Born in 1925, in Rochester, NY, Del Wren ran away from home at the age of 13 and into a colorful life, beginning as a hired hand on a "widow's farm" where he fed cows and slopped hogs for $1 / week. Del describes his father as a "hustler" who managed to keep the family fed through the Depression years. "We were poor, but only money wise…"
He learned to swim (or sink) when his uncle threw him off a dock, and he soon began swimming regularly across the Mississippi River, where he lived at the time. Largely self-taught, having quit school in the 9th grade, Del worked numerous jobs, including a stint as a logger in Oregon, where he lost his leg in an accident.
Del turned his swimming abilities into a vocation when, in the late 40s, he worked as a commercial abalone diver using the old UDT black fins. His single leg became so strong that he had to have a special, extra stiff fin made by Voit Co. In 1951, Del founded the Kingfishers Dive Club along with Harley Chandler. Del excelled with a pole spear, hunting sheephead, calico, and halibut. In fact, he did so well in the competitions, other divers actually suggested that he be given a handicap! "I laughed so hard I had tears running down my cheeks."
Del pioneered night diving in California, and made his own lights, which included a depth activated off switch of his own invention. He began competition diving in 1953 and was truly awed by the performance of Charlie Sturgil, "he was the guy to beat". Del and his team worked hard on all aspects of the sport and together pioneered several deep diving techniques. Del feels there are still plenty of fish and repeats Art Pinder's advice to him; "you just got to be able to get to where the fish are, at 80 feet, 100 feet or wherever".
Even after all the incredible dives, Del's best memories are of the people he knew. The camaraderie was the best thing of all. Even guys on opposite teams were just great. "I never liked trophies, I buried all mine behind the house". Del compared competitive freedivers to Olympians, "you had to be a good swimmer, paddle boarder, surfer, diver and you had to be able to hit fish".
"Through it all, I never had any regrets, not losing the leg or any of it. It was a good life".