While kayaks and paddleboards float down Barton Creek on a sunny afternoon, members of Snorkel ATX dive into the water’s depths alongside schools of bass and sunfish.
Established by biochemistry senior Neil Klenk, computer engineering senior Chris Hogue and UT alumnus Yousef Okasheh, Snorkel ATX offers patrons in the Austin area an opportunity to investigate the alligator turtles, catfish and other underwater life in Barton Creek. For $25 per person, or $18 for Groupon users, Snorkel ATX offers one-hour tours of Barton Creek for intimate groups of up to five people.
“This whole project started with the three of us taking up snorkeling on a whim this summer and being completely blown away by the amount of wildlife we observed in Barton Creek’s crystal clear waters,” Klenk said.
After presenting their new snorkeling spot to their peers during the summer, Klenk and his partners decided to make some money sharing their new hobby. In order to ensure the quality of the tours, Klenk, Okasheh and Houge lead each one themselves, although they hope to eventually expand enough to hire and properly train employees.
Snorkel ATX’s opened shop Sept. 4, and its first weekend was met with success that exceeded the founders’ expectations, averaging seven tour groups per day from Friday to Sunday. Although Okasheh said they were expecting their first weekend to be riddled with technical difficulties, the founders were pleasantly surprised by how smoothly each tour went.
“We were really pleased with the turnout,” Okasheh said. “But the interesting part is that our clientele base is currently 100 percent tourists. While it is awesome that people outside of the Austin area are hearing about us, we would love for our business to gain popularity among Austin residents as well.”
San Antonio resident Nicole Williams, one of the first tourists to snorkel with the group, said she was taken aback by how beautiful the depths of Barton Creek are. Klenk said he and the other two guides try to build positive relationships with their customers through their sense of humor and playful demeanors. While conducting the tours, they make a special effort to treat their clients simply as friends they invited out for a day of snorkeling.
Klenk said the goal for Snorkel ATX this year is to become a well-established business in Austin before he and Houge graduate. They haven’t ruled out expanding to other cities.
“We still do not really know what is going to happen with all of this,” Klenk said. “If we find additional clear spots that prove ideal for snorkeling, we have no problem bringing our business to them. For right now, we’re just having fun. We will see where it goes from here.”