Inventor returns to start of wild ride

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Queenstown may have helped inspire a New Zealand inventor’s successful career designing semi-submersible watercraft for the world’s rich.

California-based Rob Innes is co-owner of the company behind the Seabreacher X, a shark-themed, semi-submersible watercraft that has been operated by Queenstown company Hydro Attack for the past 14 months.

The 41-year-old is visiting the resort for the first time in 30 years, mainly to see for the first time one of his inventions being operated commercially.

He remembered going for his first ride on a jet ski here, and wondered if that is where ”the bug got started” for designing watercraft.

”I was just one of those kids who was always drawing weird and wonderful things when I should have been studying at school. I’ve turned that passion into a livelihood.”

It started 20 years ago in Auckland, where he spent his spare time building experimental craft in his father’s garage while earning a living working for boat-building companies.

In 1997, he founded Innespace Productions in California with American business partner Dan Piazza.

The company now has a staff of 18, and custom-designs and builds high-performance submersible watercraft for wealthy customers throughout the world.

Although it had produced more than 50 Seabreacher craft for private use, Hydro Attack was the first company in the world to operate them commercially, and would take possession of a third craft this month.

Besides the shark-themed Seabreachers used by Hydro Attack, Mr Innes had produced craft shaped as dolphins, orca, sailfish, fighter planes and spaceships – all to satisfy the whims of the ”niche clientele” prepared to pay the US$80,000-plus price tag.

He had also invented and developed the Jetovator, a water jetpack that allowed the user to fly above the water.

The market for such craft was ”surprising good” given the global economic slump of recent years, but it had yet to make him rich, he said.

The company was profitable and its global brand was growing, ”but no-one gets into boat-building to get rich”.

”It’s partially my fault – I live in a constant state of dissatisfaction, and put all my profits into new products.

”The great thing is that it’s a work in progress – every new boat is an evolution of the last one.”

– Otago Daily Times