RIP: Steve Lantz

steve lantz, scuba

"Scuba Steve" built an outdoor subculture from the ground up.

When one man, for whatever reason, has the opportunity to lead an extraordinary life, he has no right to keep it to himself. —Jacques Cousteau

From a distance, the scene resembles a firefighting camp: pop-up tents, enormous piles of gear laid out on tarps, people wandering to and fro. At the shoreline, men and women squeeze into wetsuits and slip on air tanks; in the water, diver-down flags bob as bubbles break the surface. Passersby do double-takes: “What’s going on here, some kind of party? Wait—are those scuba divers?” Standing beside a picnic table, at the center of this unlikely assemblage, is Steve Lantz. He flips another round of burgers, then surveys the scene around him and smiles. These are his people. He’s brought them all together, to do what they love, to share their passion for diving amid good company, good food, and the beautiful environs of Hyalite Reservoir.

Wednesday Night Dives—“stress-relief dives,” as he called them—were only one of the many events Scuba Steve hosted during his 34-year tenure as the skipper of southwest Montana’s subsurface swim team. Long weekends at Canyon Ferry were common, and the occasional “mud-bug hunt” at Harrison Lake brought in divers from miles around for an authentic Cajun crawfish feast. The only thing Steve loved more than diving was cooking huge meals for other divers, then kicking back and swapping stories as the sun set behind the mountains.

Steve served on the county search-and-rescue team, helping save people in trouble and recover lost equipment. He did carpentry work part-time while raising a daughter. Through it all, he managed to achieve the impossible: run a successful dive shop 700 miles from the nearest ocean. The Sports Cove, started in 1986, certified hundreds of divers and set them up with gear. From 2003 on, Steve and his fiancée Kim ran a travel segment, taking people on dive trips all around the world. And every summer, Sports Cove organized regular dives around Bozeman, to keep divers’ skills sharp and the diving fire alive. And all this from a small town in landlocked Montana.

I took Steve’s scuba-certification class in 1990, starting in the city pool and eventually going deep at Canyon Ferry. It opened up a whole new world, one that led me on exciting trips to exotic locales, while also expanding my appreciation of the natural world right here at home. I don’t dive much anymore, but my mask and fins join me on every summer river trip. Exploring the mysterious depths of the Jefferson, Quake Lake, and the Firehole, I think of Steve and the gift he gave me, the same gift he gave so many others: the key to another dimension. I think of his wry humor, his easy smile, and his mischievous smirk when mocking my parsimony—“You ever going to buy something, Mike, or just wander the shop trying to finagle a freebie out of me?” I think of his talent for creating community, for bringing people together, for enriching their lives. I think of how much I will miss him.

Rest in peace, Steve. And rest assured: we will keep diving. I and all the others you brought below the surface, we will keep exploring the underwater world and all its splendor, the world that you loved and that you shared with all of us. We will carry on your legacy—and we will see you, someday, on the other side. Until then, may you have warm water, good visibility, and plenty of air in the tank. Vaya con Dios, mi amigo.

Editor’s note: Steve Lantz fell sick last year and passed away in late November.