Yesterday I took the Spearfishing Class taught by John Dornellas through FII - Freediving Instructors International. (The other big competing freediving company is PFI, which is where I got my Level I Freediving certification last summer. Remember?)
There were five other guys in the class with varying degrees of experience, two incredible instructors, and me. Two of the students were Navy veterans, another a very accomplished spearo looking to gain information to eventually teach the class himself, and the others were talented freedivers looking to apply their breath-holding to the art of spearfishing. It was a group of inspiring people with varied backgrounds, all of whom obviously love the ocean and adventure.
This spearfishing class takes your freediving training and applies it practically to spearfishing, which coincidentally can also be applied in large part to underwater animal photography. I don't have footage of myself with the guns or doing my bad-ass rescues (I saved lives! in practice, anyway) NOR do I have footage of me stalking my pretend prey on the bottom of the pool or performing an ambush. I felt it might be "frowned upon" to try to film myself while also holding a gun underwater. This gives you an idea, though, of some of the handling of the spearguns and the float lines:
While I had retained all of the invaluable rescue techniques learned in the Level I Freediving class, after a year of not having had to apply them I was happy for the refresher. I was also very intrigued by the spearguns, particularly the simple pole spear. You can check them out yourself at the premiere spearfishing shop James & Joseph.
The view of downtown San Diego from outside James & Joseph
The technical details about the guns are fascinating, especially when you consider the physics of firing a projectile under water. Obviously the density of water makes shooting a straight object with any force very challenging. So the guns employ these incredibly strong rubber bands. You didn't think they used gun powder, did you? If so, don't ever admit it.
A Euro Gun in the back, bands unloaded. Drawing of a fish to show humane kill spot.
We also learned that when you're hunting a fish, you're not supposed to look at them directly in the eye. Apparently they look at your eyes to gauge your intent, which is why some manufacturers make masks with mirrored lenses - so fish can't read the intent in your eyes while you hunt them. (Those masks are highly discouraged, incidentally, because then you and your buddy can't communicate underwater with your eyes.)
This was fascinating to me!
I was stalking our "pretend" fish like you might stalk a bird you're hunting, and I was pretty strongly corrected: our second instructor, Nick, explained that a fish would see that stare as very intimidating... much like sea lions, gorillas (surely you've heard that one before?), and yes - people - do. I have employed that bashfulness for years in my dives with sea lions and seals, so this really made sense to me. Here is my latest interaction, from last week, and I can tell you that I did not get this little girl to stick around by squaring off my shoulders to her and having an underwater faceoff!
Not to get too deep into the ethics of hunting and my personal belief that it is a very important part of who we are as animals, but I will say that there were some kindred spirits in that class. People who look at those fish (and many other marine species) with awe and respect. You have to love animals to devote this kind of time to putting yourself in the water with them so frequently. Do yourself a favor and take a look at the video my instructor's brother made of a particular grouper interaction:
This class is highly recommended by me: it not only satisfies any curiosity you might have about spearfishing and how spearguns and hunting underwater works, but much of the knowledge transfers quite nicely to simple underwater photography. Message me with any questions.