One of the founders of Body Glove — and one of only three men inducted into both the surfing and diving halls of fame — reflects back on a lifetime of diving
Sixty years ago, twin brothers Bob and Bill Meistrell were just a couple of kids, rigging up a 5-gallon vegetable-oil can and a bicycle pump so they could go diving in a pond in Booneville, Missouri. Today, Bob and Bill (who passed away in 2006) are known as legends who pioneered dive training. After moving to Redondo Beach, California, in 1942, they jumped in to join the first generation of surfers. Dive N’ Surf Shop started out as a small business venture, but after a trip to Bedford, Virginia, they discovered Rubatex — a material used in Pontiac station wagons at the time. They knew it would revolutionize wetsuits with a flexibility that surfers and divers needed and, after some creative marketing input, Body Glove was introduced to the masses. After decades of diving, Bob shares some of his favorite moments with us.
Do you have a favorite place to dive?
All of them! The Philippines, Galapagos, Palau; Fiji was beautiful, and diving with great whites was pretty incredible. I really like to dive Catalina Island, but I think that’s partly because it’s only 26 miles from my house and I don’t like to fly — I hate airplanes, and I say you should never go higher than you’re willing to fall.
Who have you enjoyed introducing to the sport?
I’ve had the opportunity to teach some pretty famous people — Charlton Heston, Lloyd Bridges, Gary Cooper. Gary and I still go on family vacations together; we built a great friendship. Back when I was a technical adviser on movies, I was kind of a jack-of-all-trades. Although I kept getting in trouble with the unions, so I would just go to the trailer and wait until they needed me!
What sea life fascinates you?
My goal is to photograph a bullring of West Coast lobsters before I die; I once dove right into the center of one. Giant sea bass are amazing too — we worked hard to get a moratorium on them back in 1982 because fishermen were spearing hundreds of them. I dove down recently, banged some rocks together and about nine of them swam over. One looked familiar — I had seen his torn tail before — and he came right up to my mask! It was pretty incredible.
How are you currently involved with diving?
Besides taking my 72-foot boat (Disappearance) out and diving with my grandkids, I donate a lot of dive trips. We give away a trip a year to families of fallen soldiers, the American Cancer Society, the Switzer Learning Center … you need a trip, call me and I’ll donate it. My wife, Patti, is the deckhand and we take out the groups. It’s just my way of giving back to the diving community, since it’s given me and my family so much over the past 50 years.
For you and the sport, what’s in the future?
Well, I can’t believe the rebreathers that are coming out now. That’s definitely on my bucket list — to use a rebreather to dive to 250 feet. For my 81st birthday last year, I was going to dive 162 feet down — 81 feet for me and 81 feet for Bill — but we ended up going down to 200 feet. Next year, my submarine should be finished and then I can get down to about 1,200 feet. Some folks say that’s a long way down; I just say it’s a long way up.