Legends of Diving Articles

 

Skin Diver Magazine
by Dr. Sam Miller
" 2006 Dr. Sam Miller
All Rights Reserved.

The year was 1951, the month was December and Skin Diver Magazine subtitled "A magazine for skin divers and spear fishermen" was born. It was a thin magazine, only 15 pages measuring 8-1/2 x 11 inches, and cost only twenty five cents per issue. However, it was "our magazine" and the world's first and only magazine devoted to the infant sport of recreational diving.

It had been a dream of two ex-GIs Chuck Blakeslee, a laboratory technician, and Jim Auxier, a printer. They had assembled the magazine on Chuck's kitchen table in Compton California. Both Chuck and Jim were active divers and members of

the famed "Dolphins" spear fishing club of Compton, California. This was the same club that won the world's first spear fishing meet in 1950 at divers cove in Laguna Beach, California.

The front cover of this first edition featured Doctor Nelson Mathison holding a large white sea bass that he had just speared at Diver's cove in Laguna beach California. "Doc" Mathison was a popular diver of that era and a member of the famous Long Beach Neptunes Spearfishing club , the second oldest dive club in the US. The back cover displayed a full page ad for Voit Rubber Company. This pioneering advertisement displayed two pairs of fins, two masks and a pair of ear plugs which the ad proclaimed they were "used by skin divers everywhere."


The first issue featured popular diver
Doctor Nelson Mathison


Within the covers of the magazine were six advertisements; a 1/8 page advertisement for Mort Toggwieller's 42 foot sport fishing dive boat the "Maray," the world's first skin diving charter boat; a 1/3 page advertisement for two California sports shop, as dive shops were refereed to prior adapting the specific title of "dive shop" "Fisher Sporting Goods" owned by the late Mel Fisher who sold it a decade later and moved to Florida to become the world famous treasure hunter; a full page advertisement for "Rene Sports" on Broxton Avenue in Westwood, California which was Owned by Rene Bussoz. In March, 1952 Rene Sports became U.S. Divers aka Aqua Lung; 1/2 page advertisement for the first US recreational diving company "Sea Net Manufacturing Company," owned by Lawrence "Pops" Romano who sponsored the famous "Frankie the Frogman" club established by Frank Roedecker, who was famous as "America's first frogman" (Frogmen of Burma, Wright Clarke, Irwin & Company.) ; 1/3 page advertisement for ?Spearfisherman" of Huntington Beach, California, owned by Arthur "Brownie" Brown which was to be acquired within ten years by Voit the giant US sporting goods manufacture, and of course, the full page back cover by Voit.

There were only three stories within the magazine. The first article on page 3 was titled "The California Sheepshead" by the late great Connie Limbaugh, who along with the late Andy Rechnitzer were the co-instructors of the first recreational dive instructor training in the US, the Los Angeles County Underwater Instructor program. The largest and primary article was ?Spearfishermen enjoy November trip to La Paz." by Ron Drummond This four page article chronicled the adventures of eight pioneer divers and one female, Charlice, who was celebrating her honeymoon with her new husband Jack Waite. Dan Clarke a member of the first diving club in the world, the famous San Diego Bottom Scratchers, reported on the "Pearl Divers of Hikueru," which was a short article on his three month diving adventure with the pearl divers on the island of Hikueru in the Taumotus Archipelago.

Scattered throughout the magazine were nine articles of club activities, including a full page report complete with pictures of the "Southern California Skin Divers club (SCSD)" 1951 annual lobster tournament which was written by Harry Vetter who also just happened to win the tournament. Harry was a pioneer underwater instructor in the LA county program and later taught the first NAUI course, becoming NAUI instructor #4. Jack Waite was a member of SCSD picture was all over that page and he was also featured throughout the magazine!

Less than 2,000 of the first issues were printed. Since it was Blakeslee and Auxier's first venture into magazine publishing they had no previous experience and very little knowledge of the magazine production, they didn?t even have a distribution system established. Most first issues were given away to individuals or clubs with the hope that subscriptions would follow. It was slow going for a while but, once the word was out subscriptions did indeed follow. Soon Skin Diver Magazine was not only the world's first diving magazine it was the world's finest and largest diving magazine.

It is reported that throughout the world today there are less than 20 complete sets of Skin Diver Magazine in existence, a number are in private collections and a few are tucked away in research institutions.

One couple who are world-class Skin Diver Magazine collectors own two complete sets and they are located in Ohio! My fellow collectors and good friends of many years, Dale and Karen Woods of Diver's Paradise in Toledo, Ohio own the two complete sets. Don?t even think about thumbing through their collection, but if you are on their good side they just might let you see, but not touch their collection. These magazines are just too old, too rare and too valuable to be casually perused.

The first issue, the December 1951 issue, is probably the most sought after literary trophies of the recreational diving world. It is unknown how many individual issues remain but magophile experts place the estimate "very low" perhaps as low as ten or less. One single copy of the first issue sold at auction several years ago for almost twelve hundred dollars!

With all things there is a beginning, a middle and an end.

Auxier and Blakeslee, the founders and original owners, sold Skin Diver Magazine to the giant specialty magazine publishing company Peterson Publications in October 1963. It was sold two more times before Skin Diver Magazine finally ceased publication in November of 2002.

Skin Diver Magazine had been a voice of the divers of the world for over fifty years from December 1951 to its end. A fitting tribute to its founders Chuck Blakeslee and Jim Auxier.

Epilogue: Founders

  • Chuck Blakeslee retired to a California mountain community and is enjoying the twilight of his life with Jere, his diving partner and wife of 50 plus years.

  • Jim Auxier retired to Georgia where he passed away about ten years ago.

People in the article

  • Doc Nelson Mathinson passed away 25 years ago.

  • Willard Voit passed away about 25 years ago and his company, Voit was sold to AMF.

  • Mort Toggwieller is retired and is enjoying life.

  • Mel Fisher moved to Florida, discovered treasure, and passed away about 10 years ago.

  • Rene Bussoz sold US Divers, returned to France, where he spent the remainder of his life.

  • Lawerence Romano's company was closed upon his death in December 1954, but his equipment has gained new popularity as a desirable diving collectible.

  • Frank Roedecker retired, moved to the mountains of California where he passed away 15 years ago.

  • Arthur Brown, who developed the Wide View mask and the Duck Feet fins, left diving manufacturing.

  • Harry Vetter has retired and is enjoying collecting, restoring and selling antiques. We remain in contact as much as possible.

  • Charlice and Jack Waite divorced a few years after the LaPaz trip.

  • Jack Waite lost his full and exciting life in a motor cycle accident 25 years ago, his daughter Beverley and I visit frequently.

  • Connie Limbaugh lost his life in a French cave diving accident in 1959.

  • Andy Rechnitzer lived a full and productive life, passing away in August 2005 at age eighty (see obituary).

  • Ron Drummond's fate is unknown.

  • Dan Clarke left his life of travel and adventure and returned to San Diego where he spent the remainder of his life.

Dr. Samuel Miller

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© 2010 Dr. Sam Miller
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