When did you start selling scuba?
1954. I was working for a big outfit called Gold Stocks, in Schenectady, selling skis, hunting and fishing equipment. We were Head Ski’s second largest customer and the largest Weatherby rifles dealer, an ultra, ultra rifle—really expensive. In fact, we were the largest weapons dealers on the East Coast and second largest Browning shotgun dealer on the Atlantic seaboard, which was amazing considering we had this small business in Schenectady and Troy; we were really in the ski business.
I was the store manager, and one day a good customer came in and said, “I wanna buy an aqualung,” and I asked, “What the hell’s an aqualung?” He gave me all this bullshit, “It’s great. You dive underwater.” I said, “Why would you want to that?’
He was a good customer, so I started calling around. I called a place called Aqua Gun in Yonkers, run by Ben Holderness, and said, “I wanna buy an aqualung.” [Aqua Gun was bought by US Divers Corporation about two years later.]
He said, “You gotta buy three.”
What in hell am I gonna do with three? So I told him I’d call him back. Then the customer came back in and so I ordered three aqualungs. Later Jerome, the owner, came in and said, “What the hell’s that?”
He says, “What s an aqualung? Who the hell’d buy that?”
“Lennie Jones,” I said.
He knew Lennie Jones. Every week after that, Jerome would come by and ask me, “What’re you gonna do with the other two aqualungs?” A month later he came by and said, “There’s another one gone. Who bought it?“ I told him that I did.
Lennie had talked me into going diving up at Lake George. He was an engineer, had his own compressor and made his own weight belt. I had read the 17 page booklet 14 times and ended up making my own wet suit out of quarter-inch neoprene and cement. It took about six hours. The kit was called an Artico. I think it was $29.95 for the whole thing.
The place was called Bolton Landing. We climbed out of the boat and went down the anchor line to 130 f/40 m. I wasn’t the least bit worried because it was so clear. We went down a sheer wall. It was like riding an elevator. Cold but clear. That was the first time I went diving.
And you kept selling scuba
I eventually got a distributorship from Healthways/Voit in 1956. Voit was buying from US Divers, who were making the valves and stuff. They wouldn’t sell to me direct, but I had Healthways/Voit. I was selling diving equipment wholesale, some ski stuff, and a lot of shooting supplies. I started calling on the dive shops, and a few sporting good stores—it was all just getting started.