When Thomas “Doc” Rowe told people almost 30 years ago that he wanted to build a bionic dolphin, people thought he was crazy.
The young surfer dreamed of sitting in a mechanical capsule that would move in and out of waves just as a dolphin does.
The concept recently made waves — literally — around the world when one of the bionic dolphins, built by Doc’s protégé Rob Innes, appeared at a New Zealand expo named “Big Boys’ Toys.”
The dolphin, described by Doc as the world’s first underwater flying machine, attracted a huge amount of media interest during a test drive around Auckland harbor, in New Zealand.
It has also appeared in the Austin Powers’ film “Goldmember.”
Since then, Doc has been inundated with queries from people around the globe wanting to share the dolphin dream.
The Californian, who still surfs when he gets the chance, told CNN that the road to fulfilling his dream had been a challenging one — at one stage he even sold his beloved surfboard to help fund the original prototype.
Work on the first Bionic Dolphin, or Variable Attitude Submersible Hydrofoil (VASH), began in 1988 and was completed in 1992.
“I have spent my whole life surfing, diving and water skiing. Using that experience and love of water, along with my knowledge in aeronauticals … They just went together,” he said.
“I wanted to make something to ride in that would do the things dolphins do. It’s buoyant and light and pulls itself under water with its wings.”
Doc no longer has the first prototype, after it was passed on to an investor. That business relationship failed and Doc has never regained possession of it.
Instead, he has worked with Innes to build the dolphin that appeared in Auckland recently. Another two of the submersible watercrafts are still in production, including a two-seater model, which will have a 400hp engine.