After years of being virtually based in the Cayman Islands, the International Scuba Hall of Fame officially moved into its new home at the Cayman Islands National Museum over the weekend.

An exhibit of historic dive equipment, “Legends of Scuba Diving,” opened at the museum on Saturday, signifying the first physical location of the hall of fame.

Among the items on display at the year-long exhibit are a pair of World War II-era wooden fins marketed by a California spearfisherman and dive equipment used by TV and movie star Lloyd Bridges.

The International Scuba Diving Hall of Fame was founded by the Cayman Islands Ministry of Tourism to recognize those who have furthered the sport locally and internationally.

The Hall of Fame was established in 2000, but as Executive Director Leslie Leaney noted, “This is the first time we’ve actually reached a milestone in achieving a physical home.”

- Advertisement -

Mr. Leaney recounted how he spent the past decade roving the world, collecting some of the rarer items associated with the history of scuba diving and Hollywood.

Before the exhibit, the hall’s artifacts were on display only virtually and via a series of touring exhibits. “We traveled with the articles to trade shows around the United States and exposed them to the diving community,” said Mr. Leaney.

Now visitors will be able to see them up close, along with a Legends Gallery Floor honoring hall of fame inductees, including Jacques-Yves Cousteau, perhaps the most famous pioneer in modern scuba diving, and Ron and Valerie Taylor, underwater filmmakers who became known in the 1960s for their daring swims with great white sharks. The Hall of Fame collection includes artifacts belonging to all three.

The display opened with a Looky Ya event featuring music, local food and crafts and the opportunity for crowds to get their first glimpse at the exhibit.

“Some of the items that are in this display are the only ones known to exist in the world,” Mr. Leaney said.

Among these are the camera housing that filmed the world’s first scuba movie – 1951’s “Under the Red Sea.”

Visitors can also see the original knives and masks used by actor, diver and Hall inductee Lloyd Bridges on the set of “Sea Hunt,” the TV show that made him famous.

“It has the exact equipment he used in the first season [of the show] in 1958,” said Mr. Leaney. “He’s got his Navy trunks, Navy knife, regulators – everything’s original to what that TV series was in 1958. We even have the wetsuit he wore.”

“We’re really telling the history of objects and people,” added Museum Director Peggy Leshikar-Denton. “Not just the recent past, but the birth of diving, people going under the water for the first time.”

She pointed out that the innovative wooden fins were fashioned because of wartime rubber shortages. There is also a flexible, portable respirator developed in 1915 by a team of Japanese divers who were not satisfied with the bulky English equipment available at the time. Known as the Ohgushi Peerless Respirator, its inventors were inducted into the Hall of Fame this year.

“What’s on display is only a third of what we own,” said Mr. Leaney.

The directors stressed that the display is a perfect fit for the museum and for Cayman. “Diving and the marine world has been the pillar of the tourism industry in Cayman for many years,” said Rod McDowall, operations director at Red Sail Sports, a member of the Hall of Fame’s board of directors.

The Hall of Fame nominates two or three inductees each year from the local arena, said Mr. McDowall. Among the first was Bob Soto, a pioneer of the diving industry in the Cayman Islands.

After exhibit’s year-long run ends at the museum, plans are in the works to find it a long-term home. Local dive companies are now offering packages that include admission to the exhibit.

- Advertisement -

Support local journalism. Subscribe to the all-access pass for the Cayman Compass.

Subscribe now