Big Game Underwater

The ocean’s latest deadly predator swims quietly and carries a big spear.
“Our sport is one of aloneness. While you may have buddies on a boat or the beach you are totally on your own when you step into the blue. I have spent many days in the water and seen my partners once or maybe twice during the day,” says Larry Carter, president of the International Underwater Spearfishing Association (freediver.net).

Carter, a former chief of police and regular contributor to Hawaii Skin Diver

Magazine, is a blue water, breath-hold “spearo” or underwater hunter, part of a small but growing tribe of ocean predators whose international competitions are so harrowing they frequently result in death.

“What sense does it make that a simple man with all his frailties can get in a boat, travel hours out into the middle of the ocean, jump into the never-ending blue armed with something not much advanced from a bow and arrow and chase down Charlie Tuna – who swims at 60 mph, has no breath-hold limits and can dive hundreds of feet – and still be successful in his capture? This challenge is very narcotic,” says Carter.

A skilled spearo, practicing restraint and mindful of hunting regulations, will often take only one fish for every eight hours of diving or one or two fish during a weeklong trip.

“I’m not a crazed killer with a lust for blood. I would no more go on a hunting trip and shoot Bambi than stick a needle in my eye,” says Carter.

There are three types of divers: competitors, who shoot small reef fish in monthly contests; game fishers, hoping to land a deep-water game fish; and big game hunters, who travel to exotic locales looking for the spectacular catch.

“Where there are trophy fish, there are, of course, giant sharks chasing the trophy fish. The big game hunter jumps into the briny blue and happily becomes the hunter being hunted. That’s what makes his bell ring! …Around the next kelp stalk your prize fish might wait or your worst nightmare. It’s very clear to all so-called ‘accomplished’ divers that when you enter the depths you have become an immediate part of the food chain,” says Carter, who has suffered punishing personal loss along the way.

“My very good friend, the person who taught me everything I know about the sea, was taken by a white shark.”

Shallow water blackout claims both novice and world-class divers each year.

“Fighting a fish in open water or a cave or simply overstaying your time results in the diver passing out, generally just as he approaches the surface, sometimes even after he reaches the surface. The brain is so robbed of oxygen he passes out and drowns. Even if he took a breath, it’s too late; the body chemistry is set. Nasty stuff,” says Carter.

Gone Fishing:

“I recently took a 40-something, competitive open-ocean swimmer and a 15-year-old girl with normal athletic ability diving. The male was very uncomfortable and saw a shark behind every shadow. The girl, totally fearless in very deep water, speared a fish that was larger than she was. It’s 90 per cent mental and 10 per cent physical,” says Carter, who recommends the following to get started:

-Consult the Internet. Find a local dive club and attend meetings. Go to a dive shop and ask questions.
-Dive with others and learn all you can from them.
-In deep water there are heavy currents that can be life-threatening, so strong, dependable legs are critical. Cross train — run, lift weights, do leg extensions and kicking exercises during swim workouts.
-Dive, dive, dive.
-Practice breath-holding under the supervision of a qualified person able to respond immediately. “You need somebody who can handle your bodyweight and get your hulk out of the water and be able to bring you back,” says Carter
“The beauty of the ocean is unsurpassed…” says Carter. “The sun streaming down through the kelp forest as you cruise silently through the ‘trees’ is very church-like. Certainly no stained glass window of any church has emitted a more religious, peaceful and serene light.”