In late September 1998, respected diving historian and vintage dive gear collector Mark Howell from Southern California read an ad listed in the Historical Diver magazine published by the Historical Diving Society USA. The ad announced a “going out of business liquidation sale” for the Coastal school of deep sea diving in Oakland California.
On Sept 30th Mark made the drive to Oakland knowing that the sale had been in effect for nearly a month and that most of the gear had probably been picked over.
The Coastal school of diving had been established in 1951 and was located in Jack London square in what had become a pretty run-down section of waterfront. 1951 coincided with the very infancy of open circuit scuba equipment. Although the school was focused on commercial diving with helmets, hoses and compressors, Mark hoped that other dive related gear might be around.
Upon arrival Mark was met by Capt. A.A. Mikalow who told Mark that everything was for sale and to have fun digging through piles and piles of stuff spread out in the large warehouse setting.
The search began, under piles of coiled hose, behind and on top of large cabinets, inside drawers..hoping that something had been overlooked.
His work paid off as little trinkets like several double hose regulators, small boxes of parts, mouth pieces, rubber fins from the 1950’s etc began to gather in Mark’s little purchase pile.
While moving a stack of coiled airline hoses Mark saw something underneath..a small scuba tank with a colorful label from “Supreme Divers” from Toronto Canada and Buffalo N.Y.
Supreme Divers had been one of the earliest sport dive operations in North America and as such had come on during the very beginnings of scuba when standardized scuba gear was very new. Supreme Divers had relied heavily on converting old WWII B-17 bomber aircraft pilot’s oxygen bottles and modified pilots 02 diluter regulators into scuba systems.
Mark’s find was one of these conversion oxygen bottles.
He could see that the small volume tank was likely one of a pair and so he asked Capt. Mikalow if another tank was still around.. Mikalow said there was, but he had sold the twin manifold and harness to another buyer two weeks before who couldn’t locate the bottles. So Mark began moving more stacks of hose and there underneath was the other tank!
Fast forward several months and Mark was searching through eBay and sees an auction for a twin manifold and harness.. he contacted the seller who informed him that he’d purchased the items from the Coastal diving school sale and they both laughed at the coincidence of it all. Mark bought the items and then set about locating a regulator so he put out feelers in the diving blogs and chat rooms and was contacted by a man in Canada who had a Supreme divers diluter regulator that he’d trade for a rare US Divers double hose…which Mark happened to have.. the trade was made, and the 1955 Supreme Divers rig was complete.
Mark made a beautiful custom trunk and added Churchill fins, weight belt and a Sea-Net manufacturing “Sea Dive” mask to make a complete set.. the mask, fins and weights are unique in their own right because they were all the personal gear of diving pioneer Dick Anderson!
This complete and historical set of early era scuba gear is absolutely incredible!
It showcases a different time, early in the sport diving circle and is a valuable tool to teach new generations of divers about the origins of an industry.
This Supreme Divers gear now resides in the Avalon Diving History Exhibit (ADHE) on Catalina island Ca. It will be used to help tell the story of early scuba history and provide the public with a direct conduit to learning about the past and the pioneers who were part of it.
Incidentally.. Mark Howell was selected earlier this year as the recipient of the HDS-USA Nick Icorn Diving Heritage Award for 2020 in recognition of his many years of collecting and preserving diving history for future generations. Additionally the ADHE is tremendously grateful for this and many other display items that Mark has donated for the purpose of public good and education.