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Spearfishing and Freediving – Dont Mix

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 HoldIMG_1818

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.iIMG_1926

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.IMG_3190

13 thoughts on “Spearfishing and Freediving – Dont Mix

  1. The problem with freediving is that most of the prep and training is for a single effort where as Spearfishing revolves around many efforts. People wanting to dive deeper and deeper as Spearos is often a substitute for poor fish skills rather then a need to do it.
    Don’t get me wrong I love the feeling from diving deep but Simon and I teach our students that depth is certainly not the key to shooting more fish and to be perfectly honest you can shoot just about anything in 15 or less.
    All the knowledge around now days for Spearos can be attributed mainly to freedivers wanting to understand more about their body’s and how to go deeper in one effort. They are sprinters we are marathon runners , that should be remembered. Listen to your body not your watch.
    Spearfishing is a journey that should be enjoyed, take your time enjoy the ride and most of all remember there’s no fish in the ocean worth dieing for.

    1. Well said Andrew…too many young guns are focusing on reaching extreme depths (you see their posts often with dive watch pic attached) and consequently SWB seems to be on the rise. You are also correct in saying most species can be taken within 15 metres and much shallower. Additionally unlike a freediver who focuses on his dive alone a spearo by the nature of their task is often faced with a multitude of unexpected senarios such as being caught up in line, sharks attacking their kill, and a host of other things which can quickly make a safe dive into a very dangerous situation….dive safe, live longer!

  2. Good article mate, spot on.
    In my opinion and experience, freedive training can make you a much better diver however if the person with these increased abilities uses unsafe diving practices such as diving alone and pushing their limits then it definitely increases their chance of death.

    One story of some guys I know – where these young blokes were training hard, diving deep, spearfishing hard and coming up with good fish – they had a buddy system and used it religiously – one day, one guy made a mistake on a deep dive and went back down for a large fish when he was already on his way up – he shot the fish – HE BLACKED OUT – his buddy was watching and dived down and brought him up before it caused him any damage.

    People make mistakes – this one guy made one but at least, because he practiced safe diving protocols with his mate, he has a chance to never make that mistake again.
    Some divers don’t get that second chance and that is the most important message that freedive trained Spearos need to hear over and over again and hopefully listen to the advice given.

  3. Couldnt agree anymore with this article. Well written and thought out. Spearfishing is the most extreme form of Freediving due to the many factors that come into play (amount and use of spearfishing equipment, current, bottom structure, fish, weighting and the list goes on). Fish sense comes from years of diving and so should depth.

  4. of course there is different between spear fishing and free diving, but they strongly meet each other in some aspects and no one can deny this!
    so lets see what the is the common aspects between spearfishing and free diving :

    1: if you learn how to free dive you will learn all the safety aspects about free diving which is number ONE main concern.

    2: if you learn how to free dive you will learn how to understand your body and your limit!

    3: you will learn the right tec of fining and right way of duck diving which you will safe energy and oxygen by doing so, example if you learn how to duck dive in the right way you can immerse in the water down to 3.5 meters with no fining! which will safe oxygen and will allow the spearo to perform a longer bottom time, how to look after your gear, not including (spear guns).

    4: if you learn free diving then you will be taught how to relax and perform smooth quite dives which will help a lot to catch some type of fish plus when you are relaxed you will safe more oxygen and once again longer bottom time!

    5: you will learn the system of pairs which will help you to know how to dive with other spearos!

    6: training for free diving and spearfishing, they are pretty much the same, the one training that will help spearos alot is CO2 tables which will give them the ability to take a short recovery time between dives.

    7: the list goes on guys!


    now what is the different what you do not learn from free diving:

    1: well you do not learn how to hunt a fish! that is why if any spearos want to do a free dive course, they better of do it with an instructor who is into spearfishing, as the instructor will pass more info about spearfishing.

    2: you will not learn how to look after your speargun and same thing again the spearo must look for an instructor who is into spearfishing and got some experience in it.

    3: I have seen people who only dive for 2 – 3 months performing a 20 meters dives! well guess what guys there is some people who are gifted! they are just good at it! the only concern about this is adopting the body to the pressure and to the free diving which is once again you will learn this from free diving.

    In the end of the day it is everyone has got a different opinion and they are all respected and heard by others,and that is why spearfishing and free diving always related?

