Your average college classroom doesn’t usually require a bathing suit and a snorkel, but Outdoor Education Leadership 210 is not your average college course.
ODEL 210 consists of the fundamental skills, techniques, knowledge and laws of scuba diving. The class places a strong emphasis on safety and recreational diving, as well as teachings on the environment and underwater sea creatures, and the end goal of the course is to become a certified scuba diver.
Teaching the course on the basics of scuba diving is instructor John Kiser who has certified more safe divers in the world than any other member of the Professional Association of Diving Instructors.
Kiser has been scuba diving for nearly his entire life after being inspired by a TV show, and he has been teaching full time since 1972.
“Llyod Bridges with Sea Hunt was an old black and white TV show back in the late 50s or early 60s, so after charting the waters I learned how to dive when I was 12 years old,” Kiser said.
Holding titles in the areas of military diving, commercial diving, and civilian recreational diving, and serving the position of Chairman of the Diving Safety Committee for the state of Maryland, Kiser is more than capable of running this course and he does so out of his joy for exploring new places.
Certifying what he says to be over 7,000 divers now, Kiser has taught all over the U.S. including years spent teaching at the Naval Academy, managing at PADI headquarters, running a charter boat out of Ocean City, along with teaching courses at St. Mary’s College, Washington College, McDaniel College, Salisbury University and more.
“I just liked it so much, and I spent a lot of time in the Caribbean when I was on active duty in the navy, and as soon as I got out I became an instructor and started teaching,” Kiser said.
Along with teaching and recreational diving, Kiser utilizes his passion for diving to research shipwrecks and historic sites in the Chesapeake Bay in collaboration with the Maryland Historical Trust agency.
Kiser explained that he played a role in building the fishing reef in Ocean City with the sinking of the World War II Submarine the USS Blenny.
The purposeful detonation of explosives on a reef 15 miles offshore were used to sink the submarine in an effort to attract fish that would benefit Ocean City's profitable charter fishing business, and it also attracts scuba divers who wished to salvage fixtures off the sub that are still intact.
“I research wrecks that’s my hobby,” Kiser said. “I found a U boat up in the Potomac River and we turned that into a public dive site.
Students in ODEL 210 tread water in their first class session. Emma Reider image.
Kiser also teaches several upper level courses in diving as well including an Advanced Open Water course, which can lead to advancements like rescue diving and diving instructing.
Because Kiser enjoys diving so much, he tries to make the course as enjoyable as possible while making sure students are safe and comfortable with the process.
“If somebody has trouble with the class, I generally work with them until I get them to a point where they can pass,” Kiser said.
Senior Camille Supple is taking this course because in her travels she’s always had the urge to scuba dive, but she couldn't do it unless she became certified.
Supple admitted that she is "a bit nervous" going into the course knowing all the things that could go wrong; however, she is confident in the equipment and safety precautions that protect against the dangerous scenarios.
“I want to be able to just casually scuba dive when I go on vacation somewhere,” Supple said. "In the Caribbean or on Islands with a coral reef like the Great Barrier Reef is where I‘d ideally like to dive one day.”
The course requires that students must be able to swim 200 yards — 8 pool lengths — and they must be able to tread water for 10 minutes or consent of instructor and a 75 or higher on the final exam to pass the course.
After educating the students on all of the safety regulations and following a series of quizzes and drills, Kiser takes the class on a field trip to Lake Phoenix, a quarry in Rawlings, Virginia.
The quarry is set up exclusively for scuba diving with warmer and clearer waters than in the Salisbury area, and students are required to do four dives in two days in order to complete the course and become certified scuba divers.
Kiser explained that there are often students who come into the class fearful, but once they learn the skills and gain the confidence, they are able to overcome those fears and dive into open waters.
Kiser also said one of the best parts of diving was the proximity and interaction with marine life and he explained that “nothing’s afraid of you.” Diving gives the opportunity to have face to face encounters with things beyond shipwrecks and coral reefs, including sharks, sea turtles, dolphins and so much more.
“I really enjoy teaching and I just love diving, so this is what I’ve always wanted to do.” Kiser said. “I try to keep it fun and happy for the students, so they are learning plus they realize how serious things are in the need to pay attention to the technique and safety precautions.”
By CAROLINE STREETT
Gull Life editor
Featured photos: Emma Reider images.