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Seabobbin’ with a superpod

May 16, 2012

From the print edition

Here on the rich coast, we get to partake in so many extremely awesome adventures. But could any be so grand as Seabobbing in the ocean with a superpod of 2,000 dolphins?

Shawn Larkin

Shawn Larkin

What is a Seabob, you ask? A Seabob is a tiny torpedo you hold onto while rocketing through the water with your mask on really tight. These handheld underwater scooters are the latest generation of personal underwater propulsion craft, and they are likely the future of ocean tourism and transportation. There is no propeller, but a powerful jet of water that may tickle your belly, depending on your position. A rechargeable battery means little noise and no emissions.

To say that many dolphins love to approach people on Seabobs is an understatement. Every day, dolphins rush to cruise with boats up and down the coasts of Costa Rica, but they are even more interested in the smaller, quieter Seabobs. Every time we Seabob with dolphins, the batteries run out before the dolphins get bored. Even though one “charge” lasts more than an hour, there is never enough time on the Seabob.

Taking a deep breath at the surface, I held on tight, squeezed the trigger to max speed and took off underwater, trying to catch my 13-year-old daughter. She was blazing ahead of me in a blur of color and bubbles in the vast big blue. The water rushing over my face made my cheeks flap as I caught up to her. I looked over at her and saw the skin on her arms rippling with the current, unlike all the dolphins surrounding us, whose skin was taut and smooth as they finned hard to keep up with us. The shifting rays of sunlight danced around us. The moment was truly sublime and surreal.

There were far too many dolphins for anyone there to count. The spinners jostled so close that they bumped me with tight muscles and I thought of horses running, breathing hard and sweating. As we sped along, we chirped and hummed with the massive underwater dolphin chorus, and they always answered back.

As we flew through the deep sea surrounded by the largest-known resident dolphin superpod in the world, it felt as though we were living science fiction. These spinner dolphins gather by the thousands off the same part of the Osa Peninsula every day all year, unless the tuna fleet shows up and nets them. With a plane it often takes me less than 10 minutes from takeoff to find them where they party, about 20 nautical miles off Drake Bay. Then I head as quickly as possible for whoever has the Seabobs.

Seabobs cost as much as a car, and they are normally only found on large yachts. But I am hoping these words help change that. Seabobs could help marine and aquatic rescues and aid conservation efforts along the coasts. 

The potential for eco- and adventure tourism is oceanic.

Two quotes sum up my feelings about riding Seabobs underwater.

The first comes from my daughter, who pulled up alongside me for just long enough to say, “I could do this all day,” and then sped away into the blue.

And second are words from the first person to bring Seabobs to the dolphins in Costa Rica, giving us a chance at total blue bliss with the help of the latest 21st century technology. 

As he popped out of the sea clutching his blue chariot and surrounded by prancing sea steeds, U2’s Bono said: “This is not a gadget. This is freedom.”

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