Legends of Diving Articles


The Pioneer Program in Diving Instruction
by Nick Icorn

L.A. County was the first to develop safety programs and instructional standards in the United States.

In 1953, Al Tillman, Sports Director for the Department of Parks and Recreation and Bev Morgan, LOS Angeles County Lifeguard, put into action what was to become the pioneering effort for diving safety.

With the help of Conrad Limbaugh, Diving Officer for the Scripps Institute of Oceanography and the foremost authority on SCUBA diving in the U.S., plans were made for the first public SCUBA courses.

In July of 1954, two were held at Mayfair Park in Lakewood and two in East Los Angeles, assisted by Ramsey Parks, L.A. County Lifeguard. During this period Bev Morgan wrote the first training manual "Underwater Recreation" which in an updated version is still available today to L.A. County Instructors.

In 1955, the first of the Underwater Instructor Certification Courses (UICC) were held. Beginning in March, then May, July, and finishing in September of that year. The first three consisted of a program approximately 20 hrs. long, 4 UICC was 32 hrs. and 5 UICC grew to 50 hrs. Today the UICC consists of over 200 hrs. extended over a three month period of weekend training. The program is conducted once yearly.

In 1958 Neal Hess, an L.A. County Instructor with the help of Skin Diver Magazine, introduced a column entitled "Instructors Corner" to help with training concepts on a national basis.

In 1959 the title became the "National Diving Patrol", with training outlines reviewed and accepted.

In I960, Al Tillman along with Neal Hess, organized the National Association of Underwater Instructors (NAUI) and held the first instructor course on a national level in Houston, Texas. Much of the material and concepts were provided by L.A. County.

In 1964, the L.A. County Advanced Divers Program (ADP) was founded, with courses running 8 months long and back to back for the first two years. This was the first advanced program in the U.S. Courses are now conducted yearly and staffed by the L.A. County Instructors Association.

L.A. County was the first to offer seminars to keep their instructors up to date. The general diving public was also invited to attend.

A publication, the "Underwater News" was also offered to keep the membership current and was popular on a national basis.

In 1968, L.A. County organized the "International Conference on Underwater Education" (ICUE). In 1969, NAUI assumed control of the program.

In 1967, L.A. County was the first organization to require open-water work for certification.

In 1968, submersible pressure gauges (SPG) became mandatory for class use. We also introduced training in buoyancy control.

Over the years the L.A, county underwater instructors Association (UIA) has functioned in an advisory capacity to the Department of Parks and Recreation with an elected Board of Directors who assist in maintaining the underwater programs and standards.

L.A. County instructors have assisted in the development of many national organizations: Al Tillman as one of the founders of NAUI and their first Executive Director, Bev Morgan as President of Kirby-Morgan Diving Systems International, Nick Icorn as one of the founders of PADI and their first Executive Director and organizer of the National Scuba Training Council NSTC, Jon Hardy Training Director for SSI and equipment expert and evaluator, as well as legal expert in the diving field, Ed Petterson Director of Aquatics for L.A. County and advisor for many years to (The Underwater Instructors Association.

Through the years many pioneers have assisted to bring the L.A, County Program to the forefront; E.R. Cross-a living legend in diving, Andy Rechnitzer-Director of the governments Deep Submersible Program, Jim Stewart-Diving Officer for Scripps Institute, Glen Egstrom-Dept. of Physiology UCLA, and many, many more who have contributed time and energy to make the program what it is today.

Legends Series

Nick Icorn, international dive legend, presents this article in the dive legends series. Icorn attended the first instructor's course in the United States at Scripps Institute in 1953. From there he has gone on to an illustrious career in diving with many awards. Read more on Nick Icorn, a legend at the Third Annual International Legends Festival at the Portage Quarry in August, 2008.

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1993 Originally Published in Historical Diver Magazine
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