The extraordinary life of Dottie Frazier

The first female scuba instructor

Not a name that everyone may be familiar with but Dottie Frazier really was a pioneer in diving and her life truly was extraordinary! 

The first female Instructor, the first female dive centre owner, wetsuit designer, renowned underwater pioneer including HardHat, Scuba, and Freediving. She has been a swimsuit model, a competitive billiards player and a water and snow skier. She knows how to fix car transmission systems and used to ride her Harley-Davidson around her home region. She was the Aqua Families founder, Women Divers Hall of Fame inducted, Historical Diving Society's Diving Pioneer Award winner......to name but a few of her accolades. 

Dorothy Adell Reider Gath Frazier May. Her name is longer and weighs more than she does, standing barely five feet tall and 100 pounds dripping wet, and dripping with water is how Dottie has spent much of her remarkably adventurous and long life. What is amazing about Dottie is not just WHAT she did, but WHEN she did it: 

Let's take a closer look at this amazing ladies life and what she did for (female) divers and the dive industry in general;


Dorothy Adele Reider (Dottie Frazier) was born on July 15, 1922, in Long Beach, California, to parents Francis and Laura Davis Reider. The ocean played a huge part of Dottie Frazier’s life from an early age, her father loved the water, and had her out on his boat from the beginning. She was Swimming by age 3, rowing her own skiff at 5 and by the time she was 10 she was spearfishing with a mask home made by her father from pieces of fire hose, glass, inner-tube and tape. 

She soon became skilled in freediving, and also spent time much of her time as a deckhand and fixing boat engines, all this while still in her youth!

As a teen Dottie began entering spearfishing competitions, and winning, making her the first female freediving, spearfishing athlete and champion winning many competions. By the 1940s, she was teaching freediving (which was not as popular as it is today) around Long Beach, California. 

Eventually when scuba diving started to become popular as a recreational sport she found herself in the front of the queue to get a SCUBA diving certification. Instructors (male) initially tried to turn her away. Due to extreme prejudice Dottie almost did not get her certification, but she was sponsored and supported by those who knew her talents. 

Once Dottie was in the water, she shined and came out top in her class.  The instructors invited Dottie to return often to assist in their classes, and it was not long before she was a candidate in the L.A. County Parks and Recreation Scuba Instructor course.  By 1955, under the watchful and supportive  eye of skin diving legend Jim Christiansen, she again excelled and became the very first female scuba instructor in the diving industry (despite many considering the job too demanding for women at the time). During her Instructor training Jim told the other (male) instructor candidates to treat her like "one of them" and they did, Dottie announcing that she could carry her own tanks thank you very much!

Dottie's first SCUBA class

The very first class Dottie held was with 5 young doctors who initially knocked her back due to her being a female. She announced to them that they would have to pass her Skin Diver course in order to be accepted onto a SCUBA course and if they did not learn anything she would refund them all their money. They went away to discuss and 5 minutes later came back and accepted and Dottie began their training which involved swimming laps of the pool without fins and carrying weights. This was obviously tough and difficult to pass, Dottie was now wearing her "rough" instructor hat.

She eventually got them all through the course and they went onto complete their SCUBA training course with her. What she did learn from the young doctor students though was all the diving related injuries divers can be exposed to and the medical terms for each of them. She wrote them down in her note book and the next course she ran she was able to teach her students about pressure related injuries. With this expert knowledge she had learnt she also went on to teach other (male) instructors who did not have this specialist information. Smart huh?

This was only the very beginning, as Dottie went on to be the first female to own and operate a dive shop which was named Penguin. Dottie recalls naming the shop Penguin as "they have such a nice following and I figured they could follow me into another Penguin shop". The store was well received and Dottie would sell tanks, rent tanks and sell all dive related equipment, she was also the one in the back of the shop filling tanks too.

She initially bought an inventory of dive equipment from another dive store who weren't doing so well due to their location and bought it at a good price being able to make a profit.

