Legends of Diving Articles


Al Tillman
Dive Pioneer, Instructor, Promoter, UNEXSO

Born in Los Angeles, California, in 1928, Al Tillman took his first plunge into the water off the Palos Verdes beach with only a pair of goggles and the desire to see what was beneath the blue water. He was only 10 years old and this love of the ocean led to 65 years of diving as a free diver and later as a scuba diver leading the diving industry.

After serving in World War II with the Coast Guard, he went to work for L.A. County as Sports Director. Al and his head lifeguard Bev Morgan were very much interested in this new invention called the Aqua Lung. They

Mountain climbing shortly before his death

went to Scripps Institute of Oceanography To team up with the top diver in the U.S. Connie Limbaugh in order to participate in a course that was designed for scientists. Tillman, Morgan and Limbaugh using the basics of this course, designed the first organized public classes in skin and scuba diving in 1953. They then went on to develop the first instructor certification course the

following year. This Los Angeles County program is still known as one of the most rigorous instructor programs in the world.

In 1955 Tillman, who was a Professor at California State University, started the first college scuba diving club in the United States. In 1957, Al and Zale Perry, well-known for her presence on "Sea Hunt?, He was the technical director and helped in filming. He organized the first International Underwater Film Festival. After he retired, Al began working part-time as a contributing editor of Skin Diver Magazine.

Together with a fellow editor, Neal Hess, the two men created NAUI, the first international scuba diving certification agency. Al ran the agency on a part time basis until 1969 and continued to train dive instructors for NAUI until the 1980s.

Moving to Grand Bahamas Island in 1966, Tillman built UNEXSO, (Under Water Explorers Society) the world's first diving resort. He surrounded himself with Divers that created a lot of firsts for the sport. The Octopus was developed there by Manager Dave Woodward. He also started the first underwater photo class. It was the first all inclusive club for divers. They developed the first children's snorkeling class, first three hour resort course. On site film developing, Deep diving Decompression program, first multi-slide projector show, John Perry and his underwater submarines and the Navy had their NEMO, the first vertical submersible project. They also

had their own hyperbaric Chamber staffed with Dr. John Clement, one of the first in the World of hyperbaric medicine. They went on to teach the rich and famous and even the astronauts how to dive. Such names as LLoyd Bridges and family, Peter Benchley of Jaws, Arthur Godfrey, Hugh O?Brian, Buster Crabbe, Kim Novak, Wally Schirra just to name a few. He stayed there until 1969 when he decided to sell

Diving certificate issued to Al Tillman by Conrad (Connie) Limbaugh

UNEXSO and move back to California to continue teaching. Settling in Orcas, Washington, Al began writing numerous books on topics such as art, book collecting, recreation and diving.

Among many of the honors Al has been recognized with, his achievements include the first diver to be inducted into the International Scuba Diving Hall of Fame, first inductee into the United States Hall of Fame, and lifetime achievement awards from diving agencies worldwide. The television show, Sea Hunt, owes many of its scripts to Al. Numerous magazine covers were graced with Tillman's winning underwater photography.

Many thanks to Tom Tillman for all his help with photos and biography

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