BROKEN ARROW – Oklahomans know Rick Couri as a radio personality (33 of the last 34 years at KRMG) and as a color analyst for University of Tulsa football games.
But do they know about his “other” identity?
Don’t look for him undercover.
Look for him under water.
He’s Scuba Rick.
Couri opened the garage door of his home Wednesday and revealed what he refers to as his “dive shop.”
Wetsuits, buoyancy compensators, snorkels, masks, regulators, dive boots and swim fins were neatly arranged along walls for diving students who want to be fitted for gear.
Couri, who founded OkieScuba.com with wife Christine, said he has helped more than 1,000 divers gain certification in his 19 years of being an instructor. He teaches because he wants others to enjoy what he enjoys. And — make no mistake about it — this is a guy who can’t wait to get wet.
Asked if he has figured out why diving makes him happy, Couri said it was clear to him almost from the beginning.
“Everybody has really good times and bad times in your life,” he said, making reference to daughter Lindsey’s issues with brain tumors.
“But I have never in my life ever been underwater and been able to think about anything other than what I am doing. I have never been underwater and thought, ‘Lindsey has a treatment in two weeks.’ I have never been underwater and thought, ‘Thank God I got that raise.’ I have never had another thought while I am underwater other than that singular thing you are doing at that moment.”
Couri gets the why-do-you-like-diving question a lot. The word “no” gets repeated in his responses. No phones. No pagers. No bosses. No computers. No Facebook. No Twitter. No worries.
“You are, for all intents and purposes, alone with your thoughts, which I like,” he said. “It is just you and that stuff around you, that adventure around you. What you are experiencing in that moment, it takes you completely away from anything else you have ever done. Nothing else can enter your mind. It just can’t. You are too focused on what you are doing, and you have to be in order to be safe.”
Couri, a managing editor and morning co-host at KRMG, said there aren’t many places where he hasn’t gone diving. He’s been to Hawaii and all over the Caribbean and to both coasts. His favorite place to dive is California (visits annually, never mind chilly water). He loves it there so much that daughter Delaney got her middle name from Catalina Island off the California coast.
Consider all of the above and chew on this: Couri used to despise trips to the water.
Couri is a Nathan Hale High School graduate, but he spent a great deal of his youth with grandparents in Tahlequah. He said they were among the best people he has ever known, but they always spent summer weekends fishing from a pontoon boat on Lake Tenkiller.
“And I had to go,” Couri said. “They wouldn’t leave you home on the farm. This was before boom boxes and streaming TV. And I am not a fisherman, and I hated it. I just sat there and sweated and was bored for six to eight hours at a time. Fishermen who love it, they can sit there forever, and they are just fascinated by looking at that line in the water. It drove me crazy. So I hated the lake. I just kept telling everybody it’s just dirty water and rocks. I’m not going down there.”
Couri said he didn’t learn how to swim until he was 15. He said his stepfather threw him into a pool and said, “Swim or don’t.” He chose survival.
Looking back now, Couri said he has always been fascinated by the ocean. Blame college football. He watched big games (the only kind that got televised when he was a kid) on TV and was taken by the fact that USC-UCLA broadcasts always included shots of the ocean and palm trees. He’s still a USC fan because of that.
Said Couri, “Then one day I was on the air at KRMG doing a Saturday shift and I said on the air, ‘You know, the one thing I have always wanted to do is I have always wanted to be a diver. I’ve always wanted to learn to scuba dive. That would be cool.’ And I got to the break and the phone is ringing.”
Wade Johnson, a former schoolmate, happened to hear Couri’s wishful thinking. Johnson, a scuba instructor, phoned the station and offered to teach Couri.
“He taught Christine and I both, and it still irritates me that she got better scores than I did,” Couri said.
Couri started taking lessons in 1993 and became an instructor in 1997. He gives SpongeBob SquarePants zipper pulls to every student who becomes certified and he said he gets pictures from around the world of ex-pupils and their SpongeBob zipper pulls.
Couri loves SpongeBob cartoons (a favorite is the hall monitor episode) because of the undersea setting and because he used to watch with Delaney, now a college student. An inflatable SpongeBob hangs from the roof of his garage/dive shop. Take a look around, and it’s easy to see what he is passionate about.
Shouldn’t everyone be so lucky as to find something they love to do?
“Absolutely,” Couri said, adding that he used to give up entire summers while juggling instructor duties and broadcasts of Tulsa Talons Arena Football League games.
“I never considered that I was working,” he said. “I never thought of it that way.”
Jimmie Tramel 918-581-8389