Legends of Diving Press Release


International Legends of
Diving A Huge Success

Diving Pioneers Gather on Grand Bahama Island
By Keith G. Cooper & Jeff Toorish

Legends Honored: At the awards presentation Saturday night Dr. John Clement, Ollie Ferguson, Dave Woodward, Ben Rose, Dr. Jose Jones,
Nick Icorn, Neal Watson, Dottie Frazier, Alec Peirce, John Englander,
Karen Rolle accepting for her husband Nick Rolle, and Robert Croft
each received awards for their contributions to recreational and sport
diving. Freeport News report of the event.
Photo by Chris Guglielmo.

FREEPORT/LUCAYA, GRAND BAHAMA ISLAND, July 17, 2009 – Few scuba divers achieve legendary status in their lifetime; it takes more than merely finishing up an open water certification course and donning scuba gear. It takes a certain pioneering spirit, a sense of adventure and the heart of an explorer. It requires the perseverance to become the first female scuba instructor. It takes the vision to take the reigns of a nascent organization like PADI as the first executive director. It takes the guts to be the first person to set a record breath hold free dive to 243 feet. It takes the spirit to develop the octopus now used on all diving regulators. In April 2009 a dozen legendary divers gathered on Grand Bahama Island, divers who were among the pioneers of diving and who have had an impact on every diver since.

They are the Legends of Diving.

A little history: The Portage Quarry in Bowling Green, Ohio, has hosted three annual “Legends of Diving” weekends. Jeff Rice, owner of the quarry, has created these events so divers can get up close and personal with some of the worlds most revered diving pioneers. The first “Legends of Diving” event was held in 2006 when Dr. Sam Miller was selected to appear as the guest of honor. In three short years the annual event in Ohio has grown and Rice decided to offer a warm water winter program. In 1965 the International Underwater Explorers Society chose Grand Bahama Island to build the first exclusive dive training and resort center. Grand Bahama Island still hosts the society, commonly referred to as UNEXSO. It did not take long for Rice to decide UNEXSO was the perfect dive facility to hold the first “International” Legends of Diving event.

In the early years of scuba diving UNEXSO staff was among the first diving instructors, training many of the first divers. Al Tillman founded UNEXSO (originally naming it the Grand Bahama Underwater Explorers Club) to teach scuba diving as a recreational sport. Since then thousands of men, women and teenagers have learned to dive at the world’s first underwater diver certification facility.

The list of honorees recognized at the first International Legends of Diving event include notable legends such as:

  • Dottie Frazier, the first woman certified as a scuba instructor.

  • Nick Icorn, first Executive Director of PADI.

  • Bob Croft, the first American to set a record breath hold dive to 243 feet.

  • Dave Woodward, credited with inventing the safe second stage regulator (octopus) now used on all regulators today.

Other honorees from the United States and Bahamas recognized as Legends of Diving include:

  • Dr. A. Jose Jones, a Fulbright Scholar and Marine Biologist who founded the first African American scuba club – the Underwater Adventure Seekers in Washington, DC and co-founder of the National Association of Black Scuba Divers.

  • Alec Peirce, owner of the largest dive shop in Canada and the largest collection of SEA HUNT memorabilia in the world.

A major element of the ILD event is to honor indigenous diving legends and emigrants in the host country. While there are many who might quality for this honor, only a few were chosen to receive the recognition for their work in developing the business aspects of the sport and as caretakers of the living seas and natural environment. Among those honored:

  • Ben Rose, who pioneered marine identification and discovered the underwater cave and cavern system located in the Lucayan National Park. Ben’s Cave is world renowned and named after the man who discovered this natural treasure.

  • Neal Watson, an American who pioneered the dive industry in Bimini where he started Neal Watson’s Undersea Adventures and who set scuba dive depth records during competitions held in the Bahamas.

  • Ollie Ferguson, became the first Bahamian to hold the position of Vice President of Dive Operations at UNEXSO and led the way in the development of the Shark Feeding program with the assistance of Ben Rose.

  • Dr. John Clement, was the Bahamas first hyperbaric doctor who saved countless lives of both recreational divers and local Bahamian fisherman free divers.

