Bill Meistrell (born 30 July 1928, died in 2006 at the age of 77) was an American businessman, philanthropist, surfer, and diver. Along with his twin brother Bob Meistrell and business partner Bev Morgan, Meistrell helped develop and market the first commercial neoprene wetsuit. This evolved into the Body Glove surf brand, which by 2013 was a US$200 million annual enterprise and a leader in the field.
Sons of a banker who was murdered when they were four, identical twins Bill and Bob Meistrell were born in Boonville, Missouri, on 30-31 July 1928. The youngest of seven children, Meistrell relocated to California with his family at the age of 16. Although Meistrell had not before that time even seen the ocean, he developed a fascination with it in early childhood. He and his brother taught themselves to dive in ponds in Missouri, using a bicycle pump, a garden hose and a diving helmet cobbled from household supplies.
Dive N'Surf and Body Glove
Meistrell graduated from El Segundo High School and then entered the United States Army during the Korean War. He was stationed at Fort Ord. In 1953, then Los Angeles County lifeguards, he and his brother invested in diver Bev Morgan's surf shop in Redondo Beach, Dive N' Surf. The brothers replaced Morgan's former partner, surfboard shaper Hap Jacobs, buying in with US$1,800 borrowed from their mother. Morgan had discovered a rejected design for a two-piece military neoprene wetsuit and was selling this through his shop. The suit was not popular, however, and to begin with, the partners could only afford to work part-time in the store, having to maintain other jobs to support themselves and their fledgling business.
Meistrell and his partners focused on making the wetsuit more comfortable by being the first to manufacture wetsuits usine neoprene. In the late 1950's, the partners formed a corporation. Morgan wanted to leave the company, and arranged with the brothers to pay off his interest at 30% of the business's assets, a debt they satisfied over a decade by paying Morgan's alimony payments to his ex-wife. In 1959, the film Gidget helped popularize the wetsuit, and as demand rose Meistrell expanded their product line, establishing the Body Glove brand with products for surfers, divers and other water sports athletes in the mid-1960s. In the 1990's, the company moved manufacturing to Thailand. Today, the Meistrell family still owns 25% of Body Glove.
Diving and Exploration
In addition to his business enterprise, Meistrell was a diving instructor, including working with celebrities such as Lloyd Bridges, Gary Cooper, Charlton Heston and Richard Harris to prepare them for roles.
Meistrell was also proponent and builder of one-man submarines which he used to search the seabed particular for wreckage. In his explorations, alone or with others, he found off the coast of Catalina Island a store of jade, off Palos Verdes a 280-lb. stone that resembled anchor stones in use by the Chinese 2,000 years ago, and off Crescent City a cache of gold coins from a sunken paddle wheel steamer.
In the early 1990's, he helped found the Catalina Conservancy Divers, a volunteer group involved in the protection and restoration of the waters around the island. Conservancy divers assist academics in studying the aquatic environment, planting sensors, counting species, and an unsuccessful attempt to re-establish the over collected abalone population.
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