An underwater film pioneer and dive business entrepreneur made the best of his first visit to the ocean, Chuck Nicklin went diving with a borrowed mask. From there he has had a storied dive career in underwater photography, filmmaking and the retail side of diving.
Nicklin has learned from some of the best over his 60 years. His training began with the earliest of dive legends Jim Stewart, Connie Limbaugh, and Ron Church. And he has worked alongside the legends of diving, Al Giddings, Jacques Cousteau, Lloyd Bridges, Andy Rechnitzer, and Bev Morgan. These names are consistently repeated in the history of diving. He's worked with the stars of the silver screen as well: Nick Nolte, Robert Shaw, and Jacqueline Bisset in the Deep and Sean Connery in the Bond movies.
Filming "The Deep"
He began as a free-dive spearfisherman in the La Jolla area of California following a stint in the Navy and a move from Massachusetts. There he would dive for abalone and lobsters.
In June 1959 he opened the Diving Locker in San Diego with the help and advice of Limbaugh, Stewart, Rechnitzer, and Church. With equipment on credit from manufacturers such as Aqua-Lung, he built the business on the reputations of the founding members.
180 feet inside a Truk Wreck
Pix by Al Giddings
His interest was in film making, founding the Underwater Photographic Society (UPS) with its meetings in the back of The Diving Locker. He acquired a 16mm Rolleimarine and soon turned his passion into a professional career. He began by shooting a B-movie called Chubasco.
Underwater photography assignments came easy to him, as there were very few experienced divers with photography proficiency in the the early 60's. One of his first assignments was on the Deep Submergence Rescue Vehicle (DSRV) built by Lockheed, later turned over to the U.S. Navy.
"For Your Eyes Only"
National Geographic hired him through a friend who had fallen ill and recommended Nicklin as his replacement. Nicklin had to learn the National Geographic Society's rigid rules for getting specific exposures in each assignment.
His career continued upward when he met the legendary filmmaker Giddings, not on assignment, but rather at a spearfishing competition. There he claims Giddings talked him into an assignment with US Divers' backing in Cozumel. Following some public derision by Giddings, Nicklin agreed to accompany Giddings on the shoot.
First Diving Locker store June 15, 1959 in San Diego.
During their first Scuba Class, which was held in the back Room, Jacques Cousteau stopped by and introduced himself. He said, "This is your introduction to the Ocean." To this day divers remember this. In the early days divers were hunters and caught fish and abalone. They would show their prizes in front of the store.
Nicklin followed with various assignments such as commercials and promotional video. He started filming in movies with Giddings always at his side, or in the lead. With Giddings serving as producer, director, editor, and promoter the two quickly earned reputations as first-class cinematographers. His first big movie was working with Stan Waterman in Peter Benchley's, The Deep, released in 1977 with Peter Yates as director. For the movie Yates gave Nicklin virtual free reign to film as he pleased while Giddings shot long and Waterman shot short, or close-ups under water.
In shooting the Bond movies, Nickin was most proud of his work on For Your Eyes Only because he did some special shots with his camera. The film was shot in the ocean rather than in a studio tank, that is where Nicklin claims his best work was achieved. He also worked on the Ocean Quest television series where he traveled to locations in the Antarctic, Truk, Cuba, Baja, and Newfoundland. He worked on the IMAX film Nomads of the Deep, which chronicled the lives of humpback whales in their habitats off the islands of Hawaii and in the Red Sea.
Nickin still shoots video around the world and travels with his wife Roz. His son Flip is also an accomplished underwater photographer and free-diver, having learned at The Diving Locker. Nicklin sold the business for what he says was a lack of interest. His video career came first.