Bob Barth, Dr. George Bass, Dr. Peter B. Bennett, Dick Bonin, Ernest H. Brooks II, Jim Caldwel, James Cameron, Scott Carpenter, Jean-Michel Cousteau, E.R. Cross (1913-2000), Henri Delauze, Dr. Sylvia Earle, Benard Eaton, André Galerne, Lad Handelman, Prof. Hans Hass, Lotte Hass, Dr. Christian J. Lambertsen, Dick Long, Joseph MacInnis, M.D. J. Thomas Millington, M.D., Bob & Bill Meistrell, Bev Morgan, Phil Nuytten, Sir John Rawlins, Andreas B. Rechnitzer, Ph.D., Robert Sténuit

In Memory
Albert Tillmam





Albert A. Tillman was one of the fathers of scuba training and history. He co-founded a major sport scuba instruction programs in the world, wrote many of the early instruction materials and was a leader in several of the diving instruction associations for over forty years.

Al Tillman was born in Los Angeles on January 16, 1928. At the age of 10 on the beach at Palos Verdes, CA, he discovered the underwater and quickly became a fanatic enthusiast. He also peered through goggles at the bottom of a salt-water swimming pool in Redondo Beach, California. These were experiences that would affect not only his life, but that of thousands who would later take a course, read a manual, see a film and visit a dedicated dive resort ... all developed by Al Tillman.

His deep interest in the field of skin and scuba diving inspired him to a leading position as an authority and organizer of many fields of underwater activity.

He served in the U.S. Coast Guard at the end of World War II, where he had the opportunity to dive in the South Pacific. While stationed in Hawaii, Tillman continued his diving and completed classes at the University of Hawaii.

In 1949, Tillman married his high school sweetheart, Ruth McIntyre.

Tillman earned a Bachelors Degree in Public Administration from the University of Southern California (USC) (1950) and played football at USA.

Tillman became Director of Sports and Underwater Activities for Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation in 1952.

In 1953, Al Tillman and Bev Morgan (L.A. County Lifeguard) took a special diving course at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, CA. Later, Bev Morgan became a commercial diver. Morgan and Bob Kirby (a former U.S. Navy diver) formed a leading commercial diving manufacturing company, Kirby Morgan Dive Systems, Inc. (

The diving course that Tillman and Morgan attended was developed for diving scientists by Conrad Limbaugh and Andy Rechnitzer. These two diving pioneers were both graduate students at Scripps. Connie was Diving Officer at Scripps and Andy later earned his Ph.D. from Scripps.

Tillman and Morgan returned to their work with L.A. County in 1953 and developed a new program to train diving instructors of the newborn sport of scuba diving.

Al Tillman and Bev Morgan developed and launched the first sport scuba diving instruction program in the world through the Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation in 1954.

Because of liabilities, L.A. County felt that it would be best to have a separate non-profit organization to train the scuba diving instructor. Tillman and Morgan were instrumental in the organization of the Los Angeles Underwater Instructors Association (LAUIA) in 1955, which has trained hundreds of thousands of divers ( This was the first sport scuba diving instruction in the U.S. Today, LAUIA is considered one of the most rigorous diving instructor programs in the world.

Tillman continued his education and earned a Master of Science Degree in Physical Education from California State University, Los Angeles (1956). He acquired 50 units toward a Doctorate of Philosophy at USC (1957-1964). In addition, he also did graduate work at Loyola Law School. Tillman was a Professor of Recreation and Leisure Studies at California State University, Los Angeles from 1956 through 1988.

Tillman became a Professor at California State University, Los Angeles. He created the first university degree program in underwater recreation and leisure studies and wrote the first college text books in this area. Tillman was Faculty Advisor for the first college scuba club at California State University, Los Angeles.

In 1956 Tillman was a Founder of the Underwater Photographic Society (UPS) in Los Angeles.

Also in 1956, Tillman co-produced the first public diving instruction film, Introduction To Skin Diving.

In 1957 he co-founded the International Underwater Film Festival with his actress and diving friend, Zale Parry. Tillman and Parry were Producers and Directors of the Film Festival in Santa Monica, CA. Tillman and Zale Parry planned, organized and ran the Film Festival for 12 years. This gala celebration was “the event of the year” in diving for many years. The annual gala event was similar to the Cannes Film Festival in France. Renowned underwater photographers from around the world presented their work and were recognized for their high levels of achievement at the International Underwater Film Festival.

He was a Technical Advisor on the classic television series, Sea Hunt, starring Lloyd Bridges.

Tillman co-authored with William Starr one of the earliest sport diving books, Underwater Recreation, published by Los Angeles County.

During 1959, Tillman became Contributing Editor for Skin Diver Magazine. He wrote numerous informative articles about scuba diving.

Tillman and fellow Skin Diver Contributing Editor Neal Hess began development of a new international sport diving organization. The two visionaries founded the National Association of Underwater Instructors (NAUI) in 1960. He directed the first NAUI Instructor Course in Houston, Texas, in 1960. Members of that first NAUI Instructor Course is like reading a who’s who of sport diving.

