The ‘First Lady of Scuba’ visits Avalon

Famous scuba diver Zale Parry holds “Catalina Island Dive Buddies by Mike Rivkin” while Jon Council holds the May 1955 issue of Sports Illustrated, which featured Perry on the cover. Courtesy photos

This past week, Avalon was graced with a five-day visit of famed “First lady of Scuba Diving,” Zale Parry.

Zale traveled from her home in northern Oregon to join a group of more than 100 divers who are part of the University of California Santa Barbara scuba program headed up by dive instructor Ed Stetson.

The UCSB annual Catalina trip has been a tradition for over three decades and has been responsible for scuba certifying and introducing to the island over 3,500 visitors,

When Zale Parry started her diving career in 1951, open circuit scuba was virtually brand new with the first Cousteau-Gagnan Aqualungs having entered the United States via Canada from France in November of 1949,

While Zale wasn’t the first woman to scuba dive, (that distinction probably belongs to another SoCal woman Dottie Frazier).

But Zale did do something unique, she brought an aura of glamour and Hollywood good-looks into the ranks of what at that time was a male dominated industry and was anything but glamorous.

But Zale was a whole lot more than just beautiful, she was solid and legit in the water. She had to be. If she couldn’t keep up with the male divers and simply relied on her looks, she’d never have been taken seriously or had her diving abilities respected by them.

Her work as a YMCA swimming instructor, synchronized swimming performer and Hollywood stunt woman for in-water scenes prepared her for her world record 209-foot scuba dive just off Catalina in 1954 at the ripe old age of 22.

She was rewarded for her athletic achievement by being featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated magazine in May of 1955, and the brisk sales of that issue featuring such a stunning cover model got the attention of Sports Illustrated execs who quickly learned the value of a bikini-clad beauty on their magazine that it became an annual tradition afterwords.

Parry continued to make her presence in the dive industry known, four years after her Catalina record dive she trained actor Lloyd Bridges to dive for his role as “Mike Nelson” in the television series “Sea Hunt” (Zale starred in multiple episodes).

She co-founded the International Underwater Film Festival which has highlighted many up-and-coming underwater cinematographers for decades.

In 2001, along with Al Tillman, she co-authored what is considered the historical bible of diving “Scuba America: the Human History of Sport Diving” virtually all you could possibly want to learn about scuba history can be found within its pages.

Zale remains fully active within the scuba industry serving as spokesperson, keynote speaker and ambassador as she attends all major diving trade shows, conventions and awards banquets throughout the world.

Zale Parry’s diving career spans 67 years and her experience and knowledge is nearly immeasurable.

She was rightfully inducted into both the Women Divers and International Scuba Halls of Fame, and continues to pass on to youth with her “Zale Parry scholarship” program offered through the Academy of Underwater Arts and Sciences.

Zale’s presence in Avalon this week was an honor and special treat as she spent much of the weekend working the crowd in the Avalon Diving History Exhibit providing hundreds of unsuspecting visitors to first hand accounts and descriptions of the vintage diving equipment on display in the ground level of the world famous Casino building adjacent to the Avalon dive park which is located off Casino Point.

Zale’s impromptu docent appearance at the Dive Exhibit was just one more example of her graciousness and generosity to the industry as well as providing one more magical island experience for visitors.

As fellow International Scuba Hall of Fame inductee Dr. Andreas B. Rechnitzer (1924-2005) told me in 1995 when he introduced me to Zale, “There’s a lot of wanna-be’s in the dive industry, but Zale, she’s legit, she’s the real-deal”

Andy was, as usual, spot on.