Palauan Pioneer to be Inducted into Scuba Diving Hall of Fame

Francis Toribiong, a native of Palau, Micronesia, will be inducted into the International Scuba Diving Hall of Fame in January 2010. To date, there are only 54 individuals in the world that have been so honored, including such obvious inductees as Jacques-Yves Cousteau and his son Jean-Michel Cousteau as well actor Lloyd Bridges and Geri Murphy, one of the most published female underwater photojournalist in the world.

Francis was a true pioneer in the industry, developing Palau into the coveted diving destination it is today.

image of Francis examing sextant

Francis examines a Japanese sextant during a wreck discovery


- Growing up in Palau, right after World War II, Francis met the first divers that came to do salvage work. As a teenager in the early 1960’s, he helped Ronald Sakuma salvage metals both above and underwater. During that time, pioneer divers also came to Palau to make their own discoveries, including Jacques-Yves Cousteau. These encounters left such a great impact on Francis that he was determined to become a professional diver.

- From 19681975, Francis attended Long Beach State University where he studied anthropology. During that time, he got a much-needed job as a lifeguard in Laguna Beach, a 50 mile commute on his bicycle. It was then that Francis met Dean Westgaard, who introduced him to a variety of extreme sports, including mountain climbing, sky diving, white water rafting and SCUBA diving, leading Francis to get his scuba license.

- Shortly after, in 1972 Dean came to Palau to inspect the reefs and evaluate the destination’s business potential. In 1974, Dean helped qualify Francis to become a dive instructor, NAUI Instructor #4250. During Dean’s visits to Palau, he and Francis taught and licensed two other pioneer divers, namely Johnny Kishigawa and Surangel Whipps.

- Returning to Palau following his college education, Francis worked for VANCAMP fishing company and a copra/oil export company. But in 1976, Francis returned to the ocean where he began collecting tropical fish for export. During that same period, Francis started to provide diving services to visitors who were curious about exploring Palau’s underwater resources and shortly thereafter he founded Fish 'n Fins dive shop.

- During the 1980’s and 1990’s, Francis built the dive industry of Palau into what it is today. He and his wife Susan traveled the world to attend dive shows and conferences, promoting Palau as a world-class scuba diving destination.

- From 19801992, Francis and his friend Klaus Lindeman were on a self-appointed mission to recover and document the remains of a WWII Japanese fleet, which sunk in Palau during operation “Desecrate 1.”

- In the mid 1980’s, along with Carl Roessler and Avi Klapfer, Francis laid the foundation that opened up liveaboard diving in Palau.

- When IMAX came to Palau in 1993 to document the underwater wonders of Palau into one of their feature films, the crew soon discovered that Francis was as interesting a story as was the destination’s natural attributes. Francis and his family became the stars of IMAX’s “the living sea.”

- Francis retired from the diving industry in 1998 and sold Fish ‘n fins dive shop to Tova and Navot bornovski, he moved back to the United States to be with his kids during their education. However, Francis and Susan returned to Palau in 2004 to pursue new frontiers. Being an environmentalist at heart, Francis wanted to save and improve the environment. He knew from an early age that Palau was home to exotic trees such as mahogany and teak (his father planted mahogany trees in Palau more than 40 years ago). Francis flew to Thailand to learn tree plantation and started his own teak plantation in the state of Ngradmau, convincing others in Palau to plant trees as well.

- Francis’ latest adventure, was his celestial navigation course and long traditional canoe voyages to the outer islands of Micronesia.

Francis was a scuba instructor, employer and mentor to many of today’s leaders of the diving industry in Palau, such as Itaru Kishigawa from CARP, Sam Scott from Sam’s Tours, Shallum Etpison from NECO, Surangel Whipps (who also had a dive shop in the early 80’s before becoming one of Palau’s most successful businessmen) and Tova and Navot from Fish ‘n Fins and Ocean Hunter.

Upon induction into the International Scuba Diving Hall of Fame on January 30, 2010Francis will receive the ultimate recognition in the diving industry, an honor given to very few. Francis will be forever in the company of JacquesYves Cousteau, Lloyd Bridges, Sylvia Earle, David Doubilet, Rodney Fox and other diving pioneers.


phoolbu said...

Palau is now gaining popular to the divers. It is surely one of the best islands in the world.

http://pillandia.blogspot.com said...

Greatest indeed!
best wishes from an Estonian blogger living in Italy.

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The Path to Palau

For those who happen to be Survivor fans, there is no need to introduce the incredible destination of Palau. Consistently ranked as one of the world's best dive destinations, Palau is the ultimate paradise for outdoor enthusiasts and adventurous travelers.