They say necessity is the mother of all inventions, and that’s ever apparent when hearing the story of how the now Comox Valley-based company, AquaQuest, came to be. Curt Coomber, the well-tanned, handlebar moustache sporting, nomadic adventurer who founded AquaQuest in 1994, designed his first piece of waterproof outdoor adventure gear because no one else made a product that fit his needs.
In the days before the internet, wireless networks, and Interac banking, wayward travellers carried cash and paper copies of their airplane tickets, visas, and travel itineraries. While travelling by mountain bike through Central America in the ’80s, Curt had great difficulty keeping those documents dry and secure. He designed the “Aquaroo” and, at the time, it was the first completely waterproof pouch that could be worn against the body to keep personal papers bone dry and out of sight. To this day, it remains one of their best sellers.
In 2009, Curt met Mike Didham, seemingly by fate, after renting a suite from Mike who was living with his young family in Sooke. Didham was a self-professed explorer, lover of good coffee and great beer, held a degree from McGill University, and had a penchant for global sales and marketing. Within 12 months, both Mike and Curt moved to the Comox Valley—chosen for its laidback lifestyle and proximity to outdoor adventure.
Present day, AquaQuest has assembled a local team to handle all sales, service, design, and marketing from their Comox Valley-based office. With recent changes in their marketing, the development of new product lines, and the creation of their ambassador program—that includes ski patroller Fabien Minfray, Quadra Island kayak guide Chris Arends, and island-based National Geographic Adventurer of the year Colin Angus—Aqua Quest is a brand gaining notoriety in the world of outdoor waterproof gear.
They’ve moved beyond the simple waterproof fanny-type pouch to creating tarps, bivy bags, waterproof packs, and stuff sacks to keep all of your gear and clothing dry. Located on the Comox Peninsula, the Aqua Quest office has a view of the glacier and is a short jaunt from the beach.
If there’s one thing this company doesn’t lack, it’s a strong sense of social responsibility on both a local and global scale. The manufacturing of hydrophobic synthetics and waterproof gear has historically been fraught with issues regarding environmental impact of the production of those materials. Curt and Mike both speak of their goal of meeting—and often exceeding—all of the environmental standards required of the countries they export to.
They’ve also chosen to invest a portion of their profits to “1% for the Planet” and redirect those funds to Comox Valley and island-based environmental initiatives with recent donations to marine mammal conservation in Victoria, as well as the Comox Valley’s Project Watershed. Following last year’s earthquake in Nepal, AquaQuest donated several hundred tarps, dry bags, and other items to local paramedic Jason Stevens (owner of “Sew what, I Sew” and CV Collective community partner) to take with him when providing on the ground relief.
Taking my leave, I noticed an absence of the typical corporate grandeur one might expect from an outdoor gear company. In fact, I got the sense that this group of Comox Valley men and women was simply a community of wayward adventurers bent on designing and creating multipurpose packs and waterproof gear for a global collective of travellers, explorers, and pioneers.