.Big Maverick Energy

Aptos’ Bobby Seals is changing the world, one invention at a time

Aptos resident Robert Seals, often called Bobby Seals, with no relation to the famous Black Panther, is a maverick of the highest degree. One timeline has a teenage Seals contemplating the life of becoming a professional skier, and then quickly becoming immersed in the world of the arts, and the tumultuous 1960s.

A passion for metallurgy (Seals is a self-proclaimed “metal wizard”) led to the invention of the Cool Tool (the first multi-tool for mountain bikes), as well as the retrotech bicycle frame (a cruiser bike with modern geometry), plus folding stages and some of the first solar sound stages.

Which led to the invention of the first modern-age, portable, stainless steel drinking container, called the Kleen Kanteen. Which has become a billion dollar industry. But that timeline leaves out the music, the spirituality, the devotion to making the world a better place and, well, the maverickness.

You need a maverick energy to be an inventor. From the Wright Brothers to Thomas Alva Edison, you can find yarns of gruff, prickly and outrageous behavior, and Seals is no different. There are stories about Seals, up in Northern California, that have become legend. Seals challenged a police officer and his horse to a grueling 20-mile run. Seals won. Twice. Or, how about when Seals moved to Santa Cruz in 2012, and built a frightening 14-foot tall sculpture that glared down into his neighbors windows with malevolence? Seals dismembered the structure after dealing with the Santa Cruz Planning Department and other squares. A maverick move.

As far as inventors go, Seals is talked about in the same manner as John Henry. Is he a real human being or just part of the new American folklore? Or both? Recently, Seals has invented a new, safer, drinking container, as well as teaching the youth about the magic of nature. He contains mavericktudes.

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Hey, Hey! It’s the 1960s

Growing up in the very tiny Northern California town of Chester, Seals was skiing down Stover Mountain at three years old. By the time he was a teenager, he was the most accomplished skier in the region. “I was noticed by Sierra College, who at that time had the best ski team in the US,” Seals says. The year is 1966 and a random class in ceramics planted a seed in the young man’s mind. “I fell in love with sculpture. After two years and two national championships, I received a ski scholarship to Utah State. I changed my major to art. After a year, I relocated to Chico and dove into ceramic and welding art,” Seals recalls.

There’s no denying the sheer vital force that Seals harbors in his wiry frame of almost eight decades. Like all good metal, he’s been tempered, time and time again. Back in the later part of the 1960s, there was a divisive war, multiple civil rights movements, and social movements dominating the front page of every paper in America. An extraordinary number of young people, at that time, had a burning desire to do something, anything. “We were always doing interesting protests against the war. We’d hang on crosses that were covered in money, have sex on the administration’s steps, anything to be a general nuisance,” Seals says.

NEXT BIG THING Beverage Safe hits stores in Santa Cruz this summer. Photo: Kathy Staychock

It’s a Tool That’s Cool

You’ve got to remember, Seals was not your average hippie. “During the summers at Chico State, I would fall burning timber. I would actually jump out of helicopters with a running chainsaw, and five gallons of gasoline. Right into the forest fire,” he recounts. This is not a random story. The money Seals earned from that job allowed him to buy some property in the Sierra Nevada hills where he held epic bike trail races. Which led to his first invention. the Cool Tool.

In the early 1980s, there were little cliques of mountain bikers pedaling around Chico, California. Seals built several miles of trails on his property and held races. One day, a little black pouch, full of tools, that sits under every mountain biker’s seat, fell off and was left unclaimed. “Mountain bikes were always in need of repair,” says Seals. “I emptied the bag on my desk. Out fell a crescent wrench with a six-inch iron handle and a chain breaker, with another long handle. And I just started putting the tools through my mini grinder. I cut off everything unneeded. I braised all the parts and put them back together, and that was the birth of the Cool Tool.”

“I received my Cool Tool as a gift in ‘95 or ‘96. It was the perfect multi-tool for the time and such an important part of my tao of teenaged mountain biking that all these years later my mom still remembers it. These days a multi-tool is just something I use on the trail, but back then if I didn’t fix it with my Cool Tool, it meant my bike was heading into the shop.” – bike enthusiast Andrew Major 

Seals sold the Cool Tool to Gerber (the maker of the Leatherman tool, not the baby food), and with that money was set up for what came next.

Time to Change the World

There used to be a time, not that long ago, where if you were thirsty, you would have to find a water fountain or a garden hose. But here in 2024, most people reading this can’t imagine not having their portable stainless steel water container with them. You can thank Seals for that.

“I had gone to see Julia Butterfly Hill speak. She was lamenting about the hormone-disrupting chemical BPA that was inside every plastic water bottle. She was full of passion about how plastic bottles were poisoning humans and the Earth,” Seals recalls. Rushing back to his welding shop/laboratory, Seals began to work on what quickly became the Kleen Kanteen.

