DEMA honours Bob Soto

Fifty years on from when he first established Bob Soto’s Diving in Grand Cayman, the legendary pioneer of scuba diving in the Cayman Islands is being hugely honoured by the dive industry.

Next month, Mr. Bob Soto is to receive the Diving Equipment and Marketing Association’s Reaching Out Award. DEMA’s award recognises individuals who have made significant contributions to the diving community by reaching out to bring diving to people throughout the world.

‘I was really shocked and honoured that I am being recognised with the highest award given in the dive industry,’ Mr. Soto said. ‘I am very grateful that I’ve been selected from all the people around the world in diving. I feel very honoured.’

The Reaching Out Awards were first given in 1989 and have been awarded annually since.

Through this award, 81-year-old Mr. Soto will join the ranks of previous recipients such as Jacques-Yves Cousteau, Lloyd Bridges, Dr. Sylvia Earle and Cayman’s own Cathy Church and Ron Kipp.

Recreational scuba diving began in the Cayman Islands in 1957, when Mr. Soto set up his dive operation, Bob Soto’s Diving, the first resort dive operation in the world. He set up the business with an island-made boat, a surplus air compressor and some early scuba equipment.

Along with Mr. Soto, one of the world’s leading underwater photographers, David Doubilet will be honoured at the DEMA Awards Party in Orlando on 2 November.

The honourees will go into DEMA’s Hall of Fame, which has a physical presence each year at the annual DEMA show.

‘To become a member of the DEMA Hall of Fame is an extraordinary achievement and is available only to those who truly deserve to be recognised for their outstanding efforts and contribution to the sport. There are many individuals whose work goes unheralded and unnoticed,’ it says on DEMA’s Reaching Out Award nomination form.

Mr. Soto found out about being a recipient a few weeks ago through an email notification from DEMA.

He was nominated for the award by previous Cayman Islands’ recipient and past DEMA board member Mr. Ron Kipp.

DEMA’s Board of Directors evaluates each nominee’s achievements and contributions in order to select the final two winners.

In his application for Mr. Soto, Mr. Kipp described the dive pioneer as a true visionary 50 years ago when dive travel did not even exist and the few who dived went locally.

‘The Cayman Islands in the 1950s was a far cry from the popular tourist destination that it is today,’ Mr. Kipp wrote. ‘In the 1950s the mosquitoes on Grand Cayman were legendary and made the island nearly uninhabitable for tourists. But Mr. Soto persevered. Eventually there was a major eradication effort aimed at the insects. By the time the island became known as a desirable destination in the mid 1970s, his company, Bob Soto’s Diving, was well established as a major tourism component.’

Mr. Kipp described how Mr. Soto is synonymous with practically everything underwater in the Cayman Islands. ‘He was a pioneer with a dedicated dive hotel, the Cayman Diving Lodge and live-aboard dive boat, the Cayman Diver. He promoted diving on a world-wide basis including underwater support work for the movie industry. . .’

The Cayman Islands government presented its first Marine Conservation award to Mr. Soto for his role as crusader for marine conservation laws and a system of protected underwater parks, regulations for which were passed in 1986.

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Mr. Soto also provided search and rescue operations in Cayman. His US Navy experience stood to him, having previously been decorated by President Truman for rescuing a Coast Guard ship on fire after a collision with another ship in a fog in the Atlantic.

Mr. Soto has received numerous awards during his career, including the Member of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II in 1996, the superior achievement award by the Caribbean Tourism Association and the prestigious Cayman Islands Certificate and Badge of Honour in 1992.

Although Mr. Soto retired from the dive industry in 1980 when he sold Bob Soto’s Diving Ltd. to Ron Kipp, he has remained active for many years in conservation efforts and involved in diving and watersports issues in the Cayman Islands.

Mr. Soto and his wife Suzy will attend the pirate-themed DEMA awards party at the Rosen Centre Hotel Ballroom, Orlando, on 2 November, to receive the award at which, fittingly, the Cayman Islands is the party’s gold sponsor.