    Still there is some people who do take free diving courses and they can end up injuring themselves, injury will always accrue if you push it over your limits!

    and you do not need to spend years to do a 20 meters dive!! really you do not need so! if you learn how to free dive you will be able to reach you goals faster than learning on your own!

    one last thing regard blackout, anyone can black out in shallow water or deep water if they push it over the limits! you can get a lungs squeeze at shallow dives.

    so please try to consider all the things i have said because it do not make sense to try to separate free diving from spearfishing because of the reasons you mentioned.

    Dive safe and enjoy the blue 😀

    Ayman Abdin

    Apnea Academy Instructor and Trainer

    1. Hi Ayman,
      Great to have your feed back.

      I think you might have miss interpreted the point of this article a little.

      Certainly there is a lot to be gained understanding more about freediving physiology, but taking this and applying it to spearfishing without experience and proper instruction leads to accidents. Which are too often fatal.

      Encouraging new divers to go and practice tables, is reckless. Sure if a diver is sensible its fine, but when they decide to push the limits or something unexpected happens it’s a ticking time bomb.

  5. Re: Ayman
    Hey I believe you are misunderstanding what you are reading. The author didn’t say practicing freediving won’t be beneficial to your spearfishing. He is just saying they are different sports. You should be able to understand and accept that since you also stated if you want to learn about spearfishing find a freediving instructor that is also a spearfisherman.

  6. Louis,

    Do you have any statistics to back your opinion up? For example:

    Deaths of spearos having taken a freediving course vs. Deaths of spearos who haven’t

    1. Hi John,

      As I’ve said to a few people, this is an opinion piece and as such should be taken as such. If anyone has stats I’d be interested to see them. There have been a number of spearfishing deaths in recent years here in Aus which have guided my views but really one death is too many…

      The aim of this article was to discourage new divers from pushing limits, and encourage them to spend more time building up their skill and enjoying their diving in small steps.

      1. Ok, because my opinion is that experienced spearos die from swb, not newbies. If your opinion is valid and my is also valid then we may as well come to the conclusion that if you are a spearo, you are risking death regardless of freediving courses or experience.

  7. I have argued the point many times. Pure freedivers are so performance minded they don’t even use snorkels…. if this doesn’t tell you something about the lack of interest for what lies below nothing will.
    To people who wish to get into spearfishing I suggest underwater hockey. I find hockey people make the best spearfishermen. They have the sort of cardio required for multiple dives in less than optimal conditions, while pure freedivers spend way too much time on the surface before going down, and then they make dangerous breatholds to impress their partners.
    Moreover, for spearfishing competitors, which I am, the main goal is to spend less time on the surface… not more on the bottom. So for all their performance oriented habits, pure freedivers don’t even make good spearfishing competitors.

  8. I am with JOHN. Writing something like this and then saying it’s an opinion piece when questioned is kinda lame IMHO. There are many experienced freediving spearos that can’t comment here because they are dead!
    Unless you are staying on the surface with a snorkel in your mouth picking off fish from the surface then you are freediving every time you go for that fish below. Doing it without training will kill the most experienced spearo no matter how good they are at “listening to the bodys calls for air” as you call it. That is a flawed theory by the way. I would say it’s insulting to all the great spearos who have died in the past. They didn’t die because they were hard of hearing…. They died because they were pushing it as they had done hundreds of times (without training) and just spent an extra bit of effort that day, stayed a few seconds longer on the dive, didn’t have that extra bit of water before the dive, had that extra beer the night before, or cleared the snorkel a bit too hard in the choppy seas before the dive…. IT’s not just newbie inexperienced freediving spearfishers who’ve done courses that are perishing. Get some facts and stats and come back.

    1. Hi Eli,
      Thanks for the comment. I certainly wouldn’t claim that no experienced spearos have ever died after SWB nor that SWB is a sign of inexperience. I also have respect for those that have lost their lives underwater. My post is not directed at experienced spearos, it is targeted at inexperienced spearos who are looking to push deeper using freediving methods and training.
      We can all stand around beating our chests claiming how good and experienced we are at diving, but at the end of the day we are all susceptible to blackout. There has, however been a trend here in Australia that I have tried to address in this post. Even if it was only one life lost, I think it would be worth addressing so stats are irrelevant to the point being made.

      There is a distinction between pure freediving and spearfishing, I’m just trying to make that point.

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