skin diving, act of swimming freely underwater. It is done with the aid of a face mask, swimming fins for the feet, and either a snorkel breathing tube or scuba [acronym for self-contained underwater breathing apparatus] gear. The fins increase the propulsion and agility of the swimmer. Skin diving is used in scientific, commercial, and military activities and in recent years has gained enormous popularity as a beach sport. Free underwater swimming is not new, and as long ago as the 8th cent. BC Greek divers, unconnected to the surface by air hoses or lines, collected sponges and mollusks in depths as great as 100 ft (30 m). The Greeks and Romans employed underwater warriors, trained to hold their breath for long periods of time, to sabotage enemy fleets. In the Pacific islands natives have long practiced skin diving and spear fishing. Many improvements in skin-diving equipment were made during World War II, and the so-called frogmen of the U.S. and British navies played a vital role in operations. An important development of this period was scuba diving with an Aqua-lung (see diving, deep-sea). The scuba diver, with his greater mobility, has replaced in many areas of underwater activity the conventional sea diver who is encumbered by heavy equipment and limited by a lifeline and air hose. However, it is dangerous for a scuba diver to work below a 130-ft (40-m) depth, and although free dives have been made to more than 300 ft (91 m), conventional dress and equipment are generally used for deep descents.
See J. Strykowski, Diving for Fun (3d ed. 1971); H. Hass, Challenging the Deep (tr. 1973).