by Gerry Smith, Diving Safety Officer for the University of Southern California
I learned to dive as a teenager in 1963 using homemade equipment built from welding regulators and fire extinguisher bottles. I received additional training from the United States Army a few years later and enjoyed sport diving and spearfishing until I began assisting with dive classes in 1981. I taught diving as a sideline until I retired from the California State University in 2000.
In 2004, I took the position of diving safety officer for USC. Since then, I’ve enjoyed teaching basic and advanced diving courses for the university and managing the university’s diving program from the campus at Big Fisherman Cove on Catalina Island. I hold instructor certifications from a number of agencies.
My primary interest for many years has been dive training. I’ve taught more than 2,000 people to dive and enjoyed the experience with every one of them. I have long felt that diving could not be safely taught in the two to four dive “resort” certification classes offered by the major agencies. The AAUS (American Academy of Underwater Sciences) Scientific Diving certification offers an avenue to train students in the way that they deserve. It is a 100 hour course with approximately 25 dives, rigorous watermanship requirements and real training in safety/emergency procedures. It provides a way to graduate divers who can take care of themselves and their buddies while accomplishing their research goals in the ocean environment.
My favorite course by far is the Environmental Studies Scientific Diving class that takes the student from the University Park campus to the Catalina campus and then on to Guam and Palau. The level of commitment and enthusiasm exhibited by these students is so much greater than a tourist who wants to see pretty fishes on his vacation.