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Original Issue

The human fish acquires a brighter, tougher skin

A new protective coating adds a dash of color to the scuba diver's traditional drab black neoprene suit

Long, long ago, when man first ventured into water, where fish already lived comfortably, he did so reluctantly—a floundering, shivering, thin-skinned misfit. All this has changed, of course, in recent years. Today almost everywhere that fish swim—on the reefs, in lakes and caves and under ice floes—there are also people. Whether he is cavorting among coral heads or under ice, sheathed in a snug suit of foam neoprene to conserve body heat, the human scuba fish moves about as comfortably as any of the lesser fish.

The picture on the opposite page portrays the latest step in the evolution of the scuba species. In the past both males and females were sinister-looking creatures, clothed in black, but this year, thanks to a somewhat accidental discovery of the Voit Rubber Company, scuba divers will be wearing the spangled colors of tropical fish. The original neoprene "wet suits" (as they are commonly called) were uniformly black for a reason: no one had found a satisfactory way to put color into the material without sacrificing durability. The jet-black suits of past years kept the diver warm enough but, psychologically speaking, they had a chilling effect. The vision of creatures clad in inner-tube black disappearing into the sea gave the sport an aura of desperate adventure.

The cheerful splash of color in Voit's new line is a byproduct of several years' work on a more practical problem. Even the most durable black neoprene suffers deterioration from exposure to air, particularly smoggy air with a high ozone content. In solving this problem, Voit came up with a protective coating that not only minimized the exposure of foam neoprene to air but also proved equally durable either black or colored. Although the coating increases the life of the foam material considerably, it does not protect the material from the inevitable rough punishment of barnacled rock and coral, so the new, colorful suits still need a good deal of loving care. The added protection and color come at a price—a man's nylon-lined full suit, for example, complete with headpiece, boots and gloves, costs $79.50, about $12 more than the usual price for an uncoated black suit.

It is a smart step forward, but one that Voit is taking cautiously. The brightest colors in the Voit line are the three warm tones shown in the picture opposite, and for the present these tones are used only in short-sleeved jackets designed for casual summertime dabblers and for water skiers, surfers and sailors (about half the wet suit jackets sold today are bought by assorted water-lovers who do little or no diving). As might be expected, the new Voit line has provoked claims from the grimmer segment of the diving corps that snappy colors will attract sharks. This is crediting sharks with more talent than they have. The experts who have studied shark behavior and have picked apart the small brains and sensory organs of large sharks know that, although very sensitive to light, the shark is insensitive to color. The shark is myopic and color-blind. Quite simply, it cannot see red. Weighed against the rather hollow fear of luring sharks is the fact that a diver wearing anything brighter than black can be seen better by his diving buddies—a considerable advantage.

In any case, the new Voit line includes traditional black and mottled green and blue "sea fern" patterns, as well as warmer tones. Thus the diver has the option of blending into the underwater scenery or adding color to it—a freedom of choice that very few of the lesser fish enjoy after many millions of years of patient evolution.