NOGI stands for New Orleans Grand Isle and the statuette given to each recipient was originally a trophy designed for the second annual New Orleans — Grand Isle Scuba Divers International Tournament. This spearfishing contest was held around the oil rigs off New Orleans’ Grand Isle in August 1960.
A few days after the second tournament ended, statuettes identical to those given the spearfishermen were handed out for another reason: outstanding contributions to scuba diving. That occurred on August 20, during the Underwater Society of America’s (USOA) first convention in Houston. (The society was founded in Boston on February 22, 1959.)
The first people to receive NOGIs for contributions to diving were: Carl Hauber, the Underwater Society of America’s first president; Chuck Blakeslee and Jim Auxier, Skin Diver Magazine’s founders; Eugene Vezzani, chairman of the World Championship (a spearfishing tournament) finance committee; and George Youmans, chairman of the convention at which those first NOGIs were awarded.
The NOGI tournament was discontinued decades ago. The NOGI Awards, however, have been presented without interruption since 1960. In 1993, Harry Shanks formed The Academy of Underwater Arts & Sciences (AUAS) as a 501(c)3 corporation to strengthen the awards arm of the USOA.
The Academy of Underwater Arts and Sciences
The AUAS is an international, multi-disciplinary, non-profit organization dedicated to recognizing pioneers and leaders who have had a global impact on the exploration, enjoyment, safety, and preservation of the underwater world. AUAS is committed to supporting its members as they pass on the stewardship of the sea to future generations.
The awards were given in four categories until 2013 when a fifth category for the environment was added:
Filmmakers, painters, photographers, sculptors and other artists who bring the majesty of the underwater world to people everywhere.
World-renowned as well as quiet achievers whose contributions keep the wheels of the diving industry and the global diving community turning.
Scientists, lobbyists, fundraisers, advocates and more who dedicate(d) their lives to the preservation of the health of our oceans and the life within.
Explorers, inventors, doctors and scientists whose work helps us understand, enjoy and protect our precious underwater realm.
Outstanding athletes who have personally pushed the physical boundaries of our sport. Educators who devote themselves to teaching us how to make diving safe and enjoyable or who teach us about the oceans and the life within.
The NOGI statuettes have had several incarnations. In the early years they were hand carved from dark wood. That gave way to statuettes molded from polywood. The beautiful Lucite statuettes given today have been made by Wyland since 2005.
To find out more about the NOGI Award recipients and learn how they earned a place in diving history, peruse The Academy of Underwater Arts & Sciences’ website at: www.auas-nogi.org/.
THE UNDERWATER SOCIETY OF AMERICA
The Underwater Society of America was formed in 1959 by the then existing skin-diving councils; it was composed of and represented all divers in North America. It is still the public diving organization of the United States. The USOA has been active in issues affecting divers right to dive, marine ecology, safety, legislation, conservation and the like. They operate international competitions in many underwater sports, they are charter members of C.M.A.S. (World Underwater Federation) and they are active in the establishment of local clubs and dive councils.
Karen Thulner is the current President (among many other things that she does for the USOA), Bill Van Deman is the Exec. Vice President and Michael Gower is Secretary.