October 27, 2020

In this family, to come of age you must first earn scuba certification

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, Iowa — In the Steppuhn family, the hand-me-downs are scuba suits.

has made a family tradition out of scuba diving. He and his son, Brad, tried it during a business trip to the Bahamas in 2006, and it has grown into a hobby shared by three generations.

Bill has traveled with some combination of his son and three of his grandchildren to the Bahamas, Hawaii, Útila, Puerto Rico, St. Thomas, Grand Cayman, Little Cayman, Fiji, Grand Turk Island, Curaçao, Key West, , Bonaire, Cozumel and La Paz, Mexico. They’ve seen all kinds of creatures among the coral — sea lions, jellyfish, bioluminescent creatures and rarities, like a spotted eagle ray.

“After your kids grow up, the kid will do stuff to accommodate the dad or the dad will do something just to spend time together,” Bill said. “Scuba is something where you can spend time together and you both enjoy it and both look forward to doing it.”

On one trip, to Curaçao, Bill and his oldest granddaughter, Kaitlyn Neligh, participated in a conservation program by hunting lionfish with a spear.

“Normally when I get back, my teachers will let me have a day to tell (classmates) what I learned,” Kaitlyn said. “You learn so much every dive trip.”

In a way, scuba is a rite of passage or coming-of-age adventure for the grandkids. At age 10 or 11, each grandchild earns a scuba certification and gets a suit of their own and a plane ticket to paradise on granddaddy’s dime.

, Bill’s 12-year-old granddaughter, waited impatiently for years for her chance. Older sister Kaitlyn, 16, was the first to go out with gramps in open water.

Kylie saw pictures from Kaitlyn’s first four dives. She heard stories of swimming with whale sharks, nursing fire coral stings with vinegar and petting sea lions — “They just chew on your hand like a little puppy,” Bill said.

Meanwhile, Kylie collected outgrown scuba gear from her big sister and waited for her chance. She and her cousin, Branden Steppuhn, were born three weeks apart, and they’ve been training to dive since they were 7, studying for scuba classes with their grandmother, Barb.

In January, Kylie’s time finally came. She, Branden, Brad, Grandpa Bill and two future Steppuhn divers flew to Cozumel, where they dove on four days.

They drifted through current-crafted tunnels, swimming past creatures like a green moray eel. Kylie was lucky enough to meet a jellyfish, and unlucky enough to suffer a mild sting.

At one point, Kylie broke from the group and dove deeper than the 40-foot limit dictated by instructors, remembering a time her sister reached down into the sand to hit 100 feet deep: “I wanted to get to 60,” Kylie said.

She earned a reputation on that trip for being an “air hog,” while Branden’s laid-back, observational approach conserved air and bought him bonus time in the water.

“I can’t relax,” Kylie said. “I like to swim toward the things.”

In more than a decade of diving, Bill and Brad have taken enough training to earn the title “master divers.” But when they take the kids out on an excursion, they don’t lead the trips.

Each excursion is led by DiVentures Scuba and Swim Center, a scuba diving school near 120th and I Streets in Omaha. Their trips are planned, so Bill doesn’t have to worry about crafting an itinerary and instead gets to enjoy time with his grandkids and other divers, who have become like family.

“You always know someone you dove with before and they watch after your kids because they care about them, too,” Bill said. “When you’re part of a dive group, you’re part of a family group.”

Three of Bill’s six grandkids are now certified to scuba dive, having gone a collective five times. Two more are about to begin their training.

Soon, they’ll start studying with grandma for bubble class, waiting for someone to outgrow a scuba suit.

IMAGE: Brad Steppuhn scuba diving in Utah  – Scuba Diving

For more on this story go to: http://www.omaha.com/living/in-this-family-to-come-of-age-you-must-first/article_9f32eecc-86c7-5e15-93c8-b13d24026f24.html

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