Dick Long

Location of Interview
Collection Name

Beneath the Surface of San Diego


The beautiful coastal city of San Diego in southern California has been the nucleus of underwater exploration, innovation and research throughout sport diving’s relatively short history. Boasted as the home of the first dive club in the world, the first oceanographic research institution to use diving for science, and many of the most influential diving pioneers, San Diego has a rich cultural heritage in sport diving antiquity. Large and significant portions of this history have gone undocumented, as many stories and observations remain accessible only in the memories of these pioneers themselves. However, recreational divers in San Diego represent a large stakeholder group with a highly respected and knowledgeable capacity for shaping local marine resource management choices, and divers rely on the health and protection of these coastlines as a driver for their passions, leisure and fascination. The purpose of the project overall is to tell the history of sport diving in San Diego from the perspectives of those at its forefront.  Oral histories were recorded with eight experienced local San Diego divers who began diving recreationally and went on to become influential contributors to revolutions in marine science, diving technology and ocean resource management.

Date of Interview
Principal Investigator

Dick Long is a pioneer in the field of dive suit invention and construction. Born in Berkeley, California, he moved to San Diego in 1963. His early life was marked by the impact of World War II, which led to his parents' divorce and his subsequent boarding out to a farm in Northern California. Long's diving career began in Monterey, where he learned to dive without formal classes, relying instead on a couple of basic guidebooks. His first experience with a mask in the ocean was in Monterey, where he was introduced to skin diving by a colleague. In the late 1950s, Long had a near-death experience when he got tangled in an anchor line while diving alone. This incident led him to discover the technique of clearing water from a mask underwater by blowing bubbles into it. In the late 1960s, Long began to revolutionize diving equipment. He replaced traditional heavy diving gear with lighter, more efficient alternatives, such as replacing lead shoes with fins, heavy belts with scuba tank backpacks, and large copper helmets with small masks. He also introduced the concept of heating water and pumping it into the back of the suit for added comfort. Long's innovative approach extended to the materials he used in his suits. In the early 1960s, he began building dry suits out of wetsuit material and used zippers from space suits, which were pressure-proof. His connections in San Diego allowed him to collaborate with various experts and gain access to these unique materials.

Scope and Content Note:
This oral history interview with Dick Long, recorded by Ashleigh Palinkas at the Diving Unlimited International warehouse in San Diego, provides a detailed account of Long's life and career in dive suit invention and construction. The interview covers Long's early life in Berkeley and Northern California, his move to San Diego in 1963, and his introduction to diving in Monterey. Long shares anecdotes from his early diving experiences, including a near-death experience that led him to discover a technique for clearing water from a mask. The interview also delves into Long's innovative approach to diving equipment. He discusses his efforts to replace traditional heavy diving gear with lighter, more efficient alternatives, and his use of unique materials, such as space suit zippers, in his suits. Long's account of his career provides a unique perspective on the evolution of diving equipment and the challenges and rewards of innovation in this field. The interview also includes a discussion of Long's experiences with different diving locations, including his preference for diving off a boat at the Channel Islands and Black Sea Bass off Catalina. He also shares his enjoyment of diving with harbor seals and night diving. The interview provides valuable insights into the history of diving equipment and the personal experiences of one of the field's most influential figures. It will be of interest to researchers studying the history of diving, the development of diving equipment, and the personal experiences of divers.

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The NOAA mission is to understand and predict changes in climate, weather, oceans, and coasts, to share that knowledge and information with others, and to conserve and manage coastal and marine ecosystems and resources. The Voices Oral History Archives offers public access to a wide range of accounts, including historical materials that are products of their particular times, and may contain offensive language or negative stereotypes.

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