By Julio Poletti
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
When babies are born, most parents spend a whole lot of time trying to get them to say ‘mama’ and ‘dada,’ or some variation of the two. However, for a very young family in Riviera Beach, the challenge has been to teach their 15-month old son, Koa, the word ‘shark.’
“Whenever he sees one of my shark pictures hanging up in the house or at the office, I make sure he says the word ‘shark’,” says Koa’s dad, Ryan Walton as he sits on the bridge of a 40-foot charter in the Atlantic.
No surprise here. Walton, 27, and Amber Boutot, 29, share such a passion for protecting the big blue that they’ve made the task their daily responsibility.
This couple, along with other partners, owns ‘Deep Obsession Charters’ in Lake Park, a professional diving facility and charter operation. They hope that their son Koa becomes educated on marine life from an early age so that he can teach other kids that sharks aren’t what the media has made them out to be.
“Kids are really what the future of our oceans depend on: a new mentality and a new perception that, moving forward, wants to protect the ocean,” says Walton.
Boutot says owning a dive charter has been a dream of hers and Walton’s. They want to be able to show people the ocean and what’s in it. She believes that there’s much more for people to understand than just fish and scuba diving — there’s ecotourism. And they want Koa, especially, to understand this.
“The dive community is such a great community to be raised in. Everybody is so nice,” says Boutot from their tank room in Lake Park. “You’re not going to become rich in the dive community, but it’s really about doing what makes you happy.”
Koa might only be 15 months old, but he’s already assisting Dad with the tank valves, packing the food for the dive tours and helping Mom run the administration and front counter. When he’s tired, he simply lays on the floor and eats a banana. It’s a lot of responsibility for such a young pup, but his efforts have been widely appreciated.
“Customers love him. He’s learning so much too. He’s very inquisitive — it is amazing,” says mom.
Educating divers for a living is a cause very dear to Walton and Boutot. Every time they set sail, they see how humans are treating the world below. The couple says the ocean is being abused from the littering and fishing lines to the commercial fishing — something that Walton takes very seriously as he leads his Diving with Sharks tours.
“We’re in charge of protecting [the ocean] and that’s why I feel my role is so important now,” says Walton. “We need to do everything we can to educate people and try to stop the slaughter of an animal that means so much to our ocean’s ecosystem.”
While Walton and the divers get to scuba out in the ocean with huge species such as lemon and tiger sharks, sea turtles and stingrays, back in the shop Koa keeps learning the basics of running a business with mom and enjoying the life he’s been born into.
For extra credit, Koa gets to watch Mom make photo illustrations where he’s often the feature — in the ocean of course.
“Koa is a great kid. He’s energetic, and the coolest part is that he’s involved in everything that we do. As he grows up I’m going to have him out on the boat and just seeing and hearing the interactions with the sharks,” says Walton.
What: Obsession Charter Dives
Where: 216 Federal Highway Lake Park, FL 33403
Contact: (561) 360-4574
Note: Call for dates and reservations.