There have been a lot of fantastic watermen in my world during the many years I spent riding a surfboard at the Southern California beaches. One of them stands out because it seemed as though he had suction cups for feet.
I was filming him waterskiing one day and the best footage I got of him was when he was riding on a round sheet of plywood about four feet in diameter with no bindings of any kind. While hanging onto the rope with one hand he had a wooden bar stool in the other. He was able to balance the bar stool on the sheet of plywood and then climb up the rungs in the stool and, while still being towed, he was then standing barefoot on top of the stool and, while balanced there, he was able to complete 360 degree spins. This was in the 1950s.
During the 1930s and 40s Pete Peterson was able to win any Southern California surfing contest until the invention of the short surfboard.
I met up with Pete one morning at 4:15 on his boat to go to Santa Barbara Island to do some underwater photography. By 1958 I was already selling a lot of stock footage from my ski films in an 8mm format so people could then splice my powder snow ski movies in with their home movies of their winter vacation in Aspen or Sun Valley.
Pete and I both thought we could make a couple of bucks selling water skiing and scuba diving movies to those same customers.
When we finally got to the island and anchored, Pete asked me a simple but obvious question, “Have you ever used scuba gear before?”
I never had.
“It’s really simple to use,” he said. “All you have to do is put this thing in your mouth and when you get underwater you just inhale and you will breathe air out of this tank on your back.”
After he had put all of my scuba gear on my back, he said, “Just sit on the rail of the boat, fall over backwards and when you get underwater just inhale and start swimming.”
I tried to do as I was instructed, but as I started to sink to the bottom I inhaled and all I got was a mouth full of Santa Barbara Island salt water.
Fortunately, the water in which I was sinking was less than 20 feet deep, and I was able to shove off the bottom and with my swim fins, get back up to the surface and grab a rope hanging over the edge of the boat. When I got my sputtering and ,gagging head out of the water to finally breathe, Pete was laughing so hard he almost fell out of the boat on top of me.
After this near-death encounter, we sat on the deck and re-thought this filming expedition. Pete figured that he could grab a dozen or so lobsters and put them in a gunny sack until we motored to Catalina Island. He knew a good cave in a rock there that was only about six feet underwater. I could stand on the sandy bottom of the Isthmus and with the right camera angles he could swim by the camera and reach in and pull out a fighting lobster from the unseen gunny sack.
I managed to shoot four rolls of Kodachrome (almost 10 minutes worth) of Pete wrestling with the lobsters underwater.
Somewhere in a film vault somewhere is that epic, early 1958 Scuba-equipped lobster dive, somewhere off of the coast of Southern California. Later that evening, Pete and I and his girlfriend had a great lobster cookout on the back of his boat when we finally tied up at his dock in San Pedro.
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