  • Nick Rolle, who was the first Bahamian to dive with Ben Rose during the early exploration of the underwater cavern system and taught many of the local youth how to swim and taught them about the use of scuba gear and lessons to deserving individuals.

  • John Englander, former owner of UNEXSO and NAUI president who lead the way to introduce the Dolphin Experience popular today with tourists and cruise visitors alike.

Shortly before the fist UNEXSO/ILD event began, organizers started the “Kids Meet The Legends” Program that provided an opportunity for local Bahamian high school students who are studying marine science to meet the men and women who lead the way in the early development of scuba and free diving.

Dottie Frazier and Bob Croft were the popular legends with the kids. Dottie for her achievement to overcome a male dominated sport and became the first female instructor. Dottie was also known to be able to tear apart outboard motor apart and could be found tinkering with engines until they were perfectly in tune. At only 100 pounds, Dottie would spearfish bringing up groupers nearly as big as she was catching them on a breath or two of air. She recalls having caught a 150-pound grouper that drug her for almost a mile.

Bob made a powerful impact on the kids with the natural ability to “pack air” in his lungs and to expand his lung capacity beyond normal breath hold divers. Bob often retained more than enough air upon reentry at the ocean surface to make another free dive without taking another breath. A former Navy Submariner, Bob was the subject of countless test by Navy doctors who were mystified with his natural ability to hold his breath for up to 12 minutes underwater. The highlight of Bob’s career was the 1968 feature documentary done on his world record 243-foot dive that was narrated by Charles Kuralt from CBS News. Bob was the first and only American to hold the record.

The highlight of the Kids Meet The Legends program concluded with a presentation from Divers Alert Network (DAN). Dan Orr, President and CEO of DAN provided and insightful look at the effects of depth when diving. He provided his own personal experiences with divers affected by decompression sickness or the “bends” and the need to follow the safety guidelines established by professional diver certification agencies. Dan also served as the master of ceremonies at the ILD Awards ceremony where the 12 Legends of Diving received a handcrafted glass diver performing a giant stride as if leaping off the back of a dive boat. The dive “Oscars” type ceremony was indeed a once in a lifetime experience for both the guests as well as the honorees.

Joining the Legends were the amazing VINTAGEDOUBLEHOSE.com divers who travel to dive destinations with authentic vintage dive gear that is a throwback to the SEA HUNT TV show. VDH founder Bryan Pennington noted that this was one of the most unique dive trips he has ever arranged for his members. The most memorable part of the dive trip was joining the legendary Ben Rose on the gut wrenching shark-feeding program he has ever witnessed. Ben who is nearing 80 years old was able to place three reef sharks under tonic immobility with the assistance of Cristina Zenato, Dive Supervisor for UNEXSO. Cristina learned the art of shark feeding from Ben and has been working at UNEXSO for over 13 years.

Christina Zenato (left) and Ben Rose exercise tonic immobility.

Grand Bahama Island offers a wide level of diving from shallow reefs to wrecks, sharks, dolphins and cavern diving. The popular shark feeding dive and dolphin dive provided divers with the thrill of a lifetime. Close up encounters with Caribbean reef sharks and magical dolphins provided an incredible experience for divers.

Over 130 persons attended the event and according to the guests it was one of the most memorable diving programs they have ever participated in.

ABOUT PORTAGE QUARRY: Located just one mile south of Bowling Green in Northwest Ohio, the Portage Quarry Recreation Club is a complete recreation facility that caters to the Scuba diver enthusiast. The Scuba diver will experience some of the best recreational diving in Ohio with clear water visibility, wreck diving, and plenty of fish. The Scuba dive shop includes tank rentals, nitrox fills, equipment, and PADI instruction. There are three professional beach volleyball courts along with recreational swimming from a sand beach. In the summer the Portage Quarry Recreation Club is home to two music traditions, a music BlowOut the first weekend of July and the annual . Also on the schedule is a Divers Alert Network (DAN) Barbeque and the Advanced Aquatics Steak Roast. Trademarks are the rights of the perspective companies.

Portage Quarry Recreation Club, Inc.
12701 South Dixie
Bowling Green OH, 43402

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