From the Skin Diver Magazine Anniversary Issue
Before Skin Diver magazine, communication between divers was about as good as Indian smoke signals on a rainy
day. Divers wanted their diving spots to themselves and resented any other diver who intruded. They barely grunted in acknowledgement
if they got close to each other. But all that began to change in December of 1951 with introduction of the first national
magazine devoted to diving.
The first issue [produced by Jim Auxier and Chuck Blakeslee] was a peephole-look at
diving around the country. On the cover was champion spearfisherman Doc Nelson Mathison with a gigantic White Sea Bass slung
over his shoulder. The photo was a duotone green and black, while the rest of the magazine was in black and white. The back
cover ad, also in two colors, was for Voit Rubber Company’s mask and fins.
A total of 16 pages made up the
Number one issue. It was skinny, but substantially full of exciting stories about activities and information for the world
to read. News included the first annual Midwinter Skin Diving Derby held on December 15, 1951. “Underwater fishermen
and women from Monterey to San Diego, California, explored the kelp beds and underwater reefs for big fish, abalone, and lobster
in an effort to win one prize. Prizes consisted of Aqua-Lungs, rubber suits, spears, guns, masks, flippers and a variety of
other equipment amounting to almost a $1,000.” The article said that competition was keen since the world’s best
underwater divers tried their luck. The derby was held in part to build a “war chest” of money in support of the
Southern Council of Conservation Clubs and the Ocean Fish Protective League.
spearfishing. That’s what diving was all about in the 1950s, and it was reflected in the pages of The Skin Diver. As
the high priests of diving in that early era, Wally Potts and Jack Pradonovich, had this to say: “There were gangs of
fish everywhere, dozens of abalone in every crack, two or three lobster in every hole; it seemed an abundance that would never
No one envisioned a future that required searching all day for fish or a single abalone. The Coronado
Wetbacks talked about going down to Guaymas, Mexico, where club president, Pete Glynn, and others shot big fish and had them
swim off, “to die, perhaps, but die in freedom,” and that “The rod and reel boys were eating fish with holes
in their sides.”
Did Skin Diver encourage this wantonness or was it just the messenger? One has to visualize
that the ocean, just invaded, was a figurative candy store to hungry kids, a sea of buffalo on the plains of frontier America.
Hindsight of modern divers might see this as greed, but it more accurately be characterized as a product of the diver’s
soul:part hunter, part explorer.
Women in Diving
Although characterized as an “all male sport,”
in its early days, women have always had a place in diving. Granted, that place was not always based on present day ideals,
but the 1955 photography issue did feature a woman on the cover with an underwater camera. And, inside the subsequent issues
more and more women were showing up in the magazine’s pages, sometimes depicted as divers, sometimes as sex objects.
The Skin Diver bathing beauty pages were called Miss Driftwood, leading to a popular feature called the Miss Beach Temptress
Contest, which became Miss International Beach Temptress up through 1964 and showcased young women in revealing bathing suits
posed by diving equipment.
Sex really reared its head in 1960 when the cover featured a well-endowed Fijian woman
in a grass skirt and halter. Eyebrows went up, and in many cases, magazines were returned. “What’s going on?”
wondered the editors. Looking closely, it appeared the halter had slipped down and the top half of a nipple was showing, or
was it just a print shadow?
Whatever it was, the “Puritans marched” on the magazine. Auxier and Blakeslee,
straight-arrow family men, hastened to correct the impression. John Gaffney, who was Skin Diver’s advertising salesman
at the time (later to publish a rival magazine, DIVE and head-up the National Association of Skin Diving Stores) chortled
and urged Jim and Chuck to put in a nude diver centerfold and sell millions of magazines.
The editors declined,
but were still occasionally plagued by the reactions of conservative readers. At one time even libraries rejected the magazine
because the title, Skin Diver, seemed too risqué.