Meet Southern Skin Divers Supply—the oldest dive shop in the US

DSC 0160 Meet Southern Skin Divers Supply—the oldest dive shop in the US
Southern Skin Divers Supply (Barton Perkins/BhamNow)

Southern Skin Divers Supply has been open for 69 years and is the oldest scuba diving training and supply shop in the United States. Read on to learn all about it.

Origins

DSC 0147 Meet Southern Skin Divers Supply—the oldest dive shop in the US
Bill Tant founder of Southern Skin Divers Supply (Barton Perkins/BhamNow)

Around 69 years ago, a man named Bill Tant returned to Birmingham after serving as an airborne ranger in US Military. Shortly after coming back to Birmingham, Tant decided to open one of the very first Aqualung Scuba Diving facilities.

DSC 0151 Meet Southern Skin Divers Supply—the oldest dive shop in the US
Artifacts recovered by Southern Skin Divers on Dives (Barton Perkins/BhamNow)

Back then, no one said ‘Scuba’ or ‘Scuba diving’ as Scuba itself is actually an acronym for Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus. Tant decided to name his new company Southern Skin Divers Supply and they’ve kept the name ever since.

Building a Community

DSC 0146 1 Meet Southern Skin Divers Supply—the oldest dive shop in the US
The old guard of Southern Skin Divers Supply, around 20 years ago (Barton Perkins/BhamNow)

One of the great things about Scuba diving is that it can be learned at an early age. For many years people, could start learning to dive as young as 12 years old, and they just lowered the age requirements down to 10. Everyone who currently works at Southern Skin Divers has been diving since they were kids, and many of them grew up knowing Bill Tant and going on dives with him. It’s a lifelong community that you also see reflected in their clients.

“We have so many people that drive from Georgia, Tennessee, Florida or even fly from other places to learn how to dive here. When I ask ‘What made you come from so many states away to learn from us?’ These people always say, ‘Well, my dad got certified here. 25 years ago, his parents got certified here 50 years ago, and they act like Southern Skin Diver Supplies is the only place in the world to learn. So that’s where I want to learn to dive.'”.

Forrest Phillips, Southern Skin Divers Supply

As Forrest says, a lot of people return to Southern Skin Divers Supply because it’s their family dive shop. It’s the only place where they’ve known people for years, and more importantly, has people who feel like family.

Classes

Scuba Diving
Southern Skin Divers Supply, Training Pool (Barton Perkins/BhamNow)

Southern Skin Divers Supply has a heated swimming pool on-site that they use to teach people how to scuba dive. It makes things a lot more convenient than many other dive shops that often need to rent out local pools like a YMCA at odd hours. The way they teach is also very personal, it’s often just one-on-one lessons and people get to learn at their own pace.

DSC 0156 Meet Southern Skin Divers Supply—the oldest dive shop in the US
Mark, one of the Scuba instructors (Barton Perkins/BhamNow)

After you’ve logged a certain number of hours in the pool, students then go and dive in an actual lake or ocean, or even one of the rock quarries in Pelham to be certified as official scuba divers. But even after you’ve been certified, Southern Skin Divers provides learning opportunities for students to continue learning. These include:

  • Spearfishing classes
  • Learning how to recover artifacts and fossils underwater
  • Search and rescue training
  • Learning how to recover crime evidence and bodies that have been dumped underwater
  • Searching for gold in the waters of Alaska
  • Underwater photography
  • Not to mention trips around the world!

“Not only do we teach you how to dive. We teach you how to be a diver.”

Forrest Phillips, Southern Skin Divers Supply

Trips around the world

DSC 0163 Meet Southern Skin Divers Supply—the oldest dive shop in the US
Forrest and Mark in front of the trip wall (Barton Perkins/BhamNow)

Southern Skin Divers regularly lead Scuba trips around the world. They do around 50 to 60 trips a year, and like I said before, they go pretty much everywhere, including:

  • Spearfishing in Pensacola
  • Belize
  • A week at the Camen Islands
  • Honduras
  • Artifact hunting in South Carolina
  • and so much more!

Upcoming 70th anniversary

Southern Skin Divers Supply
Southern Skin Divers Supply (Southern Skin Divers Supply/Facebook)

In only a few short months, Southern Skin Divers Supply will be celebrating its 70th anniversary. 70 years worth of teaching people how to scuba dive, and there are sure to be many more years left in this group.

“Other kids in the south grew up hunting deer and playing football. We didn’t. We grew up diving. So by the time we were all in our 20s, we all had done hundreds of dives and then thousands of dives, each by our mid 30s. Mark’s is in his 60s now and I’m in my late 40s, but I don’t expect us to be slowing down anytime soon.”

Forrest Phillips, Southern Skin Divers Supply

Are you a Scuba Diver? Do you want to be certified, and do you remember that article we did back in 2019 about scuba diving in Pelham’s Blue Water Park? Give us a shout @bhamnow!

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