Dec 26, 2011

Follow Up To Our UDT Swimfin Post...

Peter Dixon has over 60 years of diving, surfing and life guarding experience on a professional level. Among other things, he did a lot of work as a diver and technical advisor on Seahunt. 

He has written 30 books. His latest, Hunting the Dragon is the story of a young surfer who signs aboard a pirate tuna clipper. When he learns that the catch tuna dolphin are killed for dollar a can tuna he vows to sink the ship.

Peter is also Mat Max's father, and an avid mat rider to this day!

He was kind enough to provide some insight to the photos a posted last week regarding the UDT swim fins. He really knows his stuff, so it is a thrill to get some first hand information to help clarify some of the grey historical areas.


Hi Paul,

I'll yo-yo between this and the photos of the Frogmen. Have you seen the 1951 Fox film THE FROGMEN? Lots of fins showing in the movie. Worth a look at the trailers. The gear is true to the period. Here are remarks key to the eight photos.

#1 WWII preSCUBA pre UDTs Frogmen. Fins may have been made of synthetic rubber due to shortage. The heavy set guy on the right may be a LA City Lifeguard I worked with in 1952 named Earl Emboden. He gave my my first SCUBA lesson by shoving me off the Santa Monica Pier after saying, "Just breath normally and come up slow."  

#2 Probably black synthetic rubber fins. I recall the carbon black in the rubber rubbed off and stained the skin.

#3-5 Korean War vintage 1950-53. My brown Duck Feet are of this era. Churchills still dominated for skin diving, body surfing, and yes Hodgeman surf matting. A lot of the older LA Beach Guards kept surf mats in the lifeguard trucks for candescent fun and even rescues. I rode mats many times at the mouth of the LA River in six foot surf. We'd jump off the rock jetty and catch the wave on the fly. The dry suits were pre-SCUBA era. 

#6 I'm guessing this is the late 1950s. The SCUBA mouth pieces have non return valves and the divers are wearing earphones for some sort of primitive UW sound system.

#7 The SCUBA regulator and steel banded twin tanks (back breakers) suggest this was mid 1950. We wore these monsters on SEA HUNT in the late 1950s.

The single diver exploring the wreck seems to be wearing Duck Feet. I'm guessing the diver is a civilian and the photo from an early Skin Diver magazine. 

The best fins I ever had for body surfing were gum rubber Duck Feet.

When you check out Frogmen on Google there's a brief clip of WWII German UDT divers blowing up a bridge. (At 2:05) They're wearing fins that lace up like shoes.

Where the Dixons and "water wise" neighbors lived by the beach for decades, so many fins were lost we'd collect them by the dozens. At the end of summer we'd have a fin exchange party and usually match up 15-20 pair.

I hope this help to widen the obscure information file.

Cheers, Peter Dixon

Almost forgot. In my book The Silent Adventure (Ballantine softcover 1968) there are several photos of vintage fins and diving gear.


GRAYMAN said...

Fascinating stuff.


Anonymous said...

your pic#3 is of the original seven Mercury Astronauts during Scuba training. Starting in the front row second from left; Schirra, Cooper, Shepard, Glenn and Carpenter. Behind Carpenter's left shoulder is Deke Slayton and Gus Grissom is behind Shepard and Glenn.

b4bet said...

Yes -- my father was one of the UDT guys (Bill Altieri) third row left -- it wasn't their style to brag but I'm surprised that no mention was made of the maneuvers with the US Astronaut team.