Legends of Scuba Diving: Jacques-Yves Cousteau

What Made Him A Legend Will Surprise You

Thomas Gronfeldt started diving during college and has since been diving over most of the world: Australia, Indonesia, Iceland, France, and many other places.

Thomas writes an insightful piece about the legend Jacques Cousteau. Below is an excerpt from the article:

When we talk about the legends of scuba diving, it’s impossible to ignore Jacques-Yves Cousteau. To many people — divers and non-divers alike — he is synonymous with the sport itself, and stands as the very image of the quintessential scuba diver and underwater explorer. He was even the inspiration for Bill Murray’s character in the 2004 film The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.

Cousteau was born in Gironde, France, and following university studies in Paris, he joined the French Air Force, planning to become a pilot. A car accident, however, altered his destiny, and meant that he didn’t meet the physical requirements, so he transferred to the Navy. He was stationed on a vessel in Toulon in the Mediterranean, and a friend of his, Philippe Tailliez, lent him an early version of swimming goggles, with which he would explore the local waters. Tailliez also worked with Cousteau on his first documentary film, 18 Meters Deep, made without breathing apparatus.

Cousteau took a keen interest in the underwater world, and during World War II went on to experiment with a self-contained underwater breathing apparatus (SCUBA), which was easier to use than the oxygen rebreathers that were the only option at the time. Along with Emile Gagnan he developed the idea of breathing ordinary surface air, compressed and stored in pressurized tanks, a relatively new concept at the time. It was also during this time that he pioneered underwater documentaries, the milieu in which he would later become a legend, by inventing one of the world’s first underwater cameras able to withstand pressure at depth.

Eventually, Cousteau and Gagnan perfected the design of what they called the “aqua-lung,” the predecessor of the modern scuba unit. With this, they, along with Tailliez, undertook several expeditions in the Mediterranean, and eventually, in other parts of the world. In 1950 they leased a decommissioned British minesweeper, which, after considerable modifications, became the famous explorer vessel, the Calypso. It was on this ship that Cousteau undertook his most famous expeditions, depicted in his TV shows and films.


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