Snuba comes to Costa Rica

April 8, 2014

In the waters surrounding Catalina Island off the northern Pacific coast, divers can encounter giant schools of neon-colored fish, octopi, manta rays and even sharks. Most who have seen sea life like this in the wild has done so with a giant tank strapped to their backs, a wet suit squeezing their limbs and hours of training under their belts. But a new dive shop near Tamarindo is now offering an easier way to get under the water: snuba diving.

Blending the ease and safety of snorekeling with the below-the-surface exploration of scuba diving, snuba divers can reach depths of 25-30 feet while breathing from long hoses attached to oxygen tanks at the surface. Though the word snuba sounds like a fusion of snorkel and scuba, snuba is actually its own acronym, standing for surface nexus underwater breathing apparatus.

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Snuba has been around for about 20 years, but this month SNUBA Costa Rica opened its doors, becoming the first SNUBA operator in Costa Rica. 

“We are definitely excited about being in Costa Rica,” said Kyle Mayfield, SNUBA’s director of water operations and safety. 

Like so many before him, Michael Wunderlich came to Costa Rica and fell in love with scuba diving. He was already an experienced diver, but during his first dive off Costa Rica’s shores he swam with giant manta rays. On ever dive after, he saw just as many incredible creatures.

“I decided I was going to stay here and try to make a living in the water,” he said.

Wunderlich had tried snuba in Hawaii and, after some research, decided to open a snuba franchise. He convinced his Costa Rican partner, Paula Saenz, to join the project and the two moved out to the Tamarindo area in the northwestern province of Guanacaste last December. After months of practice runs, the co-owners began taking customers out last week.

Unlike scuba diving, snuba requires no training or experience. Anyone eight years or older who knows how to swim can do it.

“If you can snorkel you can snuba,” Wunderlich said. “If you are 90 years old and have the spirit to do snuba, you can do it.”

In the 20 years since its invention, snuba divers have never reported a serious dive-related injury. The depth limits in snuba eliminate the most dangerous risks associated with diving, like the decompression sickness and lung expansion. Divers do not exceed one bar of pressure while underwater, making the sport about as safe as walking on land.

SNUBA Costa Rica is a full dive shop, also offering scuba and snorkeling so families with different dive preferences can still dive together.

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Rafts floating on the surface provide oxygen to snuba divers.


Lindsay Fendt

Going there: All of SNUBA Costa Rica’s dives leave from Playa Flamingo, a 20-minute drive north of Tamarindo and an hour drive from the Liberia airport. Tours include transportation to and from Tamarindo. A one-tank snuba dive is $95 per person and a two-tank dive is $135 per person.

Phone: 8523-3649, 8864-0742

Website: www.snubacostarica.com

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