PENINUSLA REFLECTIONS: From the ocean depths to the top of the world

Frank White's Saanichton-born dive gear the choice of U.S. Navy SEALs, Israeli military

Frank White Sr. shown in the 1950s wearing an old-style rubber dry suit before a dive.

The Saanich Peninsula has seen many pioneers, but few have left behind a more prosperous legacy than Frank White Sr.

In 1956 he founded one of the first SCUBA equipment manufacturers in the world; the first in Canada to make wet suits and first in North America to make dry suits.

“After the war he got some old surplus bottles off some old Lancaster bombers and some masks and fins and took to the water,” said his son Frank White Jr. “It was a hobby that became a business.”

Frank White’s passion infected his son, Frank Jr., who learned to dive at 12 and became an instructor at 18.

When White Jr. got older he took a more prominent role in the company and set about converting the little dive shop in Saanichton into a world-class research laboratory and manufacturing facility.

Just as the invention of the Aqualung came about for use by militaries in the Second World War, White’s first big customer was the Canadian military.

“The military has always been one of the cornerstones of the company,” explained brand manager Justin Balaski. Many Canadian military, police, coast guard and fire department divers wear their suits.

The high quality and durability of White’s suits are recognized by the most elite combat forces in the world. Divers in the American, French, British and Israeli militaries all don White’s equipment.

“We have probably the most technical knowledge in dry suits in the world,” White said. “That’s why we beat out the U.S. manufacturer for the biggest [dry suit] contract ever with the U.S. Marines.”

Equipment for sport and commercial divers form the other pillars of White’s business and have taken on increasingly important roles since the company was founded. Sport diving took off in the 1970s and 1980s leading to a surge in demand for wet and dry suits. This demand levelled off in recent years, something Balaski attributes to the proliferation of other outdoor adventure sports. In more recent decades, expanding underwater oil and gas exploration and offshore development has helped pick up the slack left by recreational divers finding new hobbies.

A new development in dry suit technology has, above all else, ensured White’s competitiveness in the years to come. Prior to this breakthrough, the standard dry suit “hadn’t changed for many, many years,” said Balaski. They were often seen as inflexible and filled a niche for technical divers, being too awkward and impractical for most diving situations.

In 2006, White’s developed a new, more lithe material which allowed dry suit operators previously unheard-of freedom and mobility – the Fusion suit.

Before this “we had a suit like everyone else,” Balaski said. But now the Fusion suit “really just changed the game.”

White diving’s success caught the eye of Aqualung, the original SCUBA equipment company, who bought White’s in 2010. Now the Saanichton start-up has its eyes set on being “the No. 1 manufacturer in the world,” Balaski said. “That’s going to happen in the next five years.”

Just Posted

Ravens Crossing breaks ground on happy Hygge cohousing project

Speeches, music and a blessing as 80 people attend start of Danish-style development

Central Saanich police respond to 419 calls in July, including speeding motorcyclist

Police chase deemed too risky, biker tracked down the next day

‘Listen to your body:’ Saanich woman fights to have breast implants removed

Woman struggles to find doctor to remove Allergan textured implants, recently linked to rare cancer

Sidney salon closes citing persistent lack of staff

Housing, transit continue to affect workers on Saanich Peninsula

Saanich approves new eight- and 11-storey residence buildings for UVic

Residents also supported the environmentally friendly residences

VIDEO: Come along for the ride on Tour de Victoria

Reporter captures video footage of his Tour de Victoria ride

POLL: Should there be a ban on gas-powered leaf blowers?

We’ve all heard them, and most likely cursed them under our breath.… Continue reading

Greater Victoria wanted list for the week of Aug. 23

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

Vancouver Island RCMP hunt for man after pair of indecent exposure incidents

Elderly Qualicum Beach woman grabbed by man who had been masturbating in the woods

Bodies of two missing Surrey men found near Ashcroft

Ryan Provencher and Richard Scurr have been missing since July 17

Pile of wood mulch ‘spontaneously combusts’ at Vancouver Island industrial site

Business owner thanks fire department for quick response

Five hedgehogs quickly adopted after being left at BC SPCA

Lucky new owners picked up their pets from Maple Ridge branch on Aug. 20

B.C. cricket players get interrupted by racist remark

Community has had protocols in place for years to respond to prejudice

Most Read