Dave Tobias had never been to Atlantic City - but when his next door neighbor, Wayne Gasser, left for the Bahamas and couldn't perform his diving act at the Steel Pier one summer, he suggested that Tobias give it a try.
"He says, ‘Hey Dave, I think you could do this'," recalled Tobias, 74, a Bucks County, Pa., native who now lives in Northfield. "‘But Steel Pier (is) different from this 10-foot diving board.' ... I had never dove in the ocean before, never been to Atlantic City before, never been to Steel Pier before. When I came home and told everyone about it, they couldn't believe it."
As part of the "Diving Collegians" from 1957 to 1960, Tobias made about $110 to $120 a week - including room and board - wowing summer visitors with their death-defying dives, including the 65-foot plunges he made when filling in for the "big boss," Joe Hackneycq.
Tobias even saved a few acts from getting the hook.
‘We had Canada's youngest log-rolling champion, but he really couldn't do that much," Tobias said. "It really wasn't going over. So I came up with an idea where I'd sit in the crowd and heckle him. ... I'd yell, ‘Hey, that doesn't look so hard,' and he'd invite me over to try and do it."
The audience plant had learned the art of log-rolling after hours of practice - "The secret was topsiders," he said, "with rubber (soles) on the bottom" - and would surprise the crowd with a log-rolling race.
Tobias would also warm up the crowd - and the horses - as part of a "comedy" diving team before the diving horse shows.
He had another side gig.
"On Saturday nights we'd go down to the Traymore or Marlborough-Blenheim hotels," he said. "They had fashion shows by the swimming pools, and we'd entertain in between when the girls were off changing clothes. We each got $50 to $75."
After his diving days, he took a teaching position at Atlantic City High School for what he thought would be a year between studying for his masters at the Teachers College at Columbia. But soon, a job as director of bands at Oakcrest High School in Mays Landing opened up - and he stayed there until retiring just last year, taking his bands on tours around the country.
"They treated me so well, I never went back to college," he said. His home is full of newspaper clips of his days at Oakcrest and musical imagery - but there are plenty of Steel Pier mementos as well, including a painting by his daughter, Shari Tobias, that portrays him diving into the Atlantic.
"I loved every minute of it," he said.
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