Submersible scooters offer riders a new and thrilling way to experience the ocean
POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, May 22, 2011
LAST UPDATED: 3:44 p.m. HST, Aug 10, 2011
Imagine being on a mo-ped — helmet on, hands poised on the throttle, ready for the rush that comes with cruising in the open air. Total freedom! Total exhilaration!
Now think about doing that underwater. Island Water Sports Hawaii offers guests the chance to zip around Maunalua Bay, on Oahu's southeastern shore, in battery-powered submersible scooters.
"It's just like riding a mo-ped," said Sam Montgomery, owner of Island Water Sports Hawaii. "You sit on a comfortable seat with your head in an acrylic dome-shaped headpiece that's constantly pumped with oxygen, so you breathe as you normally would without the constraints of conventional dive equipment. There's enough room in the dome for you to reach up and put on your prescription glasses, make a ‘shaka' sign and scratch your nose if you have an itch."
IF YOU GO ...
» MEET AT: Island Water Sports Hawaii, 377 Keahole St., Building E, Suite 208-B (second floor), Hawaii Kai, Oahu
The headpiece operates on the same principle as that elementary school science experiment where a paper towel is crumpled into a ball and pushed into the bottom of a glass. The glass is then placed upside-down into a bucket filled with water. Slowly lift the glass out of the water, being careful to keep it vertical. Amazingly, you'll find the paper towel inside it has remained dry.
"That's because the glass was already filled with air and the paper towel before it was put in the water," Montgomery said. "When the glass is submerged upside down, the air can't escape, and because air takes up space, water can't get into the glass. The air prevents the water from entering and wetting the paper towel."
According to Montgomery, the headpiece provides better peripheral vision than a dive mask, and because it's connected to the scooter, tour participants don't have to support its weight. In fact, no special gear is required — no confining wet suit, buoyancy compensation vest, weight belt, regulator, oxygen tank, hood, gloves, boots or fins.
<Ko("case","cpsp")>Steering<$o($)> the scooter just as they would a bike, riders can venture up to 150 feet in all directions from Island Water Sports Hawaii's 40-foot dive boat. A tether attaches each scooter to a buoy, setting the depth at 8 feet. Riders glide at about 3 miles per hour amid triggerfish, angelfish, Moorish idols, yellow butterfly fish, white butterfly fish, turtles, eels and other intriguing marine life.
"The scooters are safe, fun, comfortable, eco-friendly, easy to operate, and you don't have to have prior snorkeling or scuba experience," Montgomery said. "Even nonswimmers can do this activity; they just have to be able to put their head in the water about a foot and a half. For added peace of mind, each person is accompanied by a dive master, regardless of his or her age and ability in the water."
Montgomery discovered the scooters while vacationing with friends in the Caribbean a few years ago. "We had a blast, and I thought the scooters would be a perfect fit here," he said. "I contacted the manufacturer, and he gave me an exclusive for Hawaii, meaning we're the only company in the state that has them. We started our scooter tours in January, and it's great to see our guests coming out of the water with big smiles on their faces. The comment we hear most often is, ‘Wow! That was amazing!'"
Island Water Sports has four scooters, with more on the way. "The appeal of this activity is when you're on the scooter, you're the captain," Montgomery said. "There's something really cool about being in control of your own self-propelled electric eco-friendly submersible scooter and being face to face with incredible marine life. It's the ultimate water toy!"
Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi is a Honolulu-based freelance writer whose travel features for the Star-Advertiser have won multiple Society of American Travel Writers awards.
MAUNALUA IDEAL FOR WATER SPORTSMaunalua means "two mountains," referring to Koko Head and Koko Crater, two landmarks in East Oahu that rise near Maunalua Bay. Legends say mo'o (water spirits) lived in the bay, blessing it with an abundance of seafood, including mullet, scad, goatfish and octopus. Inland, Keahupua o Maunalua, now called Kuapa, was one of Oahu's largest and most productive fishponds.
Centuries ago the people of Maunalua practiced aquaculture, fished in the ocean and grew sweet potatoes and other crops on the coastal plains. The 1880s brought an influx of foreigners. Many came to work on sugar plantations, but Maunalua was known for ranches and dairies run by American and Portuguese settlers.
The area retained its rural lifestyle through the 1950s. In 1959 developer Henry J. Kaiser began an ambitious project to dredge 6,000 acres of Kuapa and the surrounding wetlands to build Hawaii Kai. Today people from around the island join Hawaii Kai residents for boating, fishing, kayaking, canoe paddling and other activities in Maunalua Bay.
Malama Maunalua was created in 2005 to help care for Maunalua, which stretches from Black Point (near Diamond Head) to Koko Head to the Koolau Mountains. The organization brings together more than 20 partners (including the University of Hawaii, The Nature Conservancy, Polynesian Voyaging Society and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) to conduct research, monitor use of the bay, lead cleanups and carry out marine education and resource management programs.
Call 395-5050 or check out the website malamamaunalua.org.