I have always had an affinity for Africa. Ever since I was a kid, I have wanted to visit the mysterious continent. My first trip was to South Africa with a few of the guys, Yosh, Alex, Davey Williamson and our manager Eric, and it was the trip of a lifetime. Since then, I have been to Africa more than 10 times and learned to really enjoy the people and cultures in each section of the continent. While some aspects can be a bit dodgy, the place is magical.
Yes, Spearfishing, another obscure hobby of mine.
I had taken up spearfishing a few summers ago in San Diego as a hobby. I am not much of a hunter and I honestly don’t like killing anything, I don’t even like to kill spiders. I guess I have no problem swatting mosquitos and flies, but other than that, I really don’t like unnecessarily hurting anything. This is where my hypocritical sense or reasoning steps in; I do, however, feel that with spear fishing, I am putting myself on the fish’s level. I am diving deep into a cold dark world, without any air tanks. My lack of gills, combined with my need for oxygen makes the hunt a bit more balanced, right? The feeling of taking a single breath, and going underwater without knowing what lurks below is both terrifying and exhilarating. There is a sense of euphoria that you get when you dive down and push yourself to your body’s limits. That sense is heightened when you come up for air and a slight tingle comes over your body. That is caused by your mammalian dive reflex and what is called vasodilation. Essentially your body is cutting off blood flow to non-essential parts of your body to keep itself alive. No big deal really, just standard honestly. Either that or it’s nitrogen narcosis, which is a bit more dodgy. But hey, I am still here and I have a hell of a story left to tell. Basically, I have to manage my breathing, or lack thereof once I dive, or I may end up dead or blacked out several hundred miles from anything that resembles civilization.
I first spotted this Goliath lurking around towards the bottom, around 60 feet below. At that depth, and my skill level, this was a multi dive hunt, I knew that I had to push myself much further outside of my comfort zone. During each of my dives, I had to find the grouper over again as it slowly lurked along the sea floor and in-between the pylons of the oil rig above. I knew I was pushing my limit, but with each dive I was able to stay down just a little bit longer and dive just a little bit deeper. Every time I broke the surface of the water, I was gasping for air. I would calm my heart rate down and breath in and out to oxygenate my lungs again and do it all over. Then, when I was about 55 feet down, about 50 seconds into my dive, and ready to turn back to the surface to do it all over again, out of the corner of my eye I caught a glimpse of the grouper about 15 feet away. It blended in with the backdrop, almost perfectly camouflaged. I knew that I should surface, my lungs were starting to burn; however, I did not want to lose this fish. I knew that my body could take a little more, I knew that the feeling in the back of my throat was my dive reflex kicking in and alerting my brain that my body’s carbon dioxide levels are rising. I ignored this very common first response reflex and pressed on. I knew that, with a fish of this size, I would have to be very accurate with my shot or it would take off. If that happened, I would either have to drop my gun, or risk drowning in order to fight the Goliath. I swam over, close enough to stare directly in the eyes, and I took my shot! It was not a perfect shot, as my spear pierced it just under the eyes, which was just below the sweet spot. I held on tight and flew to the top like my life depended on it! It was a dizzying ascent; my heart was racing with a mix of excitement and fear. With every muscle in my body aching, and my lungs feeling like they were ready to explode, I swam to the surface, fighting the huge fish as I headed towards the surface. The sheer strength that a fish that size has when underwater was incredible. It was in it’s own environment, I was not, and I was not sure who would win this battle.
I was kicking as hard as possible, seeing the surface become closer and closer. My lungs were on fire, my fingers were starting to tingle and become numb, that dizzying euphoria had set in. Even when I breached the surface the grouper was fighting me, frantically swimming in every direction to get away. My friends had started to worry about me, as I had been down much longer than any of the previous times, even though they had eyes on me the entire time. They started to swim towards me to aid in the fight. I tried not to show any panic, pretending that I was totally at ease and well able to handle this daunting task. The Goliath fish was a bleeding and thrashing several feet below me, pulling me under again and again. I had a reel on my gun, but the line had become tangled within the pylons below. To top it off, the tension control on the reel of the gun was not working properly, and with the blood in the water, I had a thought, sharks…