There's no room for error in sky diving and Zeagle Systems takes the same approach with its dive gear, which makes the company's line of BCs, regulators, computers and accessories ideal gifts for the diver on your holiday shopping list.
The family-owned company in this small town northeast of Tampa got its start because of sky diving. Zeagle President Dennis Bulin came here in the 1970s from Wisconsin to visit his parents and to jump out of airplanes.
"Zephyrhills was a big sky diving center," said Bulin, who ended up staying and got a job building parachute harnesses and containers for a company named Eagle. He also got into scuba diving.
"I did cave diving," Bulin said, adding that the equipment at that time "was heavy, bulky and uncomfortable."
Sky diving gear was light and comfortable and Bulin, recognizing the similarities between parachute harnesses and buoyancy compensators (BCs), decided to build his own dive gear.
He rented a 400-square-foot house in Zephyrhills in 1979, started Zeagle -- he combined Z for Zephyrhills with Eagle -- and made dive gear in his living room for some local dive shops. (Zeagle now has a 15,000-square-foot building.)
His BCs used parachute harness design and construction techniques, which resulted in a comfortable, yet rugged and reliable product. Divers took notice.
Jim Wittstruck was a dive gear rep in Florida when a dealer hooked him up with Bulin and Zeagle in 1983. Wittstruck is now the sales manager for Zeagle.
Chad Carney, a scuba and spearfishing instructor in St. Petersburg (visit floridaskindiver.com), remembered when he worked at the Tackle Shack and Wittstruck put Zeagle BCs in the store. Zeagle quickly became the store's top seller. Carney also noticed a big difference in the store's gear used by its dive classes.
"By the end of the year, the Zeagle BCs looked real good," he said, "and the others were falling apart."
That goes back to Zeagle's sky diving roots. The company's BCs are still sewn and reinforced like parachute harnesses -- "We kid Dennis that he overbuilds stuff," Wittstruck said -- and that's why Zeagle offers a lifetime warranty on all its gear to the original owner.
Zeagle has a full line of recreational dive gear, including BCs tailored for women. Sheri Daye of Boca Raton, the host of the Speargun Hunter television show, which starts its third season next month on The Outdoor Channel, likes Zeagle's fit and its reliability.
"It's rugged and sturdy and very dependable," said Daye, who is holding The Blue Wild Ocean Adventure Seminar & Expo Feb. 7-8 at the IGFA Fishing Hall of Fame & Museum in Dania Beach (visit thebluewild.com). "For serious divers, it is a cut above. When I do tech diving, and that's what I mean by serious, you want to know that you can depend on your equipment. You don't want any problems at 200 feet."
Police and fire departments and the U.S. Navy also depend on Zeagle gear, such as its SAR -- search and rescue -- model that features a built-in lifting harness for use with a helicopter. Zeagle also makes gear for powerboat racers in case they end up underwater.
The company has been innovative since the beginning. Zeagle's ground-breaking integrated weight system, with weights in the BC instead of on a belt, features a patented rip cord weight release that allows the weights to be dropped with a pull of the cord. The new E-Z Travel Finz have sandal-like straps so the flippers can be worn with booties or bare feet.
Zeagle's personal fit system allows divers to buy BCs with the vest, shoulder straps and waistband that best fit your body. So someone who is tall and thin can get a BC with tall shoulders and a medium vest, as well as a bladder that provides the proper lift for the type of diving that person does most often. You can also get a BC in a variety of colors.
"Ninety-nine percent of our ideas come from our customers," Bulin said. "They'll say, 'I wish your regulator had this,' or 'I wish your BC did this.' We're constantly trying to improve the products."
That commitment to quality and to its customers makes for very happy divers, especially at this time of year.
Steve Waters can be reached at swaters@SunSentinel.com or 954-356-4648.
Source Citation:"Sun Sentinel, Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Steve Waters column: Sky diving gave Zeagle founder right idea for scuba divers." The America's Intelligence Wire (Dec 19, 2008): NA. General OneFile. Gale. Alachua County Library District. 26 Oct. 2009
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