Penguin Dive Shop with Dottie at the helm then started to offer skin diving and SCUBA courses to the public. The training offered was basic to say the least but remember this was long before the big players like PADI and SSI came into existance. 

In order to complete a SCUBA diving course students would first need to complete a skin diving (snorkelling) course as a prerequisite. Dottie's SCUBA diving course was run over 12 hours and the class outline looked like this:
  • Testing for proficiency in skin diving
  • Lecture and deck work in unit operation and assembling of SCUBA
  • Clearing of mask and hoses
  • Buddy breathing and underwater rescue
  • Practice and individual help
  • Marine life and oceanography
  • Entries into water
  • Tube rescue and artificial respiration
  • Ditch and free ascent
  • Rubber suits and weights
  • Written and practical tests
  • Ocean run (Catalina)
Each student passing final tests would be issued a certification card from the Los Angelis County, specifying the completion of the course. They would also receive a graduate certification from Penguin Inc. The Ocean run would consist of two days at Catalina with an overnight stay at the Penguins summer home. Cool huh?

As well as running skin and SCUBA dive courses Dottie early on recognised a lack of SCUBA equipment available for divers to buy and especially wetsuits for the female form.

She then created her own line of wetsuits aptly named Penguin Suits, as well as creating some for other brands and was the first female to ever commercially produce wetsuits and drysuits for the burgeoning dive industry and suits specifically for females. Her first rubber suit was made in her garage back home. She also started manufacturing rubber suits for navy UDT divers in Hawaii and on the west coast.

Not only are these remarkable achievements in themselves, but she also completed them in the 1940s and 50s, at a time when women were not exactly expected to be independent, run businesses and be involved in diving (which at the time was a male dominated sport).

Dottie managed to do all this while also being a mother raising four sons, who all became divers of course. Consequently, she created a family dive club (Aqua Families) for diving couples with children. Members would meet regularly to take turns in diving and watching the kids. 

In 1956 Dottie even did commercial diving and was a hard hat diver for two years, and was again this was a first for females in diving. Her first salvage dive earned her the wage of $500 and her commercial diving career enabled her to pay off her mortgage of her first house which she lived in for over 80 years.

She later went on to commercially dive the Queen Mary and was responsible for cleaning the hulls and propellers.

Sadly Dottie just recently passed away at her home in Long Beach, CA on Tuesday, the 8th of February 2022 at 9:15am at the age of 99 1/2, just short of her 100 birthday. Dottie was a pillar of the community. She was admired and beloved by all who knew her. Dottie will also forever be remembered as role model for females in diving.

She was always happy in, on, or under the water, but her home and garden was her sanctuary. A lover of competition in everything she excelled at, especially Racquetball. Dottie was a perfectionist through and through. From dredging for gold in the Sierra Nevadas to months long adventures fishing, boating and motorcycling in San Blas Puerto Mexico and Baja Mexico. 

Dottie lived life to the max, as is evident in her book "Trailblazer" by Dottie Frazier. In the book Dottie tells her extraordinary life story in her own words, bringing to life her early childhood in Long Beach, California, where she was raised as the son her father never had, to being honoured in 2019, at the age of 97, with the Historical Diving Society Diving Pioneer Award.

Dottie, you did some amazing things for female divers and your legend will live on!

At Aotearoa Dive we actively promote and encourage females to dive (it is often said that females actually make better divers than men). We have two full time female Instructors and exclusively run wahine (female) only courses as well as "wahine only" dive trips and charters. If your a girl and would love to get involved in this beautiful sport contact us today by clicking HERE

Below is the fabulous interview of Dottie "a diving legend" by Alec Pierce, filmed back in 2020. During the interview you can hear Dottie's own stories of a woman diver in the 1950's and 1960's.

Enjoy and lets never forget this seriously kick-ass chick!

Skin Diving History

For more amazing photos of Dottie and her extraordinary life CLICK HERE


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