So, I packed the whole thing up on the truck and I drove up to the Meistrells and said, “Look, I want to sell you my new surfing wetsuit business.” They weren’t making surf suits at that time because nobody knew how to crack that market, except for O’Neil up north because of the cold water. Anyway, I took a sewing machine, a batch of rubber and by then 2,000 orders to Billy, and he said, “I don’t know.” I wanted $3,000 for the whole package, business and all. He ended up buying it. They called me a couple of months later to say they were making a $5,000 profit a day each on this deal. And that’s how Body Glove started?»That was the deal. Those guys made a nice bit of change over the years from that load of stuff in my pickup. As soon as I unloaded the rubber, the sewing machine and everything else, I drove straight to Surfer Magazine and got hooked up to edit the publication with John Severson for a year. At the end of the year though, the old dive itch just got to me. Danny Wilson had put his first bell together and had made his first helium dive in Santa Barbara so I just packed up and came to Santa Barbara and asked Danny for a job. Danny says, “Well, I tell you what, I don’t know if you’re qualified for this commercial diving.” I said, “Let’s not hear that again. This is a new deal, it’s working out of the bell. You’re not even going to use heavy gear.”
“Well,” he said, “you’ve got to pass the qualifications.” He whips out two fifths of vodka and puts one in front of me. He then takes one himself and says, “You’ve got to keep up with me. If you can make it through the whole bottle you’re hired.” So we sat down and talked diving and we talked drinking and we each drank, right out of the bottle… a fifth of vodka each. I woke up in the morning with my head in his toilet. His wife, taking pity on me, gave me a wet towel and said, “You’ve got the job.”
How about manufacturing commercial gear?» When I went into the abalone business I had a difficult time finding a mask, so I built one instead. Being a surfboard glasser, I built the mold and made it out of fiberglass. It worked really good so when I got into petroleum diving, I just kept tinkering with the design. Many of the abalone divers graduated to petroleum diving when the oil companies started doing offshore work. Prior to that, the only people the oil companies would employ were heavy gear divers who wore big metal helmets because they had always had bad luck with scuba divers. Most scuba divers weren’t journeymen plumbers and that’s what they needed, so you had to be a hard hat diver to get any work in that business. I was a mask diver on the end of the hose, but not hard hat. I had to buy a hard hat and learn how to use it to get into the petroleum business. I then had the opportunity to design equipment that was more advantageous than the big metal helmets.
But in those days there was considerable resistance to trying to simplify this gear.»Yes, there was. Standard heavy gear had gone unchanged for 150 years. Very little had changed, a metal helmet covered your head and it married to a dry dress and you wore woolen underwear under it to stay dry. You jump into the water and walk over to the job site and do your job. But three-dimensional gear in which you could have the same communications that you have in heavy gear and you could walk on the bottom if you want and you can swim if you want – that is better gear. In addition to that, equipment you can put on by yourself is more efficient. Also, in most emergencies, you can take care of yourself. The primary advantage is the shorter training needed with the newer gear.