Shammys and Aqua Towels for Diving

Gotta Dry Off Somehow

Christin Steuer
Christin Steuer of Germany Chews her Shammy. Photo: Vladimir Rys/Getty Images

Sammys, shammys, aqua towels or whatever you prefer to call them (or whatever the manufacturer calls them) are small absorbent towels that divers use to dry themselves off between dives, whether at a meet or during practice.

One of the few pieces of “equipment” that divers use, these towels are predominately made from a synthetic polymer material and can absorb a great deal or water (or any type of moisture for that matter).

This water can then be squeezed from the towel, and the shammy then immediately used again to continue the drying process, which is why they are so beneficial to divers.

Although bath or beach towels are great and also serve this purpose, they tend to get wet fast and stay wet. If you have ever tried to dry out wet towels on the pool deck by twisting them around a 1-meter guardrail, you know what I mean!

And no one likes to be stuck in a cold pool in the middle of the winter with nothing to dry off with other than a heavy wet towel.

The History of Shammys

The first Shammys were made from leather that came from the hide of a European goat called … a Chamois! Soft and absorbent, these types of leather cloths had been used for many years and for many purposes because of their properties, including washing cars and cleaning fine leather. You can still buy these cloths for just such purposes, in addition to being used for golf grips and cycling shorts.

Later a synthetic material was developed that mimicked the properties of this chamois leather - especially the absorbency, and these were first used by European divers in the 1970’s for the exact purpose that they are used today – to dry off between dives.

What happened next is the stuff of legends. As the story goes, two-time Olympic medalist, Dr. Sammy Lee was coaching a team of U.S. divers at the 1977 Swedish Cup when he noticed a group of Norwegian divers using these small towels. By the time Lee left the competition, his star pupil - none other than the great Greg Louganis, had one of these in his hands and the seed was planted for what would soon become “The Sammy Sport Towel.”

The Sammy

In 1979 Dr. Lee and his wife Roz launched a new business that sold these new absorbent towels, and the diving world was changed forever.

Despite the fact that the Lee’s have since sold their business, the demand for Sammys is still as strong as ever. And divers today have many more choices than the original tan color. Sammys and their many varieties can now be found in multiple colors and shapes, with one of the more popular forms being tye-dye!

There are red ones and pink ones; tye-dye shammys, double-sized aqua towels, frog shaped shammys, flag shammys … the list is endless. And the phenomenon that is “The Sammy” has gone beyond that of a towel to a fixture as common in the diving world as eye black in football and pine tar in baseball.

It’s Not Just For Drying

Sammys, shammys and aqua towels have become much more than a functional piece of equipment - they have worked their way into the psyche of the modern diver. It’s a fashion statement for some, a security blanket for others, and a requirement for most.

Watch any competition and you will witness the rituals that surround a shammy - they are many and varied. Some divers twirl it like a basketball, others have a special knot they tie, others look tattered and torn from where they have been chewed to pieces, while those with a point to prove will slam it to the pool deck with authority before a dive.

In fact, you can tell as much about a diver just by watching the way they treat their beloved shammy as you can by watching their body language!

Where To Get Your Sammy

Sammys, shammys and aqua towels are available from any online outlet that sells swimwear or competitive diving equipment, and in many retail stores.

They range in cost from $7.00 for your basic shammy, to $25 for double-sized or specially made tye-dye versions.

Always remember, though, put your name on your shammy - they are a valuable commodity!