Into The Deep (With No Air)

Undeterred by the death of the sport’s most accomplished diver in a tournament two years ago, freedive spearfishing is drawing a growing number of participants into the deep blue sea

Melissa Moniz
Friday - May 26, 2006
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Sterling Kaya on his three ono day
Sterling Kaya on his three ono day

It’s easy to see why spearfishing is becoming increasingly popular in Hawaii - what’s not to love about a sport that lets you swim with the ocean’s most beautiful creatures, strengthens you mentally and physically and puts food on the table?

“Nothing relaxes me more than just swimming to the bottom and looking at the fish,” says Travis Kashiwa, 2004 Team Spearfishing national champion and International Bluewater Spearfishing Records Committee and International Underwater Spearfishing Association world record holder for the white ulua (144.2 pounds). “It’s the ultimate stress-reliever.”

The challenge, the adrenaline, the intensity, the beauty, the gratification and the camaraderie are just a few of the reasons why most divers take every opportunity to get in the water. Spearfishing tests the mind and body and forces the diver to learn how to challenge nature, but also be a part of it.

Travis Kashiwa with his world-record ulua
Travis Kashiwa with his
world-record ulua

“I love this sport because there are so many facets to it,” says Jason Hijirida, 2004 Team Spearfishing national champion. “First and foremost, the mental aspect of diving is a test of your will and mind strength because you have to learn to fight the urges to breathe. Also if you swim out very far, you have to swim all the way back in and there is no giving up.”

Spearfishers generally dive about a mile offshore and, for the most part, they usually swim. However, kayaks and boats are sometimes used in diving tournaments and when the distance is much farther.

The very best free-diving spearfishers are able to hold their breath for durations of 2 to 4 minutes and dive to depths of about 100 to120 feet. However, for the experienced diver, dives are more commonly about 50 to 70 feet and last approximately 1 to 2 minutes.

“I usually don’t have to hold my breath too long,” says Kashiwa. “I was once told that if you have to hold your breath longer than 3 minutes, then you’re doing something wrong. I have found this to be true because fish usually swim within shooting range in about 1 to 1.5 minutes. Divers have to rely on a fish’s curiosity to get close enough. It is a common misconception that we chase the fish down then shoot them.”

All technical aspects aside, spearfishing is extremely rigorous and only top athletes are able to contend at the competitive level. In fact, the sport is so rigorous and dangerous that even professionals with years of experience and training are not

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