Going Under for Scuba Certification

On the first dive, nothing feels right. You can’t float, or you float too much, and the plastic regulator in your mouth tastes like car tires. But by the third dive, you’re a goldfish. You find neutral buoyancy in a second, floating weightless and even, light as a ghost. And by the fourth dive, you’re driving 15 over the limit down Main just to get to class faster.

This is a PADI-certified class (PADI is the world’s leading scuba-training organization), taught by Steve Lantz, owner of Sports Cove and a course director with thousands of dives in his scuba registry. “Some people call me Scuba Steve. Ever since that damn Adam Sandler movie came out,” he says with a laugh. He’s big as a doorway and has a perpetual five o’clock shadow that keeps his mask from sealing properly. Each year, about 100-150 people take his class, certifying themselves for scuba trips all over the globe. Now I’m one of them. 

We’ve spent four evenings splitting time between in-class work and quizzes, then heading to the Bozeman High pool to strap on real scuba gear and explore the deep end. (If the groups are small enough, some classes do it in two days.) Now it’s day five, and we’re ready to demonstrate our skills in real water—somewhat real, that is. Bad weather has changed the plan from a two-day camping trip at Canyon Ferry to an afternoon at River Rock Pond in Belgrade. 

Facing the incredulous stares of passers-by, I suit up and waddle toward shore, tottering down the embankment as 30 pounds of lead and 40 pounds of scuba gear try to pull me to the grass. Once I wade in deep enough to float, the squeeze of the wetsuit and the tug of the tank disappear. Bobbing in the water, I put the regulator in my mouth, and with one hard pull, the dense, clean air fills my lungs.

We sink to the bottom of the murky pond and practice the skills we’d done dozens of times in the pool: regulator recovery, mask floods, compass navigation. Then we kick around, finding old beer cans and goldfish the size of dinner plates. By the time we surface, I feel like a real scuba diver, ready for an actual underwater adventure—instead of 27 feet of muddy Belgrade water.

Other than a few afternoons in real water, all it takes is four nights—and costs about as much as spending those four nights in a bar instead. Sports Cove provides all the gear, so all you need is a swimsuit and the willingness to learn. Check out scubamontana.com for more info.