During the past 20 years the development of equipment like snug-fitting diving masks, rubber flippers and mechanical air lungs has made skin diving a flourishing sport and turned underwater regions once reserved for fish, pearls and sunken treasures into a sportsman's playground.
In our Aug. 1 issue Philip Wylie described the mysterious lure which changed him from a fish catcher to a fish watcher. In next week's SPORTS ILLUSTRATED Coles Phinizy tells another part of this story with an account of last year's national spearfishing champions, the Pinder brothers. An accompanying eight pages in full color by Ed Fisher illustrate the Pinders hunting in their watery preserve for leopard rays, moray eels, hogfish and turtles.
Phinizy himself, more a submarine observer than hunter, has been a devoted recruit to skin diving ever since he did a story on a submerged Spanish galleon when he was a LIFE writer. And now a day off frequently finds him with his 10-year-old son, scrutinizing the bottom of some nearby body of water.
Skin diving, of course, goes on everywhere; and estimates place the growing number of active addicts in this country alone at between one and two million. On Phinizy's recent trip to Australia to report on the Olympic preparations, he found a skin-diving boom. The subject kept intruding into conversations he was trying to steer closer to his assignment. And on his stopover at Fiji it seemed as if the only person not wearing flippers was the great native fisherman, Samson Wallai, whose size 16 feet make them redundant.
"Skin diving," Phinizy says, "is almost literally for everybody. Six feet of water in Long Island Sound may not match the Bahamas, but even there you can see a weightless, amber world you never knew before: three horseshoe crabs sitting in a circle, an eel staring at its reflection in a beer bottle, blackfish nibbling at barnacles. Sometimes in some waters a few interesting creatures like barracuda and sharks may take a bit too much interest in you, or a school of mutton snappers may crowd out the view. But most of them go about their business as if you had been living with them all your life. And after a while you get the pleasant, unearthly feeling that indeed you have."