Water wonder


POSTED: Thursday, March 05, 2009

Necessity may be the mother of invention but, when it came to the ultimate water toy, it was a father's ingenuity that led to the birth of “;AquaBebe.”;

Two years ago, the late Frank Foti sought something that would entertain his 1-year-old at the beach while getting him comfortable with the ocean. Inflatable plastic rings and small kickboards weren't the answer.

Foti, a veteran waterman, turned an old boogie board and rubber bicycle tire tubes into something his son Jaemon loved. Beachgoers who saw it did, too, asking where they could get one.

“;My brother called and said, 'I've got this idea and we need to make them for our kids and everyone's kids,'”; Jim Foti said. “;We've done a lot of R&D (research and development), tested it on our own kids. We know it's safe.

“;It's something I would buy ... And now, we've bought 2,000.”;

That's just the initial container load.

AquaBebe, being marketed as a swim aid, will be on the shelves at Target by this weekend. It's designed for children up to 35 pounds with the goal of turning water babies into lifetime water lovers.

It's also a way to keep his brother's dream alive, Jim Foti said. Frank died of cancer last summer at age 49.

“;It is a legacy, his idea,”; Jim Foti said. “;We hope it's profitable enough that it eventually will benefit his children.”;

The AquaBebe ($29.95) is more than an upscale boogie board. Measuring 21 x 35 inches, the sea-blue device has ocean-inspired graphics — originally sketched by Frank — resembling a treasure map, a pretend steering wheel and a leash so users can be towed around a pool or calm, shallow water.

“;It's simple, but there's so much more to it than kids sitting in and getting their bottoms half wet,”; Jim Foti said. “;They get a feel for the water and are visually stimulated. As they grow older, they can lay on it, grab the wheel and start kicking. As they learn to swim, they can swim to it and grab through the hole in the middle. It's very stable.

“;It also gets them oriented with other sports. They learn being centered and balanced, things inherent to surfing, paddling and other water-related sports.”;

With the Foti name comes instant credibility. The three brothers grew up paddling for Lanikai Canoe Club, with Jim and John recognized as expert steersmen and Molokai Hoe champions.

They've also had success in business through Foti Bros., with John as “;my No. 1 go-to partner,”; Jim said.

AquaBebe is being distributed through their Tonga Trading Co. It is manufactured in China and has tested negative for lead toxins.

It is also available at Kahala Kids, FastStop and on the Web at Foti said he's also had discussions with the Navy Exchange and there is potential for resort sales since it's technically not a boogie board, which is often prohibited in a pool.

“;It's not something you'd buy for just six months,”; Jim said. “;If you take care of it, don't leave it out for the dog to chew or leave it floating in the pool, it's going to last for a couple of years.

“;My sons love it. Even at 2, Castle was saying, 'My Aquabebe .. go beach?'”;