What's all the fuss about spearfishing?
Freedive spearfishing is the pursuit of stalking and spearing your catch while holding your breath. It can seem completely foreign and slightly insane to people with limited ocean experience. To be honest, it often appears nuts to those with it. Especially watching someone dive into a huge fish workup miles from shore, or handling an occasional visitor with a big toothy grin.
I didn't really get it either, but a few years ago while filming a series called Extraordinary Kiwis, I followed a young woman, Jess Whiddett, into it, and became completely hooked.
Now on the water, there's as much chance I'll be under it as above.
It's a super-interesting paradox — the art of getting your body to conserve oxygen, to slow your heart rate, to zen out. All while putting yourself in an environment that can be an assault on all your senses.
It's also makes fishing a far more even playing field (you're not the top of the food chain for a start) and I can't think of a single dive where I haven't had a decent shot of adrenalin from a "moment".
A lot of spearfishing's beauty is in its simplicity. All you need is a good wetsuit, mask, snorkel, weightbelt and flipper combo, matched with speargun, catch-bag, knife and gloves.
It all fits in one bag and with no bottles to refill, means no heavy gear to lug.
Details such as a leaky mask, ill-fitting wetsuit or the wrong weight can, however, prevent you having a good dive. So spending time figuring what works best for you improves the experience dramatically.
Holding your breath.
The number one question I get asked: "How long for bro?"
And it's a question that doesn't really have one answer. Whereas I can float face down in a pool for more than five minutes, being out in the ocean — with the adrenaline pulsing and the squeeze of pressure from diving deep — alters this significantly.
It's also something you should never, ever compare yourself to others on. The most important safety message to learn is to dive inside your own limits. Not the limits of your mate, not the limit of what you did last summer, but the limit that you have on the day.
For this you need to learn to listen to what your body is telling you (that whole zen thing again). Aspects like having a cold, or even eating meat beforehand can all significantly reduce your ability to utilise O².
How deep bro?
In New Zealand most fish you will encounter are in the top 10m of water. Although I've speared fish at 30m, I can honestly tell you some of my biggest were shallow. I've speared big snapper in 2m of water and my largest kingfish, at 34kg, swam straight up to me at the surface.
The takeaway being — you don't need to be William Trubridge to have a go.
What about sharks?
Although you won't see them often, they do occasionally end up in the equation. Believe it or not they are a positive sign of a healthy ocean — and believe it or not, you get used to them (sort of).
I remember my first encounter resulting in sheer porpoising panic, whereas now my first instinct is to swim at them, to stay big in the water and assert a bit of dominance. We are out there hunting the same thing and almost never each other, but it does take time to learn behaviours. Each type is different, so it's important to understand when to get aggressive and when to back off.
Spearfishing to me has never been about the catch, but about the experience you have being underwater in the incredible marinescapes most Kiwis sadly will never get a chance to see. It's also the most sustainable fishing method you can do, selecting only the fish you want.
For anyone interested there are some great introductory courses run around the country.
Who knows, you may also fall in love with it and perhaps I can show you some of my favourite spots sometime. I can't encourage you enough.