This isn’t an article discouraging Freedive Spearfishing, rather a separation of competitive freediving/freedive training and spearfishing. Together they can be a lethal combination if not respected as separate disciplines and increase the risk of shallow water blackout.
The big difference, and key danger is the rate at which a diver progresses in terms of the depths dived and the duration of dives. Most people of a reasonable fitness are capable of taking a freedive course and diving to a depth of around twenty meters after just two days. Learning to spearfish naturally, listening to the bodys calls for air, it could be 5-10 years before comfortably diving to 20mtrs.
Spearfishing – More than a Breath Hold
Spearfishing information has never been more readily available and publicly shared than in todays YouTube/FaceBook era. A natural side effect of this is a pushing of the boundaries in terms of the fish and the depths they are chased in. There are a number of key factors that contribute to becoming a skilled spearfisher, ordered below:
- Opportunity – Being in the right place at the right time is the most critical factor. Knowing when and were to go is paramount to securing a target species.
- Fish Sense – Knowing how to approach a fish, how to blend into the environment and entice a fish closer without scaring it. Understanding the nuances of each species chased and appling that knowledge in the right situation.
- Diving Skill – Being able to dive well is important, but without the two factors above you might as well be diving in a pool.
Considering this, the focus when learning to spearfish should be on the first two factors, but is often placed on the third. When the end goal is to catch a fish, a fish caught in 2mtrs of water is the same as a fish caught in 20mtrs. Speaking to relatively new spearfishers, a common theme is… I wish I could go deeper. Diving deeper as you progress is fine, but the risk of shallow water blackout increases exponentially when divers feel the need to dive deeper quicker than they are comfortable with and turn to competitive freedive training as a quick fix.
Competitive Freedive Training – Not a Means to More Fish
Competitive freedive training is about training the body to resist it’s urges to breath and relaxing through oxygen debt and the contractions that come with it. Learning to override the natural urges to breath, doesn’t instantly change your physicality. It’s like only ever running your car down to 1/2 a tank of petrol before refueling, then learning that you can pretty comfortably run it down to 1/4 tank without too many dramas. The problem is that we don’t always understand how big the tank is, especially those new to diving and still learning their body’s signs.
The key to Freedive Safety is always having someone watching your back. This however doesn’t translate to spearfishing, where dedicated buddy systems are preached but not always practised and not always practical. While diving deeper might seem like a logical way to catch more fish, in practice deeper diving takes more recovery time resulting in less dives and more opportunity for fish to spot a diver descending. Diving in shallow water and hunting fish more effectively can yield better results.
Spearfishing and Freedive Training Coming Together
A dangerous scenario occurs when someone new to spearfishing with a competitive personality decides they want to dive deeper and try to achieve that through competitive freedive training. New is a relative term, and some people learn to read their body quicker than others. There are a number of ways to train train your body to be comfortable during oxygen deprivation and most can be found online.
What is often overlooked is the consequence of pushing too far… Death.
While it sounds shocking, the sad reality is that pushing the limits of oxygen tolerance leads to a temporary shut down of the brain. During a dive, without immediate assistance this inevitably leads to drowning and death.
While no freediver is immune to the risk of Black Out, this competitive edge to dive deeper, early on in spearfishing is by far the highest risk category.
Freediving courses offer some excellent insight into safe diving practices, so if having read this article and still craving a few more seconds a few meters further down, make sure to get the right advice from trained freedive coaches. Undoubtedly they will have experienced the tragic loss that blackout causes and give the best guidance to avoid it.