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87-year-old Scuba Divers Attempt Trio of Guinness World Records in Bonaire

Phil Hampton was a youthful 80-something when, reading a dive newsletter one day, he noticed that a couple in their late ’60s was attempting a Guinness World Record for oldest scuba-diving couple.

“Wow, those kids!” he chuckled. And then he had a thought. He and his wife, Grace, had been diving for decades and remained active divers, well into their ’80s. Maybe they should try to claim that record?

They did, in Cayman Brac in 2017. Apparently, once you have one Guinness World Record, there’s nothing left but to try to pick up a few more.

oldest married scuba diving couple

Phil and Grace Hampton suit up on the deck at Buddy Dive Resort in Bonaire.

Mary Frances Emmons

Suiting up on the dock at Bonaire’s Buddy Dive Resort one afternoon in May for an attempt at three more Guinness nods — Oldest Female Diver, Oldest Diver (From Shore) and a renewal of their current title, Oldest Married-Couple Scuba Divers — the Hamptons are philosophical, and faintly bemused, at the level of hubbub all around them, from Buddy Dive staff to media to three-generations of scuba-diving family members.

Grace slips away and giant strides in — a trick she’s pulled before, when she got certified on the sly at 56, so no one would be disappointed if she bombed. “I had to do it for myself,” she says, married as she is to an avid diver certified in 1969, so long ago that “certification” was a new idea in dive. (Phil was originally trained by the county of Los Angeles, which had concluded it needed to do something “because of accidents with untrained divers,” he explains.) Between the two they have more than 5,000 dives — and reckon they’ve spent more than a year of their lives in Bonaire, starting 40 years ago. The last 15 of those have been spent at Buddy Dive. “Haven’t been back to anywhere else,” Phil says.

Buddy Dive volunteered the required number of instructors to make the attempted dive official (three), and the Hampton’s son-in-law Mike McCleskey marshaled all of the other required paperwork and documentation, which is considerable. A first attempt, at Buddy in 2016, failed on the lack of documentation of an instructor’s ID, so McCleskey is crossing every “t” this time.

To achieve the world records, the Hamptons must dive to 50 feet for a minimum half-hour. They promptly jump in and do so, disregarding the herd of divers streaming after them along pretty Buddy’s Reef, strobes popping.

So how did Phil and Grace get to this point, where every diver hopes someday to be? Grace rides her bike 100 miles a month, mostly around her Orlando neighborhood. She loves the ease and freedom to just “put on a helmet and go!” she says. She also takes her fins to a big community pool at her development twice a week.

“We’re lucky,” Phil says. “We’re both in good shape. I walk 2 miles a day and exercise with weights three times a week.”

Now the Hamptons must wait months — up to a year and a half — for confirmation of the new records. What will they do in the meantime? “Just keep diving,” Phil says.