Tillman served as the first NAUI President and Executive Director. He had the distinction of being NAUI Instructor #0001. Tillman was the President of NAUI for five years. He continued to serve on NAUI’s Board of Directors for almost a decade and directed NAUI Leadership Courses until the late 1980’s. Today, NAUI is one of the largest diver training and certification organizations in the world, with offices and training programs internationally (

In 1960, Tillman conducted the first tri-certification instructor class (YMCA/L.A. County/NAUI). He was also a Member of the YMCA National Skin and SCUBA Committee for four years, and Pacific Coast Commissioner.

In 1957, Tillman recovered a 700-pound boulder of jade from a cave 60 feet underwater at Big Sur. Tillman donated the huge jade rock to the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, where it has been on exhibit ever since.

He authored the milestone early diving book Underwater Education in 1961.

In 1962 Tillman was named Manager of the Department of Public Affairs for Skin Diver Magazine. In this capacity, he wrote many articles for the magazine. In 1962 Tillman took a sabbatical from teaching at CalState University and moved to Freeport, Grand Bahama Island. He was Founder, President, Designer and Executive Director of the first dive resort, the Underwater Explorers Society (UNEXSO) ( This was the world’s first dedicated diving resort. In 1969 Tillman sold UNEXSO and went back to teaching at California State University, Los Angeles.

During 1970, Tillman looked for a new diving resort location on Orcas Island in the Washington. He bought a farm in the Doe Bay Area of Orcas Island.

He continued to teach in California part of the year and travel for the diving industry.

Tillman wrote several books on diving, recreation, book collecting and art. Tillman retired from California State University, Los Angeles, in 1984, as an Emeriti Professor. He continued teaching part time at the college level until 1995.

In 1992, Al Tillman and his wife Ruth moved to Anacortes, Washington. This is on Fidalgo Island in the San Juan Islands (north of Seattle and directly east of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.

Al and Ruth Tillman had two children, Laura and Thomas. After 55 years of marriage, Ruth died in 1994.

Al Tillman continued to work on his books and managed the Anacortes Book and Paper Shows.

In 1998 Tillman wrote and published an autobiography, I Thought I Saw Atlantis, Reminiscences of a Pioneer Skin and Scuba Diver. It is a personal account of recreational diving’s formative years.

Al Tillman and his son, Tom, established the Scuba America Historical Center ( He also traveled and lectured on sport diving history.

Tillman wrote the History Of NAUI in 2000, which documents the early diving instruction association

In January 2001, Al Tillman traveled to Grand Cayman Island to be inducted into the International Scuba Diving Hall of Fame. Other inaugural inductees were Jacques-Yves Cousteau, Hans Hass, Dr. Sylvia Earle and Jack McKinney. Patricia McKinney was at the gala event to accept the award for her late husband, the remarkable underwater photographer and Editor of Skin Diver Magazine.

After over 30 years, Al Tillman and Patricia McKinney renewed acquaintances … and fell in love. In October 2001, Tillman married Patricia McKenney.

Following almost 25 years of research, in 2000 Zale Parry and Al Tillman published the first volume of their long-awaited book, Scuba America, The Human History Of Sport Diving. The two authors and pioneering divers planned four-volumes of Scuba America, which is about the 100 events and 100 great divers who formed the sport of scuba diving.

During his long, distinguished career. Tillman was an accomplished underwater photographer. He won numerous awards for his underwater photography.

For his many years of very productive dedication to diving, Al Tillman was recognized with many honors and awards: the NOGI Award for Distinguished Service from the Underwater Society of America (now presented by The Academy of Underwater Arts and Sciences) (1964); Honored Photographer from the International Underwater Film Festival (1968); Reaching Out Award and induction into the DEMA Diving Hall of Fame (1990); the Los Angeles County Underwater Instructor’s Association Outstanding Contribution Award (1994); NAUI Lifetime Achievement Award (1998); induction into the International Scuba Diving Hall of Fame in the Cayman Islands (2001); plus many other honors.

For 65 years, Al Tillman dedicated himself to sport diving.

Sadly, on January 16, 2004, Al Tillman passed away from a cerebral hemorrhage. It was his 76th birthday.

Zale Parry and Al Tillman had been working on Volume 2 of Scuba America since 2000. It was Tillman’s wish that Zale Parry continue their work and finish the book. She is following the request of Tillman.

Al’s son, Tom, is completing the non-diving book projects that his father had started.

From PIONEERS IN DIVING by Edward C. Cargile 2133 Sorrento Drive Oceanside, CA 92056 Phone/Fax: (760) 722-1205 E-mail: Copyright 2002 Edward C. Cargile All Rights Reserved No Reproduction In Part Or Whole Without Prior Written Permission Of The Author.

About the HDSUSA  |  Historical Diver Magazine  |  Back Issues Become a Sponsor
Membership  |  Merchandise   |  Contact Board Members   |  Web site comments

© 2003 Historical Diving Association USA. All rights reserved.