In the underwater world, the last name ‘Cousteau’ holds a lot of history and legacy. Often called the ‘Father of Scuba Diving‘, Jacques-Yves Cousteau, the famed underwater explorer and pioneer, invented the aqua-lung in 1943 with his partner Émile Gagnan. When they breathed, this demand-valve technology delivered compressed air. This innovation completed their self-contained underwater breathing apparatus (SCUBA), which is the precursor to today’s modern diving equipment that we all know, use and love.
As Cousteau’s eldest grandson, Fabien, tells it, he was born to continue Jacques’ legacy. The elder Cousteau taught his grandson to dive as child, and the younger joined his grandfather on his legendary expedition ships, the Calypso and Alcyone. Today, Fabien continues and expands his grandfather’s work – finding new and innovative ways to explore, conserve and restore the blue planet before it’s too late.
Recently, I joined Fabien for a Dive Against Debris cleanup and Dive Against Debris Specialty training in the Florida Keys. Naturally, I asked him about his family’s connection to the ocean and why it matters so much to them.
This June 11th, in celebration of Jacques-Yves Cousteau’s 111th birthday, we at PADI are sharing some of what Fabien told us about his grandfather, scuba diving, and the oceans.
Memories of Jacques-Yves Cousteau
PADI: How do you remember your grandfather?
Fabien Cousteau: I had the luck of spending the first 30 years of my life with my grandfather around. For years, maybe the first decade and a half, I just saw him as my grandfather… He would be how I imagine most grandparents are – very interested in their grandchildren and spending time with them. It wasn’t until we were in a Japanese restaurant in New York City one day and people kept coming up to our table to interrupt our family time asking for him to sign things that I realized our grandfather wasn’t just for us. We were sharing him with the world. And that’s when I realized, very naïve of me, what an iconic public figure he was, especially for the ocean world.
PADI: What else?
Fabien Cousteau: He didn’t set out to be a conservationist. Curiosity inspired Jacques. He was interested in films and loved telling stories. A serious injury from a car accident stopped him from joining the Navy, and he swam as part of his rehab. Then, a friend of his introduced him to the undersea world, and it fascinated him. His eyes were like, “Look how amazing this place is,” and he wanted to share that with the world.
PADI: What was diving like ‘back then’?
Fabien Cousteau: Back when I learned to dive, we didn’t have BCDs or anything like this. It was just us and the water. My dad is the oldest active diver, and he’s PADI certificate 002. My grandfather helped PADI start off; he’s certificate 001.
Diving in (Literally) with Fabien Cousteau
PADI: What’s a day in the life of a Cousteau?
Fabien Cousteau: I put on pants and a wetsuit just like anyone else. I wake up like everyone else. I try to have my coffee – I love good coffee. Next, I run through my day and try to accomplish as many tasks as possible. Then I sleep, exhausted but ready to wake up and do it all over again.
PADI: How does it feel to continue your grandfather’s legacy advocating for the oceans?
Fabien Cousteau: There was never pressure, and it was never expected. But, when one has experienced the ocean world, it’s impossible to turn your back on it… and, it’s something that a lot of people won’t get the chance to do. Because of that, it’s absolutely paramount in my opinion to continue in the family philosophy.
And, I love it. I’m addicted to oceans.
PADI: What’s your favorite post-dive tradition?
Fabien Cousteau: The fireside chat afterward. Sharing your day’s adventures with the group, your dive buddies, family members.
Like today, we did two Dives Against Debris and pulled out a record 664 pounds of trash from the oceans. It’s an amazing thing to give back like that—to leave the ocean a better place than we found it—and then to have the chance to share that with people we care about.
Conservation and the Cousteaus
PADI: What are your thoughts on plastics?
Fabien Cousteau: For starters, the first way to stop it from entering our oceans is to stop using single-use plastics. It always shocks me when we use materials that last 500 years for single use.
An expedition went deeper than ever before, and the first thing they found was a chip bag and Fanta….
PADI: How do you see the future?
Fabien Cousteau: We can’t just talk about the problems; we gotta talk about solutions. It’s not going to be me discovering them – it’s gotta be everyone.
For young people, the word “impossible” doesn’t exist – and that’s awesome. They’re going to create the solutions.
PADI: Any advice to those reading?
Fabien Cousteau: Protect the ocean as if your life depended on it – because it does.