Snorkel Scootering with Maui UnderSea Adventures

In search of sea turtles…witha little help from DPVs.

Bond, Eat Your Heart Out: Brooke, demonstrating the between-the-legs snorkel scooter technique.

Whether you call it motorized snorkeling, sea scooter snorkeling or DPV-assisted swimming, if you head out on these new contraptions snorkeling with your kids, prepare to call them late for dinner as well. They’ll have so much fun they’ll want to stay out in the water until the sea cucumbers come home.

With the use of diver propulsion vehicles (DPVs) for scooter snorkel safaris on the rise, and our family in Maui for Thanksgiving, we decided to test them out thanks to a tip from a friend.

“Tell you what,” said friend Phil Cothran, a divemaster for Maui Under Sea Adventures at Wailea’s Four Seasons, when I asked him what type of adventure would be appropriate for my daughters Brooke, 13, and Casey, 10. “Bring them by the beach at 8 tomorrow morning and I guarantee it will be the most fun they have their whole trip.”

First exposed to the world back in James Bond’s Thunderball, DPVs have now come a long way and typically consist of a battery and electric motor encased in a waterproof plastic shell, which power a propeller encased in a safety cage. Nicknamed sea scooters, they offer snorkelers such advantages as expanded range and extended stamina; since you’re not kicking your fins, you can hold your breath longer.

After I briefly explained to the kids what they were in for (“You mean they’re like motorcycles?” asked Casey), we met Phil at the dive kiosk in The Four Seasons, where he outfitted us with wet suits, weight belts, better snorkel gear than our own, and the crown jewel, scooters, which propel you through the water and speeds you’d never reach with your fins. He then had us walk out into the aqua-marine water from the beach where he explained how they worked. Harboring a battery-powered prop in a protected cage and two handles and a throttle you control by hand, you can either place it in front of you and let it pull you, or place it between your legs and let it push you forward.

With that, we took off, zooming away from the beach. “It is like riding a motorcycle, only you’re in the water!” exclaimed Casey as she whizzed past, slowing down over a sea turtle swimming below.

Phil them led us to what he calls a “cleaning station,” where turtles come to let fish clean algae off their shells. In all, we counted 10, twisting and turning with them (but not touching) this way and that thanks to our technological advantage. Indeed, one of their biggest advantages is letting you get farther faster than traditional snorkeling gear allows.

Brooke capably demonstrated another trick you can do with them also; turning her hands, she spiraled down into the water, pausing only to clear her ears. She also mastered the technique of placing the scooter between your legs, which propels you forward while freeing up both hands for steering in front of you a la Superman. The leg technique also frees up your hands for easier ear-clearing when the going gets deep.

After following the massive sea turtles around, we headed over to a reef where we motored down to touch sea anemones and swim among eels, parrot fish, barracuda, lobster and more, the kids diving under, spinning around and coming back up only for air. In fact, if there’s a downside to the apparatus, it’s that they’re so much fun you often forget that, like a sea turtle, you have to resurface for air – and eventually head home for dinner. But Maui Undersea has that covered also; it also offers scooter-assisted scuba trips, which we’ll put on our list for next time.

–Maui Undersea offers PADI scuba certifications, scooter dives and snorkeling, , beginner scuba classes, snorkeling, kayak snorkel tours, paddleboarding, seasonal whale watching tours and more. Info: (808) 268-9631, www.mauiundersea.com

Maui photos: www.philipcothran.com

Posted in: Gear, How To

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