Legends of Diving Articles

 

Bill and Bob Meistrell
Twin Brothers who Pioneered Dive Training

One would think that the Legends of the wetsuit would have come from California. This is not the case, though, as Bill and his twin brother, Bob Meistrell, came from Booneville, MO.

Bill, being the oldest, was born before midnight, and Bob was born after midnight. Throughout life, Bob would always call and tease his twin brother, Bill, about being a day older. They started their diving in a pond with a homemade


Bill and Bob Meistrell

five gallon vegetable oil can and a bicycle pump. They chewed the asphalt from the street to make it soft so they could seal a glass in place to look through. They soldered a hose fitting to the top for a garden hose and then fit it with a spring and a marble that worked as a check valve. That way the air would not go out when they stopped pumping. They used weights from their mom's store. Bill said, "I don?t know why we didn?t get an air embolism."
In 1944 they followed their older brother, Joe, to Manhattan Beach, California. Now 15 years, they threw the old helmet in the trash and bought

a blue dive helmet barely used. It had a double-piston pump, 50 feet of hose and shoe weights. They paid $25 for it. Their mother asked them why it was so cheap and their reply was that it belonged to a guy that had drowned.

The boys went to school at El Segundo High School where Bob hurt his back while playing football. They both were swimmers, and after High School they passed their test at L.A. County for Lifeguards. Later they were in the first class of instructors for L.A. County which their friend, Bev Morgan wrote the manual for. Bob holds card number One.

The Korean War broke out, and they were both drafted. This was the only time in their lives in which they ever lived apart. Bill saw combat and received the

Bronze star. During Bob's stay at Pleasure Point in Santa Cruz, he was surfing by car lights in the icy waters with Army wool sweaters on just to keep warm." I?d have to take it off and wring it out every time I fell from the board." he stated.

After the War, the brothers came home spending time surfing and tried out diving, buying their first gear out of the trunk of a car from Frank Rodecker. The instructions went like this, "Don?t hold your breath on the way up." After his discharge in 1952, Bill initiated a


Meistrell brothers and Four Bugs

discussion with his brother, Bob, about buying out Hap Jacobs half interest in Dive N?Surf Shop. They obtained a loan for $1800 from their mother. The Dive and Surf shop was located at Redondo Beach and was founded by the Watermen's two buddies, Bev Morgan and Hap Jacobs. Bev sold his half out in 1957 to the Meistrells. To this day, over 50 years later, the shop is still in the family.

During this time, the Meistrells were experimenting with various materials and methods to delay the onset of hypothermia. This ranged from wool sweaters to battery heated clothing and flight pilot bunny suits. Finally, one day in 1953, Bev Morgan went to the Scripps Library and read an article written by a scientist. Hugh Bradner. The article talked about Hugh experimenting with a material that was a foam neoprene used for military divers and for fighting hypothermia. Hugh called the material "wet suit" because when you got it wet you could stay warm. Bev and the Meistrells solved the problem with the introduction of a wetsuit called the Dive N" Surf Thermo cline. What set the Dive N" Surf wetsuit apart from the latex coated canvas, favored by the hard-hat divers, was its closed-cell neoprene rubber. This would also keep the diver and surfer afloat, however, the surfers would not realize the positive points to using such a suit at the onset. "It took a long time for them to adapt to wet suits" states Bob.

One day Ivan Tors asked them to look at a Hollywood set. This resulted in their supplying the equipment for the TV show SEA HUNT. Bob taught Lloyd Bridges and his family how to dive, however, this did not happen until after the show was produced. This came about while Bob was measuring Lloyd for a wet suit. Lloyd said, "You are going to put me in the pool and teach me diving aren?t you?" Bob replied, "I thought you already knew how." Bill made the custom wet suit for Mike Nelson and purchased two gallons of silver Greyco rubberized paint using the paint on the wet suit to obtain the unique color which would show up well on the television show. To this day, everyone tries to imitate this suit.

Bob and Bill taught Charlton Heston, Hugh O?Brian, Richard Harris, Jill St John, and Gary Cooper, how to dive. Gary Cooper and Bob became good friends after working on movies together. Bob was often hired on as technical advisor for the diving that was shown in the movies.

The thermo cline wet suits were selling well but not keeping up with the competition which was Jack O?Neil?s. One day, in 1965, Bill was talking to Hang

Ten founder, Duke Boyd. Boyd said, "Your suits will never sell with a name like Thermo cline. Who knows what that means?" Bill replied, "What do you suggest?" Boyd asked, "What is so great about your wetsuit?" Bill's response was, "It fits like a glove." Boyd immediately replied, "Let's call it "Body Glove?.

A few days later Boyd sent the Meistrells back a black and yellow design with a hand in the middle that looked like an


Body Glove Logo

X-Ray, encircled by the words, "Body Glove?. It was accompanied by an invoice for $35 for the designer and $175 for Boyd's two words of copy.

Their pioneering work on wet suits used by scuba divers and surfers is now a lifestyle brand that is marketed in over fifty countries. Their support of water sports has earned them double recognition in the dive and surfing Hall of Fames, and their environmental work has gained them world notoriety. Bill and Bob were know for there shipwreck work, retrieving millions in Gold coins; the latest in 1995 off the coast of Bahamas.

In July 2006 Bill passed away. Bob and his brother spent every day they could looking for their passion, the West Coast lobster. Bill developed a creed that he and Bob lived by and passed on to their families and friends. "Do what you love and love what you do."
This exemplifies the creed of two twin brothers and everything they did in the love of water sports.

 

Dive 'n Surf Shop #42 in Redondo Beach, CA. This picture was taken in 1955 and in
the picture was Dale Velzy, Hap Jacobs, Bill Meistrell, and Bev Morgan. It symbolized
the start of one of the oldest dive-surf combinations, hence the name.
 

Bill Meistrell Obituary - July 30 1928 to July 25 2006

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12701 South Dixie
Bowling Green OH, 43402
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