Dr. Sammy Lee, the 1948 and 1952 Olympic platform gold medalist and his wife Roz Lee are the founders of THE SAMMY Sport Towel. In a sport that requires no equipment other than a swimsuit, a little towel has become an accessory no diver can be without. No matter how it's spelled, the shammy has become part of nearly every diver's practice and competition routine. It is hard to imagine diving without it. The shammy phenomenon began in the U.S. in the 1970's.
Original shammies were made from the skin of the chamois, a goat-like animal native to the mountains of Europe and western Asia. As an endangered species, they are now found in Switzerland and New Zealand. Chamois are about 30 inches tall and can weigh up to 100 pounds. Skin colors vary, but all chamois have black and white markings on their faces along with black tails and a black stripe on their back.
The first diving shammies date back to the late 1960s or early '70s. Popularized by divers from Norway and other European countries, these shammies with their absorption qualities, were made of the natural animal skin. A synthetic version, however, was later developed in Japan. Whether natural or artificial, it quickly replaced the bulky towel that had been standard for decades.
Dr. Lee coached the U.S. Team at the 1977 Swedish Cup. U.S. divers noticed a Norwegian competitor using a shammy. Unbeknownst to Dr. Lee, students began calling their coach "Shammy" instead of "Sammy" during practice and warm-ups. The Norwegian diver gave a Shammy to Dr. Lee, who passed it on to his diver, Greg Louganis. Greg instantly thought it was a great product! The similarity with names stuck and the towel's namesake would eventually launch a new business venture.
The Sammy sport towel, "the choice of champions", opened its door for business in 1979. The Lees started with 1,200 towels. Roz would open each one up, stamp it with "The Sammy", and fold it back up. With a second order of 3,000 towels, the manufacturer agreed to do the work for them. At first business was slow. No advertising was done, everything was word of mouth. Greg Louganis started using it and then gave it to some divers, and that's how it grew!
If taken care of properly, a shammy made of poly-vinyl material can last three or four years. A towel must be rinsed completely before being put back in its storage tube. The towel must be completely dried before the cap is put on if not used for any length of time. Although mildew can cause damage, chlorine does help keep The Sammy clean.
The Sammy, though mainly sold in the U.S., is also used by many international aquatic disciplines. Orders for the Sammy increase whenever a new color is introduced. The original color was tan because dyes were initially difficult to develop.