Breathe Easy

Snuba takes clients on a trip into the deep

By: Marty Wentzel

During my many years of snorkeling, I have gazed upon spectacular sunken landscapes but always with a sense of detachment. Restricted by lung capacity, I felt like I was merely scratching the surface of the sea. Ready to take the underwater experience to the next level, I signed up for a session with Snuba Tours of Kauai.

A cross between snorkeling and scuba, snuba is the perfect alternative for people who don’t want to spend the time and money getting certified for a sport they might not even like. With snuba, there’s no bulky equipment strapped to your client’s back, so they can swim freely underwater. An air tank floating in a little raft follows them around. Clients breathe courtesy of a mouthpiece attached to the tank by a 20-foot line, allowing them to stay down for a long time without running out of air.

Despite the sport’s impressive safety record, I was a little nervous about taking the plunge.

“That’s completely understandable,” said Kevin Cram, owner of Snuba Tours of Kauai. “All your life you’ve been told that you can’t breathe underwater. Now, I’m saying it’s okay to do so.”

Cram outfitted four of us in masks, fins and regulators and wrapped weights around our waists to help us stay below the surface. Then he and his assistant led us across the street to Lawai Beach, on Kauai’s south shore. Standing in four feet of water, Cram demonstrated the various hand signals that we would use to communicate with each other while diving. He split us into teams of two, each sharing a tank, and helped us feel comfortable breathing in and out of our mouthpieces.

“The amount of time we spend in the water depends on how long we have air in the tanks,” he said. “The more relaxed your breathing is, the longer the air supply will last.”

Cram’s broad smile and ready sense of humor relaxed my jitters. Wearing scuba gear, he brought along an underwater video camera to record our adventure. The first time he handed me some fish food I started to panic as black-and-yellow Moorish idols swarmed me, tickling my fingers as they nibbled away. Once I realized they were after the food, not me, I calmed down and felt like the most popular creature under the sea at least until the food ran out.

As I paddled 20 feet below the surface, the raft followed me above like a guardian angel. The only sound I heard was my breathing, but the sights were a whole different story. Tiny pufferfish darted in and out of cauliflower-shaped coral. Shimmering blue parrotfish swam by me, just inches away. I mingled with an elongated wrasse, a unicorn fish with its distinctive horn and a humuhumunukunukuapuaa, the state fish. We passed around a small safe-to-the-touch urchin and watched a sea cucumber shoot water from its body.

Sometimes Cram’s snuba groups see crabs, lobsters, octopi, turtles, eels and starfish in Poipu’s waters. During one trip, they even encountered a monk seal.

“He wasn’t shy at all,” Cram said. “He just swam right up to the camera.”

After what seemed like mere minutes, Cram led us back to shore.

“We were actually underwater for well over a half-hour,” he said. “It’s amazing how the time flies.”

Our group posed for a farewell scene on Cram’s video, which participants could buy as a keepsake.

Cram and his wife started the snuba franchise on Kauai 16 years ago, and after leading 15,000 dives, he still loves it.

“The groups are always different, which keeps it interesting for me,” he said.

Every year his business has increased, he said, as more people hear about the sport.

“Part of snuba’s appeal is that it’s accessible to anyone from ages 8 and up I’ve taken out an 86-year-old,” he said. “It’s a great family activity and good for all types of clients, because they can go at their own pace. It takes people a little time to get used to the apparatus, but if clients are willing to try it, they’ll love it.”

Indeed, now that I’ve discovered snuba, I may never go snorkeling again.

The Details

Snuba Tours of Kauai
1604 Papau Pl.
Kapaa, HI 96746

The tour cost of $65 per person is commissionable to travel agents.
Tours take place Monday-Friday at 9 a.m., 10:30 a.m., noon and 1:30 p.m.
Clients should bring a swimsuit and towel.
For more information about snuba in Hawaii and around the world, visit (Snuba International).