Minnevangelist co-founder Ashlea Halpern recently returned from a week in Bonaire, a Dutch Caribbean island near Curaçao and Venezuela. She was there to earn her Open Water Diver certification from the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (or PADI) — a process that started right here in Minnesota.
Founded in 1973, Scuba Center is PADI’s first five-star training facility and the state’s largest scuba diving school. It has locations in Minneapolis and Eagan and offers classes for all levels, from beginner to divemaster. There are refresher sessions if you’ve forgotten how to set up your BCD (or even what a BCD is) and classes that go deep on specialties like night diving, wreck diving, and emergency response. The gear shop is stocked to the gills with scuba and snorkeling equipment, including wet and dry suits in a range of sizes.
After 15 hours of online classes and before flying to the Caribbean, Ashlea headed to Scuba Center’s 12-foot-deep heated pool in Eagan for two nights of confined-water training. Her instructor, Jim Demuth, learned to dive in 1985 while stationed at Ft. Bragg. He’s been teaching for 35 years and diving on all seven continents—a rare feat.
Though Ashlea traveled on assignment to Harbour Village, you don’t have to go that far to get scuba-certified; you can do your open-water dives at Square Lake near Stillwater, one of the state’s most popular diving destinations thanks to its sunken canoes and the tail section of a plane. Other spots prime for cold-water exploration include Lake Owen, Lake Elmo, and Quarry Park and Preserve in St. Cloud. (Note: Use of a dry suit requires additional training.)
Once you’re certified, the world is your oyster. For 2023/24, Scuba Center has PADI instructor-led dive trips planned to Cuba, Cozumel, Dominica, Philippines, St. Eustacius, Mozambique, St. Lucia, Maldives, and Ashlea’s bucket-list pick, Raja Ampat in Indonesia.
“As you travel the world, you’ll find that the flora and fauna underwater vary widely between destinations,” says Demuth. “The experiences we have underwater are what other people are missing.”
1571 Century Point, Eagan, MN; 651-681-8434.