Local scuba diving shop offers underwater adventure.

Chris Heitman’s love of scuba diving was born out of necessity.

As a law enforcement official, he was working at an incident involving a drowning victim and was frustrated with how long it took divers to get to the accident site, only adding to the anguish of waiting family members.

“I thought, hey, I could have done that,” Chris says, and he decided then and there to learn how to dive so that he could minimize incident recovery times.

Today, Chris is the owner of Scuba Adventure, a local scuba diving outfit that offers various levels of training in the type of underwater diving that uses a self-contained underwater breathing apparatus, or scuba. Scuba Adventure, which has been in business in some form since the 1980s, is recognized by the Professional Association of Diving Instructors, meaning students can earn college or continuing education credits for the courses they take.

Not many people realize what you can see underwater.

Chris Heitman

Chris has certified approximately 1,000 divers since earning his instructor’s certification in 2015. He took his passion for diving to a new level when he purchased Scuba Adventure, located at 2200 E. McCarty St., in 2019. His shop offers everything from basic classes for beginners to courses for those who want to master the art of scuba diving. Weekend and weeklong dives are also offered year-round.

You may wonder how exactly one gets scuba diving experience hundreds of miles away from the nearest ocean. Thanks to a partnership with the Jefferson City Area YMCA, Scuba Adventure uses the outdoor pool at the Firley location and the indoor pool at the Knowles location to train its divers. In return, YMCA members receive a discount on gear and classes. The Quail Run Diver’s Quarry, in Rolla, is also an instruction site for the business.

Greg Mihalevich and Nathan Rowe at an open water dive.

Students come as young as 10 and as old as 84. Chris says his business attracts people from all walks of life, and it doesn’t really have a demographic because the activity appeals to individuals for varying reasons. Many of his clients are seeking scuba diving experience so they can enjoy the activity while on vacation. Others, like underwater welders, dock workers, bridge inspectors, commercial divers, and law enforcement officials need lessons because it’s part of their job.

For beginners, Scuba Adventure offers an open waters class every month. Participants must have a mask, boots, fins, and a snorkel, which can be purchased at the shop with a range of prices to suit individual budgets. Scuba Adventure provides divers with a vest, tank, and regulator for the course dives as well as a wetsuit if desired.

Students spend two days in the classroom going over diving tables and instructions and two days in the pool and the quarry practicing their diving skills. At the end of the course, they earn a lifetime certification as open water scuba divers.

Scuba Adventure also offers a number of opportunities throughout the year for divers to exercise their skills. Chris schedules dives in such far-away locations as Costa Rica and Honduras, while others are closer to home, like Bennett Spring State Park and Bonne Terre Mine, for example. Some are specialty dives, such as the frequent group trip Chris takes to Las Vegas to dive the Hoover Dam.

“Not many people realize what you can see underwater,” Chris says. “When they flooded Hoover Dam, they just left everything, and you can see the train tracks and the tunnels and an old World War II boat that was used to take dam workers back and forth across the river.”

Hoover Dam Dive

Most of the people who teach scuba diving for Scuba Adventure are volunteers, a number of whom are currently or have been law enforcement officials. Chris says folks help out for free because of their passion for the practice. In fact, store manager Nathan Rowe is Scuba Adventure’s only paid employee.

“Everybody who works here does it for the passion and love of scuba,” Chris says.

While scuba diving is Chris’s passion, his full-time job for the past 20 years has been in law enforcement, and he currently serves Maries County as its sheriff. When Heitman isn’t on duty, he’s likely to be found working at the shop, giving lessons, or exploring underwater. Scuba diving is also his social outlet. He says the people he dives with are like family.

Chris says there’s nothing he’d rather be doing and admits that between working full time, raising his 14-year-old daughter, Landry, and diving, he really doesn’t have time for other hobbies. 

“It’s one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever experienced,” he says. “It’s incredible to see things in a different perspective. There’s no such thing as a boring dive.”

“Everybody who works here does it for the passion and love of scuba.”

Chris Heitman

Diving offers Chris rewards beyond the thrill, beauty, and inspiration of exploring the underwater world. Every year since 2014, Chris has offered a program called Dive With a Cop for young people with disabilities. 

Deklan Johnson and Chris Heitman.

Declan Johnson, a 14-year-old who has cerebral palsy and is paralyzed from the waist down, has been diving with Chris for five years. This January, Chris is taking Declan to Coco View Resort in Roatan, Honduras, for his first ocean dive.

“The only time he has been able to stand is while scuba diving,” Chris says.

Levi Fuller, Chris Heitman, Deklan Johnson, and DJ Johnson.

When asked if there is one dive that stands out in his mind, Chris doesn’t hesitate in his response.

“My favorite dive in my life was taking my daughter on her first ocean dive. Getting that one-on-one bonding experience with your child is awesome,” he says.

More information about the equipment, services, and dives Scuba Adventure offers can be found at www.goscubaadventure.com. 

THE  UNDERWATER  WORLD according to Chris Heitman

On the fear factor:
“We’ve never had anyone hurt during a dive. The worst thing we’ve ever had happen is having someone drop an air tank on their foot.”

On the rewards:
“You can take 20 minutes of your life for a dive, and it is literally something you will talk about for the rest of your life.”

On the dangers:
“You’re more likely to get hurt driving your car than scuba diving. It’s one of the safest sports you can do. A lot of people are intimidated by it, but once they do it, they love it.”

“Don’t push the limits.”

On sharks:
“Sharks are very docile. They have been portrayed incorrectly in movies and the media. You’re more apt to
get bit by a shark swimming at the beach than you are swimming with them underwater.”

On what’s most important:
“Relaxation is the key in order to master the skills that protect you.”

On the bottom line:
“Scuba diving allows you to explore a whole new world. It’s amazing.”