Despite being a landlocked state, Oklahoma offers plenty of recreation options on its numerous lakes. Along with fishing and boating, scuba diving is a well-liked water activity that has increased in popularity over the past few years. There is a perception that scuba diving is strictly ocean-based, but freshwater diving in Oklahoma is a growing segment of outdoor recreation.
Danny O’Connor, executive director of the Outsiders’ House Museum, went through the process to become scuba certified in 2020.
“We went searching for the church from the Outsiders’ movie, which was reportedly underwater,” says O’Connor. “We put together a team to go look for it, and through talking with the divers, I became more interested in learning to dive.”
When asked about any misconceptions he had prior to getting started, he says he was originally intimidated by the math required to calculate safe diving protocols. He found, however, that the classes really simplified the process, and it was easier to catch on than he’d originally thought.
O’Connor worked with Tillie Holliday from Dive Site in Tulsa to gain his certification. Holliday has 23+ years of experience as a diving instructor and has been diving since she was a teenager.
“Most people complete the coursework in three phases,” she says. “Classroom work and online learning, pool work and then lake dives. Each phase consists of two days worth of instruction.”
Open water Diver (Level 1) Certification costs $315 through Dive Site and includes the equipment needed for the classes. Most people complete the process in three to four weeks.
“I recommend that people buy their own mask, fins, snorkel and boots, since those items function best when fitted to each person,” says Holliday.
Dive Site owner Rob Brinkley also recommends the company’s “Try Scuba” class, which gives participants a three-hour exposure to scuba diving in a pool setting. Many participants go on to complete their Open Water Certification, and the cost is reduced for customers who have completed the Try Scuba class.
The Oklahoma Aquarium offers a unique opportunity to improve one’s diving skills as part of the volunteer dive team, which is responsible for keeping the large exhibits looking beautiful. It also offers the chance to swim in breathtaking exhibits with amazing animals. In addition, volunteers can participate in daily dive shows and costumed holiday events. The aquarium is currently accepting volunteer diver applications, and Holliday ensures all divers are qualified and safe.
Another way to learn more is to join the Oklahoma Aquanauts Facebook group that meets once a month at various Tulsa and OKC restaurants. The group was formed in 2006 with six people and now has over 2,000 members.
Where to Go
There are two main lakes in Oklahoma for scuba diving: Lake Tenkiller and Lake Murray. Tenkiller offers an underwater dive park with sunken vehicles and protected underwater artifacts, including a jailhouse and buggies from before the lake was created. Broken Bow Lake in Beavers Bend State Park also presents some interesting diving.
Brinkley recently dove Skiatook Lake at Tall Chief Cove and mentions that many Oklahoma lakes have limited visibility, and some divers like Beaver Lake in Arkansas due to its rocky bottom, which reduces silt and increases visibility.
ScubaBros in Oklahoma City offer access to a private training lake near El Reno, where they’ve certified over 3,000 people.
“We offer a basic course for $369, which includes access to our training lake,” says owner Mike Cody.