Dottie Frazier, pioneer of deep-sea diving, dies at 99

Dottie Frazier, a rare woman in the male-dominated world of west coast freediving and scuba diving in the 1940s and 1950s, often described as the first woman to be certified to teach scuba diving. United States Navy, died Feb. 8 at his home in Long Beach, Calif. She was 99 years old.

Her husband, Cyril May, announced her death.

Ms. Frazier has spent much of her adventurous life in the water, taking her first dives as a young child in Southern California. She apparently had as many diving stories as she had dives.

There was the time she faced a shark in the waters off Mexico. The time a big seal wanted the fish she was bringing back to her boat and rammed it, breaking her four ribs. The time she broke her leg skiing in the snow and made herself a special wetsuit with a zipper from the ankle to the chest so she could wrap it up and continue diving with the broken limb.

Even motherhood didn’t stop her from spending long hours in the water.

“A friend of mine had a flag that she waved when she needed me to come back ashore to breastfeed my youngest son,” she said in an interview for Tim Ecott’s book “Neutral Buoyancy: Adventures. in a Liquid World” (2001).

Ms. Frazier was already a qualified freediver and scuba diver when she began scuba diving in the early 1950s, when equipment for this activity first became available in the United States. At first, she wasn’t impressed with the equipment.

“I thought it was for sissies,” she said in the “Neutral Buoyancy” interview. “For people who couldn’t hold their breath long enough to grab their dinner.”

But she became familiar with the new technique, and in 1955 tried to enroll in a Los Angeles County Underwater Instructor Certification Course, sending in the required fee. She was sent a letter saying the course was for men only, but when she broke the news to friend and respected dive mate Jim Christiansen, he asked, “Did they return your check ?”

“When I told him no, they hadn’t, he said, ‘Just be ready; I’m picking you up,” she told “The League of Extraordinary Divers” podcast in 2016.

She got her certification and she soon taught scuba diving to others. Her first class, a group of male doctors, was reluctant to be taught by a woman. She persuaded reluctant students to take the first part of her course, which was on scuba diving, and see what they thought of her teaching. They all came back for part II, diving.

“I was proud of my first lesson,” she wrote in her autobiography, “Trailblazer: The Extraordinary Life of Diving Pioneer Dottie Frazier” (2019), “and of my new career as the first woman to become diving instructor in the world. .”

Dorothy Adell Reider was born on July 16, 1922, in Long Beach to Francis and Laura (Davis) Reider, who lived one block from the Pacific Ocean. Her father owned sailboats and motorboats and started taking her out on the water when she was a toddler.

“I managed to fall overboard at least once a day,” she wrote in her book, “but Dad said I did it on purpose every time he said, ‘No, you don’t. can’t go in the water. “”

After her parents divorced when she was 3, she lived with her father for several years on a 28ft yawl. Grandparents and aunts also helped raise him.

“I never knew who was going to take care of me next,” she wrote. “I guess that’s one of the reasons I became so independent early in life.”

She often recounted how her father got her to dive seriously. When she was 6 years old and anchored with him off Catalina Island, he summoned her to retrieve a coffee pot he had dropped in 15 feet of water while cleaning it. (He couldn’t get it himself, he claimed, because he had a bad cold.) She was already a good swimmer but hadn’t braved such depth. With her father’s encouragement, she took the plunge and retrieved the pot.

“It wasn’t too long after that dive that I was doing dives to depths I couldn’t believe, picking up shells and scavenging things,” she told ‘The League of Extraordinary Divers’. “And then my father gave me spears.”

Her father provided her with a homemade mask and flippers, and she became adept at spearfishing and diving for lobster and abalone, often catching dinner and sometimes taking orders from locals. People would also hire him to retrieve wallets and other items they had thrown overboard.

She graduated from Long Beach Polytechnic High School in 1939 and spent a year in secretarial college. In 1940 she married Don Gath and they had two sons, Darrell and Donald. During World War II, she worked at Douglas Aircraft. She and Mr. Gath divorced after the war.

In 1951 she married Jake Frazier and had two other sons, David and Daniel; this marriage also ended in divorce. She married Mr May in 1973. He survives her, along with her sons David, Daniel and Donald, and seven grandchildren.

In addition to her work as a scuba instructor, Ms. Frazier, a member of the Women Divers Hall of Fame, operated the Penguin Dive Shop in Long Beach for 15 years from the 1950s and designed and sold wetsuits and wetsuits. waterproof. She also learned to dive with a hard hat – the type used in commercial underwater work – but did not pursue career opportunities because, at about five feet tall and not much over 100 pounds, she found the equipment too cumbersome and restrictive.

She was energetic and adventurous even in her 90s. At 93, she went ziplining. In 2019, she finally sold the last of her motorcycles. In the “Neutral Buoyancy” interview, she noted that longevity seemed to go hand in hand with diving.

“A lot of the original divers have reached old age,” she said. “Being underwater does things to your mind.”

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