‘Sea Hunt’ honored by diving instructors

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It has been nearly 50 years since “Sea Hunt” went out of production, but the underwater adventure series was honored Saturday night for inspiring a generation of television viewers to take up scuba diving.

“Diving exploded in popularity because millions of kids grew up wanting to be like Mike Nelson,” said Zale Parry, a pioneer diver and actor who worked on “Sea Hunt.”

“It also helped create an appreciation of the undersea world that needs protection today,” said Beau Bridges, actor and son of the late Lloyd Bridges, who starred as Nelson, an ex-Navy frogman, freelance diver and troubleshooter.

The series, which originally ran from 1958 to 1961, has ties to Florida because portions of the episodes were filmed at Silver Springs, Cypress Gardens and Tarpon Springs.

Parry and Lloyd Bridges were honored at the 50th anniversary celebration of the National Association of Underwater Instructors held at the Hilton Garden Inn in Riverview. Also honored was actor Nicolas Coster (“Santa Barbara” and other soap operas) for his work with teaching the disabled how to dive.

The association’s international headquarters is in Riverview and more than 300 diving instructors from around the world attended the event. The group screened vintage “Sea Hunt” clips.

“The event was to celebrate our 50th anniversary and dedicate our new world headquarters building so we brought in a lot of the pioneers who helped make scuba diving a sport,” said association President Jim Bram. “Many of them are in their 80s now and they got a kick out of the ‘Sea Hunt’ clips.”

“I can’t tell you how many people over the years have come up to me and told me how much they loved ‘Sea Hunt,'” Parry said. “It was an underwater Western with Mike Nelson fighting the bad guys and rescuing people.”

Parry, who lives in Oregon, started diving in the 1940s as a young girl: “I was always a swimmer and I loved the water.”

In 1953 she became a tester of underwater equipment for Scientific Underwater Research Enterprises. Later, she helped design, build and market the first civilian hyperbaric chamber for divers. In 1954, she set a women’s depth record of 209 feet and the next year was on the cover of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition as the “sweetheart” of scuba diving.

“I also was an actress and in 1954 I was in ‘Kingdom of the Sea,’ an underwater travel series,” she says. “And then I was asked to help on ‘Sea Hunt’ by producer Ivan Tors. I helped with the diving, worked as a stunt double and appeared in several episodes.”

She and diver Courtney Brown (who was Bridges stunt double) taught the actor how to dive.

“He was a swimmer and was in good shape,” Parry said. “He learned fast and eventually did some of his own stunts.”

Beau Bridges said he and his brother, Jeff, appeared in a few episodes.

“I remember playing a thief who got stuck in a storm drain and had to be rescued by Mike Nelson,” he said.

“My father was proud of that show because it was one of the first to be syndicated and became a hit without being on a network,” he said. “He also came away with an appreciation of the environment