Dick Bonin, Co-Founder of Scubapro, Dies

Helped propel Scubapro’s reputation for making quality dive gear, a member of the Diving Hall of Fame and one of the original founders of the Underwater Manufacturers Association (now called DEMA).

March 24, 1930 – December 8, 2015

Dick Bonin, at left

Courtesy Jim Prusa

This past Tuesday, December 8th, the dive world, our oceans and humanity lost a very dear and good friend with the passing away of Dick Bonin. A resident of Huntington Beach, California, for over four decades, it can be said most fundamentally that Dick was a good man who truly cared about others. Dick was one of those rare people who everyone just immediately knew was a kind soul who treated everyone as an equal. His accomplishments in and out of diving are really too many to write about short of penning a voluminous book. He was responsible for some of the most technically advanced equipment lines the industry has ever seen.

Those who were truly blessed by crossing Dick’s path in life would unanimously agree that he was a man who never had an unkind or unfair word to say about anyone. His early training as an altar boy server surely nurtured his personality for life. Service to others was embedded early on in his nature, and even as a scuba equipment manufacturer he lead the industry in providing new services to his retail dealers. However, he was also a good man who could defend himself and others with a stern look or an effective right hook if ever required — someone whom you would definitely want on your side in any scrap.

A Chicagoan who retained his subtle accent all his life, in high school and college he was an accomplished academic, swimmer and boxer who graduated with honors. Receiving an athletic scholarship to college, he went on to graduate cum laude and then entered the United States Navy. He was an accomplished and respected Naval officer and gentleman who served his country as a line officer in the 1950s during and after the Korean War. Dick was a protégé of the renowned Commander Douglas Fane who had moved from the British Navy to the US Navy in order to start up the famed UDT teams – and the later expansion christened the US Navy SEALs. Dick had an abiding love for the Navy and all of those who selflessly risk their lives in protecting freedom and serving others.

After his honorable naval service, Dick continued his love of the seas and entered into the scuba industry at its infancy in 1956. As a smart and likable fellow he advanced quickly to build an amazing network of friends who each realized that he had a quiet, quick wit and savvy business acumen. His rise and eventual teaming up as a co-founder of the Scubapro brand along with fellow dive pioneer Gustav Dalla Valle are truly legend and helped birth the modern sport of recreational scuba. A humble guy with a self-deprecating humor, Dick routinely joked to his friends that “Gustav got both Scubapro and me for the sum of one-dollar — and he always said he overpaid!”

Under his management of the Scubapro brand, the company manufactured and improved many innovations for scuba and recreational diving including a single hose regulator; the Mark 5 flow-through piston regulator; the first buoyancy compensator back vest (BCD); the first pilot-valve second stage regulator; and his ever-popular “Jet Fins,” to name but a few.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s Dick observed that the scuba manufacturers were lost in the crowd at the annual Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association trade show and took action to establish the Underwater Manufacturers Association that later became DEMA. After retiring from Scubapro, he was called on to serve as a visionary interim executive director of DEMA in the mid-1990s at a critical time when the association began the process of opening its membership to all the various business segments of diving in order to grow scuba.

Dick’s diving industry awards were many and reputably earned, including the Reaching Out Award, NOGI Distinguished Service, and he was popularly inducted into the Diving Hall of Fame. A pragmatic ocean environmentalist, he was the founder of Ocean Futures Society that is now operated by Jean Michel Cousteau — and he was an early advocate and promoter of using retired aircraft and ships for placement as artificial reefs is USA coastal waters. Dick also lead the dive industry efforts to ban long-line gill net fishing in California and secured the legislation naming the garibaldi as the state’s official marine fish. He was an avid free diver who held the US Navy free diving record for many years and enjoyed ribbing his fellow scuba divers by calling them “tankers” — a very successful spear hunter who seemed to have “30-minute lungs” and always came up with his fish.

Yet with all of his many accomplishments, his friends knew well that Dick was most happy and proud of his large family and wonderful wife — he is survived by his wife Celeste, four children, and six grandchildren. In keeping with Dick’s unpretentious style, rather than holding a public funeral, a private Catholic mass will be held for the immediate family. In lieu of donations in his memory, the family simply asks that everyone dedicate their next dive to Dick Bonin in the deep blue seas he loved so much. The dive industry mourns the passing of a great pioneer of diving and expresses heartfelt gratitude for all he gave to each of us who love diving. Surely there will now be growth of diving amongst the Saints in heaven with his presence as a good and faithful servant.

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