lived across the street did take this class; but I don't remember any of the rest of us taking one then. Yeah; 16 finally came around and you can bet I had my money saved for my first Aqualung; a Healthways Scuba Star and 71.2 steel tank with backpack. My first dive was on Mother's Day of 1963 with Tom and Mel Janke at Whitmore Lake. Neither of us had any formal training; however Mel had done a fair amount of diving; so back then we were good to go. That first dive was to 40' and I remember being completely comfortable with every procedure I had read about for the last 4 years and had no problems executing them. My most vivid memory of this dive was at the point where I was listening to my own breathing from "MY AQUALUNG", and as I watched my bubbles ascending towards the surface I thought: "WOW; JUST LIKE ON SEAHUNT"! Yeah; it was what seemed like a long wait; but it was worth it, and I'd do it all over again! Boy; those are some fond memories!
It is possible that the instructor in the photo is either Bill or Bob Meistrell, twin brothers who owned Dive N Surf and later founded Body Glove. I'm basing my identification on photos I've seen of them as young men.
That's a good guess. I'm not really sure who any of those people are. I like the guy on the right with his mask on his face and mouthpiece in. He was ready to go hours ago.
Was the story of Bob's dive to twice his age in 2009 shared on this site? That was 162 feet for the then 81 year old Bob Meistrell. A dive to twice my age is not uncommon for me. I hope I can do that for many years to come. Bob passed away earlier this year. Great that he was able to dive for most of his years.
Here are some of my first experiences diving, From Chapter 1, Between Air and Water, the Memoir of a USAF Pararescueman:
Diving into a new world
In the late 1950's I was in Waldo Junior High School, and had been on the YMCA Swim Team for a few years. My world started changing when I received a swim mask, and tried it out for the first time in the pool. I was amazed at how clearly I could see, and how close everything was. Trying to touch the ladder, that first swim into the deep end of the pool with the mask, I missed! It turns out that everything looks one third closer than it is when viewed underwater.
This was just the beginning of my underwater adventures. Growing up in Salem, Oregon presented itself with numerous opportunities to swim in the lakes and rivers. YMCA Summer Camp at Silver Creek Falls allowed the adventuresome skin divers a chance to see the fresh water world in a small reservoir. Here trout abounded, and the water was spring-fed cold. It was so cold that we could only swim for about 15 minutes without "freezing out." Thereafter, I was hooked on snorkeling. In 1959 I spent my summer picking strawberries and beans in order to purchase an "aqualung". I had just read Jacques Cousteau's book, The Silent World, and was determined to learn scuba diving. Then dad took me to a movie by the same name, which featured the Calypso divers in the warm Mediterranean Sea, and I was completely enraptured.
Later that summer, I noticed a diver at the YMCA pool with a scuba, and he allowed me to use it. It was a double hose regulator, and I didn't fit the harness, so I just held onto it and went to the bottom to breath. Breathing underwater! What an accomplishment! This was the realization of a dream. Nobody I knew had ever done that before. Never mind that my ears were plugged up for hours afterward, I had actually breathed underwater. I was one of the fish men!
I worked extra hard, and dad took me to an older fellow who dived and had some extra gear for sale. He allowed me to try out different regulators and scuba tanks in the pool. When I had the money, I bought it from him; a Healthways Scuba regulator and a small tank with a harness. One of my first trips was to the Little North Fork of the Santiam River with my next door neighbor, David Hadeen. He had all the gear he needed, and a wet suit. I certainly found out why the suit was necessary when he took me into the water, which was bone-chilling cold.
Luckily, one of my cousins lived in Portland and worked for White Stag, which manufactured wet suits. Gracy Conklin helped me pick out a wet suit the next year, and I was set to explore the underwater world.
Many have asked what diving is like, and it is nearly impossible to explain. However, some of my daydreams might shed some light.
During this period of my life, we went to St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Salem, Oregon. The church had a very high ceiling. When I was bored with the service, I would daydream that I was weightless, swimming just a few feet below the ceiling, and able to dive down toward the bottom (the pews), for a better view of the congregation. I was blowing bubbles which would drift to the rafters, and up out of sight—each breath emitted a stream which I could follow to the ceiling of the church. I could move freely in any direction. Such was diving! Copyright 2013, John C. Ratliff
This was in about 1959. I didn't get certified until 1963, when we had formed the Salem Junior Aqua Club, which was a wing of the Salem Aqua Club, Salem, Oregon. We had a lot of fun on dives during that period. But I remember our instructor, Roy French, dragging a gill net over us in the pool for our final test. My buddy and I had to get untangled by ourselves in order to pass and go on to the ocean open water dives. We both basically had to take our scuba off (I was also diving a Scuba Star regulator at that time), and help each other out from under that net.