Legends of Diving Articles

 

Bev Morgan
Inventor and Dive Helmet Manufacturer

Surf legend, Dale Velzy, also known as "the Hawk", recalls Bev Morgan arriving from L.A. in 1949 stating that he wanted to learn how to surf. By

Bev Morgan

surfing for days on end and observing others, Bev became a great surfer. Bev learned about fiberglass by obtaining a job at North American Aircraft and became Velzy's first glasser using a sun cure resin.

Bev Morgan invited Velzy to join him in his pursuit of the growing diving market, including the sale of rubber wetsuits, however, Velzy declined the offer stating that "no surfer is ever going to wear one of those goddamn rubbers." Bev was one of the first surfers to belong to the Manhattan Beach Club.

1952 was an industrious year for Bev. He became a Los Angeles County lifeguard and learned how to use lightweight

surface supplied equipment and was trained in the use of oxygen rebreathers. That same year, Bev purchased an early Aqua Lung scuba unit which led to his starting the L.A. County Underwater Program - the first scuba instructor's program for the public.

 

Bev is also credited with writing the first diving textbook "Underwater Safety for L.A. County."

As if that wasn't enough, Dive 'n Surf was established in 1954. This was the first integrated scuba facility where you could buy dive gear and learn how to dive in one location. Bev Morgan met up with Bob and Bill Meistrell who were experimenting with various materials to delay the onset of hypothermia. Bev Morgan had read an article about a material that was foam neoprene and used by military divers. It was called "wet suit" because even though it would get wet, you would still stay warm. Bev and the Meistrells developed the wet suit "Dive N Surf Thermo cline" which later became known as Body Glove. This wet suit had a closed cell neoprene rubber instead of the latex coated canvas favored by the hard-hat divers. This new wetsuit would also help keep divers and surfers afloat.

Bev sold his interest in Dive 'N Surf to the Meistrells in 1958 and began diving commercially for abalone off the coast of California.

In the 1960s there was a tremendous need for divers to service underwater drilling equipment for offshore oil companies in California, and many successful abalone divers were recruited.

Earning $4,000 or more a month was phenomenal income at that time.

Even though Bev only had experience in lightweight dive gear, with no training in heavy hardhat gear used for construction and oilfield diving, Bev convinced an oil company in Alaska to hire him. One of his first jobs was to drop into the waters of Cook Inlet and connect a shackle to an anchor system designed to hold the rig into place. What Bev did not take into account was the fact that he would be dressed in heavy gear and working in currents with the inability to see.

As Bev directed the crew to take up slack on the wire ropes that supported the shackle, he did not realize that he had completely pinched off his air supply. With the air to his helmet depleted, Bev climbed his hose until he reached the knot of hose and cables. Thankfully, he managed to free the hose and surface safely.

Bev returned to Santa Barbara realizing that he had been in over his head. This incident did not deter him from becoming involved with the commercial diving industry. He became involved with General Offshore Diving which was an international commercial diving contractor. The company later became named "Ocean System."

Bev went on to design and manufacture underwater photography equipment and life-support systems. He also assisted with the development of the Purisima diving bell as he felt that the future would lay

in bell diving which would enable a diver to swim and be more mobile than they were with heavy gear. The divers would, however, need a lightweight mask allowing them to swim safely at the end of a hose. Together with Bob Kirby, they developed a helmet that could re-circulate helium which made deep diving more economical. In 1966, Bev and Bob formed the Kirby Morgan Corporation. Together they began building heavy gear air and mixed gas helmets, fiberglass masks and helmets and other diving equipment.

The helmet that made Kirby Morgan Corp. famous was the Kirby Morgan Band Mask also known as KMB-7. It was the first fiberglass mask incorporating an adjustable demand regulator, an equalizing device, an oral nasal mask to reduce

Morgan's First Dive Manual

carbon dioxide, communications, and a removable neoprene hood connected to the mask by a band. The mask was held in place by a head harness called the "spider."

Where it took months for a commercial diver to learn how to use heavy gear properly, Bev could train a diver to use their lightweight gear in a few weeks. Divers who were relatively inexperienced wearing only wetsuits or dry suits could use the band mask with a little training.

The development of masks and helmets continued for both the military and commercial diving industry. In 1975 the Kirby 15 was produced and the company name was changed to Diving Systems International. (DSI) The SuperLite-17 was the next big success. The SuperLite-17 had numerous improvements including the ability to keep the diver's head dry and warm and offered tremendous head protection. The strength of the fiberglass shell has kept many divers alive.

When Bob Kirby left the company, Morgan continued to work on many improvements to the 17 and eventually created the new SuperLite-27 in the 1990s. Today the company goes by the name of Kirby Morgan Dive Systems, Inc. Bev has been manufacturing helmets for 50 years!

Among other accomplishments, Bev collaborated with Pete Ryan and Skip Dunham of DSI in the designing of another full face mask, the ESO-26. This is a favorite among search and rescue divers as well as technical divers.

In the year 2000 Bev helped formed another Company, Dive Lab, Inc., located in Panama City Beach, Florida. Dive Lab's primary purpose is to maintain and operate a state of the art test facility for testing surface supplied diving helmets, full face masks, and associated life support equipment in support of Kirby Morgan Diving Systems, Inc., (KMDSI) of Santa Maria, California. In addition to testing, Dive Lab is KMDSI's official training center for all KMDSI dealer repair and maintenance technician training. Dive Lab also provides repair/maintenance and configuration training courses for the commercial, military, and scientific diving communities worldwide and provides the commercial diving community answers to all types of diving related questions. Dive Lab's goal is the steady improvement of diving equipment and safety for all facets of diving.

Over the many years, Bev has accumulated numerous boxes of ideas, inventions and prototypes. With possibilities endless, we never know what Bev may design next for the diving industry.

Bev Morgan has set safety standards for the dive community to work with, and he is constantly working to make diving safer and better for you. He also has made the public aware of the effects of soaps and Detergents on our environment.

* Information for this bio was obtained from Legendary Surfer, Dive Lab and Bev Morgan, himself, Kirby Morgan Dive Systems, Inc., Santa Barbara, California, also from a DEMA interview in 2000. Thank you.

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.

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