It was more than an idea; it was a revolution. Reusable stainless steel water bottles, imitated by numerous companies, became and still are the rage. But according to Seals, it was not exactly the product he wanted to make.

“I worked in the dairy industry back in my early days. All containers had to be mirror finished on the inside. I owned a big water truck I took to disasters, whose interior also had to be FDA approved, and mirror finished,” he recollects.

But he’s not quite satisfied. “Water in a mirror-polished interior seals in the metallic taste. And it’s the only way to get bacteria off,” Seals continues.

“My broker convinced me that if we just electropolish the interior, much cheaper at the time, it would serve the same purpose. It didn’t, it doesn’t and the current world of stainless steel water bottles are very problematic,” he explains. “If you put orange juice in your container, or a smoothie, the liquid is exposed to nickel, the outgasses and the metallic taste,” Seals explains.

Enter Beverage Safe

Seals has recently invented and patented Beverage Safe, a new type of stainless steel water container that doesn’t leach out heavy metals, or hold on to bacteria. While not on the shelves yet, Beverage Safe is doing a slow roll out over the next few months. There’s still product testing to be done and a million other details before the first Beverage Safe hits the stores in Santa Cruz, during this summer. Also, Beverage Safe is a female-owned business.

Beverage Safe owner Kathy Staychock, who did her undergraduate work at UCSC, has been working with Seals since Kleen Kanteen. “I had just gotten back from six months in Colorado, working as a backcountry ranger. I was hearing about how BPA was linked to breast cancer, and all summer long, my plastic water bottle was attached to my hip” Staychock says.

“As soon as I heard the work Bobby was doing, I left graduate school (at CSU) to join him. He would call me every morning before 7am to tell me we need to get Kleen Kanteen on Oprah,” Staychock remembers. After some years passed, Staychock reconnected with Seals in Santa Cruz.

“Bobby never gave up trying to create the original vision that he had of a safe drinking container. Did you know every single tin can or aluminum can that you have, even organic tomatoes, has BPA as a liner? Aluminum is corrosive with acidic content, so it has BPA or, what they call now, a regrettable substitute, which is as bad, if not worse,” Staychock explains.

Staychock has aligned herself, again with a maverick, and the future of Beverage Safe looks good. “I find it appropriate that we reunited in Santa Cruz. We have the best product and Santa Cruz, with its healthy lifestyle, is the best place to launch it,” Staychock says.

And to come full circle, you can see environmental activist Julia Butterfly Hill’s endorsement of Seals, and Beverage Safe, on Seals’ YouTube channel.

The Old Man and the Sea

If you feel like a new stainless steel water bottle isn’t mavericky enough, hold tight. Staychock will be donating part of the profits from Beverage Safe to the nonprofit arm of Seals’ world, Mother Nature’s Temple. And the nonprofit’s current work, and Seals’ newest passion, is helping kids who would never get a chance to get out in the ocean and hang out next to a whale.

Every week, weather permitting, Seals and crew have up to 30 children on Ocean Spirit, a 40-foot long rigid hull inflatable. “It’s the kind the military and the Coast Guard use,” Seals says. And each voyage is accompanied by Maureen Gilbert, who supplies much of the educational component of the voyages. “I’m a marine educator and naturalist,” Gilbert says. “I led trips on the Monterey Bay for 20 years. I volunteered for a long time at the Marine Mammal Center and I also volunteered at the sea lion facility at Cal State.”

Gilbert has a great appreciation of the work that Mother Nature’s Temple does, with Seals at the helm. “To bring underserved individuals out to see the whales and Monterey Bay is incredibly satisfying. We work with one particular agency that specifically puts together outdoor adventures for both adults and children with special needs. Earlier this year we took out a group of children who are hard of hearing. And to watch their faces light up as we headed out of the harbor? Made me cry,” Gilbert says.

So? Is this what big maverick energy looks like in 2024? Making people smile and teaching them about nature? “That’s the reward,” Seal confirms. “We’re just always looking for ways to keep it going. You know, we’re always looking for grants and hope Beverage Safe can keep us afloat.”

Find out more at mothernaturestemple.org and beveragesafe.com.


  1. I witnessed a lot of this growing up with Seals in Chester, going to Chico St with him as well. Never out of ideas, stunts & general over the top energy & enthusiasm, he has landed right where he’s supposed to be. Lifetime friends and way too many stories to tell here. Thanks for taking me on a lot of that ride with you buddy!

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  2. I have known Bob since early Odyssey days we have shared many good times he has always impressed me with his innovative attitude and talent. Too many examples to list but how about taking a new Taylor guitar apart and improving the sound!!! My friend enjoys life so much more living to you Bob.

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  3. If we ever go out on a Fire again I get to wear the pink fingernail polish this time!

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