Back in the 1970s, Chaz Kafer was just a guy with a dream — inspired by TV adventure series Sea Hunt, Kafer decided he wanted to learn to scuba dive.
"I'm an adventure kind of guy," Kafer said. "I was in industry, upper-level management and I decided I wanted to get out there and do something for myself."
The journey that brought Kafer to own and operate Diver's Den on Harford Road in Parkville begins, interestingly enough, at Diver's Den.
Kafer, who grew up in Dundalk, got certified in scuba diving after taking lessons at the shop he owns today during the early part of the '70s and by 1975 he was teaching others how to dive at the shop.
Standing behind the counter, surrounded by scuba equipment Kafer explains that at the time, the shop was owned by its founders—the Dorsey family, who would continue to run the place until Kafer bought it in 1992.
In the meantime?
"I pretty much fell off the Earth from the early '80s until the early '90s — I was living in the Carribean," Kafer said.
During that time, he worked as a scuba instructor and a teacher of underwater photography at Anthonys Key Resort in Honduras. Underwater photography was both a hobby and a profession for Kafer—he said his work has been featured in diving trade journals, The Baltimore Sun, Baltimore City Paper, and even National Geographic.
"I started taking pictures with an Instamatic camera—just shot some vacation photos," Kafer said.
His favorite thing he's ever captured on film? A 60-foot whale shark.
When Kafer eventually made his way back to the United States, the Dorsey family was looking to sell Diver's Den and Kafer, who moved to Churchville, was quick to jump on the opportunity.
Today, Diver's Den employs a staff of 3 full time employees and 9-10 part-time scuba instructors and service technicians. Kafer said he still sees people who were his fellow customers and students years ago on a regular basis.
"With our service department, we still do work for people who started out coming here 25 years ago," Kafer said. "I was forunate that way, to come into a business that already had loyal customers and a good reputation."
Kafer said he regularly sees people from all walks of life too: he's trained Baltimore City police and firefighters and even federal agents.
"We've got a diverse group of divers," Kafer said. He explained that local television personalities like Sally Thorner, Norm Lewis and Marty Bass all learned to scuba dive at his shop.
Even Catonsville native Nick Caloyianis, a well-respected videographer who shoots for the Discovery Channel, got his start at Diver's Den, Kafer said.
"We've even got a couple—they're about 83 years old and they drive all the way down here from Fort Dietrich to have work done on their scuba equipment," Kafer said.
That's the kind of customer loyalty that has helped "keep the business afloat," Kafer said. Just this year Kafer said that five scuba shops in Maryland have closed their doors.
"You've got to do a lot to stay in business," Kafer said. "It's not like you can just sell equipment, teach lessons and that's it."
And Kafer, a former Overlea resident, does a lot: he said that in addition to sales and lessons, the store does service and repair of equipment and that he operates an underwater construction company out of the shop, albeit under a different name.
So, at this point you're probably wondering: how does one take scuba lessons in Parkville? Surely there's not a pool inside Diver's Den.
Well, no there's not. Divers train in pool at in Towson and then dive one of a few local quarries to get their open water certification.
Maybe you can start to "discover the other 3/4 of your planet" as the sign that hangs over the entrance to the shop says.