Friends with Benefits… Dive benefits!
I tell ya what, the thought of getting into spearfishing as an entry level free diver/glorified snorkler AND being a woman was extremely intimidating. However, with a few key factors I have ended up progressing on a glorious journey into a new passion that my friends and family would argue has now become quite an obsession.
Like most people who get into any form of diving, I’ve always had a love, fascination, and respect for the ocean and everything that calls it home. Scuba diving is fun but also a bit too loud and constricting for my liking so as soon as I experienced free diving I never really looked back. Spearfishing came about after I gave up eating seafood unless it was sustainably caught... which I quickly realised is extremely difficult to find unless you hunt it yourself. Spearfishing was pretty much the answer to that! You can imagine though, for a single gal looking to get into a hobby that is very much male dominated, that this was all rather daunting. All the dive shops are run largely by guys, everyone who was willing to take me out and under their wing were guys, everyone who was on call to answer my never ending questions were, you guessed it, guys! So naturally the next steps were to find a gal pal (cue Victoria), join the Auckland Free Dive Club, and just get stuck in. So that’s what I did. After joining the club I picked up my ovaries and charged into the dive shops equipped with some diving jargon like “viz was about 7meters”, “yea nah only bloody rat kingies”, “yea just started doing my tables”. I quickly realised that the free diving and spearfishing community is a very inclusive and friendly one! The guys and Ocean Hunter and Wettie have been outstanding, and the members at the Auckland Free Dive Club are so so welcoming. What next though...
Now, as a newbie/wanabe “spearo” paired with my gal recruit, you would think we had it sorted. We don’t need no man! Wrong, kind of. Learning to dive WELL and spearfish at the same time was proving to be more difficult than first anticipated. I’m all for being an independent woman, girl power, mana wahine and all that, but what I really needed was an experienced teacher, or mentor if you will. Finding a dive and spearfishing guru who is also a woman unfortunately in the current diving climate, was not easy.... Insert Sam. Sam, Sam, Sam, and old acquaintance you could say, avid free diver and spearo, pretty much has gills, lives and breathes all things ocean related. This fish has lived away from NZ for almost a decade cruising the seas on various super yachts as a salty sea chef (I know right, one of them....we get it, your cultured). So after a few slippery little Instagram DM slides and a bit of diving banter it appeared that this specimen would be arriving back on Aoteroa’s shores, how very convenient! Unbeknown to him, upon arrival Sam quickly filled this role as my freedive/spearo mentor. It was perfect. Like Bonnie and Clyde, Nelly and Kelly, Paul Walker and Jessica Alba (you know, from that movie). Renee, Sam, the ocean, and a few targeted casualties, sacrificed sustainably to nourish the body and soul. Finding an energetic, ocean frothing, diving obsessed counterpart who has the patience to support and teach a newbie a skill or 12, combined with the eagerness to go on an adventure at the drop of a hat, was probably the most important part of this journey. I can not recommend more for anyone getting into this, to find yourself that person, leach every bit of information out of them, and jump on any opportunity to head out into the big old blue as you can.
Making the most of it
So now that we have a mentor, basic skills, and energy for an adventure let’s get out there! Plotting and planning, forever trawling through satellite images of coast line after coast line, and endless “what about here!?”, “this looks good” “there’s a boat ramp right there!” was part of the fun. We dreamt up an adventure which took us plowing through the ocean surrounding the east coast of the north island aboard a JetSki equipped with all things spearfishing. We would survive only on what we hunted and gathered, kelp salads, snapper bites, a kingie and cray fish banquet. Perfect viz would provide this bounty, with sunny, warm conditions. We would camp by the beach and go back to the basics. As many ocean based adventures go... absolutely nothing went to plan. When variables as sensitive as weather, visibility, boat ramp access, and ocean vessel mechanics, are thrown in the mix it’s quite easy to see how plans may “change”. Our jetski turned into a dodgy inflatable dingy which at one point ran out of petrol and started to deflate. Thankfully old mate Sam had enough power left to row us back to safety. Surviving only on what we hunted and gathered may also have been a stretch of the truth (I just can’t say no to snacks, wine, and beer). Our pristine weather and viz predictions proved to be marginally accurate... And our simple camping set up ended up becoming a fully kitted out camper van complete with wifi and a projector screen for Netflix! As for coastline access of course our pre-sited boat ramps via satellite images happened to be on private property. This might have turned the usual contender off, especially in the remote areas of Northland and the Coromandle that we were exploring! However, with some honest kiwi banter and the promise of some post-dive kingie currency we managed to win over the hearts of the locals and take advantage of these access points.
Despite not going to plan, with a positive attitude and flexibility to adapt to any situation, what did come to fruition was a beautiful showcase of good old kiwi hospitality as well as some amazing diving spots which in the end produced some outstanding kai moana.
Until next time
I may only be at the level of a kahawai gut shot but you’ve got to start somewhere right. I can assure you snooping snapper and kingie kill shots are next on the list. For any ladies out there thinking about giving it a nudge, just go for it! I hope that one day I can be that mentor for future spearfisher women. Connect with the community, join a club, find your mentor, dive within your limits and always with a buddy, and obviously have fun!