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Orange County - Did You Know" California SCUBA Dive Trivia
by Dr. Sam Miller
© 2010 Dr. Sam Miller
All Rights Reserved.

A few little known facts about Orange County:

  • Orange County was the fountain head of recreational diving in California, the US and for the world.

  • It had the most diving manufactures of any place in the world-- US Divers, Voit, Sea Tec, Inflatable systems, JBL, Mares, Spearfisherman, Mark V, Newport divers, Sea Quest, Del Mar, Sea Suits, Water Wear, Kettenhofen Wet suits, Sampson, Sea Pro, Riffe International, Alexander Spearguns, and many more lessor known and now forgotten manufactures.

  • Divers Cove/Pick Nic Cove was selected as the location for the world's first Competitive Spear fishing meet in 1950 and most every year to the early 1960s. Why isn't there a monument in Laguna Beach to this world renowned spearfishing event" FYI the winners are still alive, but not well.

  • Divers Cove was NOT named as a result of recreational diving activity.

  • Two world record fish were speared off Orange County's coast; the BSB & WSB. FYI one of the largest "opal eyes" --13 + pounds was speared off OC - it was under 15 pounds therefore Ralph Davis would not accept it as a World Record.

  • Its waters did contain a variety of shell fish; Mussels, Oysters, Pismo Clams, Scallops, & Lobsters. The mussels, oysters and Pismo clams have totally disappeared from the OC waters.. Were did all they go?

  • It has a train engine and its box cars, several airplanes, an ocean going barge and several WW 11 landing craft sunk off its coast.

  • It has an underwater canyon; aka the Newport Canyon.

  • It had and has the second recreational diving ordinance in California. Two of the divers who fought the "Battle of Laguna Beach" are still alive. That is a story for another time and place.

  • It had one of the first California game reserves at Heisler Park, named after Glen Vedder, the architect and driving force behind the Laguna beach diving ordinance.

  • It has a number of piers that are diveable and one that is now underwater but diveable. See the book "Great Piers of California" by Jean Fleming- 1984-who was an instructor at Orange Coast College.

  • PADI's first office was in Orange County.

  • In the genesis of diving instruction Orange County had more LA County Certified Underwater Instructors than LA County. Many were voted as the "Outstanding LA County Underwater Instructor of the year."

  • Lyle Hoskins and sons of Newport Beach was the fist OC dive shop and one of the first dive shops in California. Following Hoskins was Laguna Divers supply, Underwater Sports of Laguna, Aquatic Center & Laguna Sea sports.

  • Three OC residents were honored as "Fathers of Spearfishing" at the 2000 millennium Free diving party.

  • Herb Samson was the pioneer diver of Orange County. He held the BSB record for a short time in 1950s. He developed underwater movie camera housings for Hollywood in the 1930s & 1940s. He also designed and developed the famous bullet proof Samson 16 MM sport camera housing and the 35 MM professional housing . Three Samson cameras were made with the very first Spear gun mounts in 1956-only one remains.

  • He developed and marketed the famous Samson World Record Spear gun and the Samson 38 calibre power head in the early 1950s.

  • The Samson gun was acquired by the Aquatic Center in Newport Beach (Ron Merker) who sold it to Sea Tec in Corona (Harry Ruscigno) where it drifted into obscurity and is now a collectors item. Govern controls caused the demise of the Samson power head in the early 1960s--It is now a much sought after collectors item.

  • Arthur "Bud or Brownie" Brown invented the world famous Duck Feet fins and equally famous Wide View mask which were produced in his Laguna Beach factory. His assets were acquired by Pacific Molded Products (Ken Norris) who sold them to Voit (Willard Voit) of Newport beach.

  • Joe Lamnica established Newport divers, Delmar wet suits and JBL. He made his first spear gun in 1948 as a school project. He developed the JBL gun for Voit in 1967, who was acquired by Mares who in turn re sold the gun back to Joe. Sadly Joe passed away a few years ago. JBL is now owned by Mr, Guy Skinner who is manufacturing a much improved JBL near San Diego.

  • Joe was the first to make a gold plated spear gun in 1981 to commemorate his 25 years in the diving business. Only 81 guns were produced and ceremoniously presented to spear fishing notables. See Discover diving, June 1994, The way it was "The man with the golden gun."

  • Bill Barada also lived in Orange County. He invented the first "Dry Suit", aka "Aqula" the Hammerhead muzzle and the pile driver aka pull out point. At an early age he modified a CO2 fire extinguisher to make a spear gun which became the standard of the spear fishing world in the 1940s & 1950s (See Discover Diving Jan 1993, The way it was "The magnificent Gas gun") He also was the author of about a dozen books on diving including "Spear fishing where and how?" which was printed by Voit for their new Voit (JBL) gun.

  • Mort Toggweiller owner of the "Maray" from 1950 to 1960, world's first charter boat dedicated solely to diving. The world's first dive boat deck hand was a teenage Ron Merker. Mort photographed Ron and his then girl friend Carol Schunt, now Carol Merker to produce one of the fist commercial diving instructional films. Sorry I have forgotten its title.

  • Mort created "Dive Rite" a company devoted to supplying components for underwater camera housings in 1956, wrote a small "book" (72 pages) "How to build your own UNDERWATER camera housings" in 1958. As a closing act in 1960 developed one of the first one man sport submarines the "Submaray" which was used extensively along the California coast by the emerging off-shore oil industry. Mort is alive and well in an extended care home.

  • Underwater signaling was developed by Bob Ruethford "Sea Sabres Signaling System" and Discover diving The way it was, January 1992 "Sea Sabres Signaling System") - Also check out the Samson spear gun.

  • Bob also was president of the Sea Sabres which at that time was the largest dive club in the US and possibly the world. He developed and promoted the Underwater Christmas party which was photographed and appeared on national TV. He was a contributor to the development of Para Scuba which is now in common usage by the military. He was active in the LACD (aka GLACD) and was the organization's third president.

  • He along with Joe McCabe established the Aquatic Center on the NW corner of Brookhurst and Cerritos in Bob's garage, which was later moved to Newport Beach and sold to Mr. Al Wood & Ron Merker.

This was the Orange County I knew, loved and dove for over 50 years. It has disappeared forever but remembered by a few who were privileged participants of a by gone era.

Dr. Sam Miller, (from left) Cindy Shaw, and Pat Smith in a recent photo taken at the home of
Dr. Miller. Pat Smith authored "Ship Wrecks of the California Coast"

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