AUSTIN (KXAN) — Robert Weiss likes being a superhero.
That’s how his wife describes her husband’s passion for scuba diving. And Weiss doesn’t shy away from that description, either. On Lake Travis, there are plenty of people who need a hero after what was supposed to be a fun day on the water takes an unfortunate turn.
“I got a cape and I like to put on my cape,” he said. “You get to go out, you get to be hero to somebody.”
In reality, that cape is a dry suit, worn by divers like him to keep the cold and water out.
So who are those who need his help? As people come out by the thousands on hot summer weekends to party and have a good time boating on the lake, they’re the ones who fail to properly store their phones, keys, rings, sunglasses and more.
“We’ve collected over $200,000 each year of things in the lake,” he said.
Those items have included Rolex watches, cars and even a plane.
“One of the most unique finds was we got called out by the sheriff to help a guy [who] dropped his prosthetic leg off his dock,” he said.
More often than not, though, Weiss said it’s a phone or sunglasses: thousands and thousands of sunglasses.
Missing swimmers in a Texas lake
Weiss started his company Lake Travis Scuba in 2007 and spends most of his days on the lake. His 30-foot-long pontoon boat moored at a Volente boat slip is packed with air tanks and scuba gear.
Normally he takes out amateur divers looking to discover some of the many mysteries below Lake Travis that are unreachable when diving from the shore.
But there are times when the diving takes on a more urgent purpose, and only the most technically-gifted divers with advanced certifications are allowed. Weiss has personally helped recover three different bodies from within the lake. It’s a responsibility he doesn’t take lightly.
“The first time it happened, that we found the body, it can kind of take your breath away for a quick moment,” he said.
Families will reach out after their loved ones disappear, hoping to hire private help if the Travis County Sheriff Department Dive Team has been unsuccessful in its search.
Weiss is certified to dive to depths of 165 feet. That’s 65 feet deeper than the deputy divers are allowed to go.
While it can be unnerving to be feeling underwater in almost zero visibility, and realize you’ve touched a body, Weiss said he’s able to detach from the eerie circumstance.
“You just kind of disassociate with the fact that it’s a body,” he said. “You realize you’re down there doing a job.”
Once the body is found, the diver will secure them with a line so that they can be brought back up.
“The families will ask us what our cost is for doing a search. We don’t charge for this,” he said. “How do you put a price on that, when you’re really helping somebody get closure versus waiting day after day after day?”
“The Wake: Secrets of Lake Travis” premieres Monday, May 29th on KXAN.com. You can watch it on KXAN at 4:30pm and The CW Austin at 7:00am and 9:30pm.