March was a big month for competitions in both freediving and spearfishing communities, if I could describe it in two words it would be, blue and deep.
Two worlds apart, Lake Taupo hosted the 2017 New Zealand Depth Freediving Championships followed a week later with Guam hosting the Inter Pacific Spearfishing Champs, an annual competition between six nations – Australia, Tahiti, New Caledonia, Hawaii, Guam and New Zealand.
Having the opportunity to compete in both events was a fantastic experience on both counts with great teams and volunteers. Managing to place in both was a bonus!
This year the NZ Depth Nationals competition was quite tactical. Everyone was watching Dave Mullins freshwater record attempts, and eventually success, with a (whopping) 105m deep freshwater dive! I was focused more on achieving a solid, consistent three dives, each around the 50m mark, and not losing points by achieving my nominated depths and completing the protocol cleanly.
It was neck and neck over the first two dives, with Tania Rounthwaite busting out some massive personal best depths and keeping a solid margin of 7m ahead of me. I would have to dive a clean 8m deeper than her in my final dive to have a shot at winning. We both chose to finish the event with a no-fins dive, thankfully a strong event for myself, and Tania’s weakest. My heart sank when she announced she would be diving 41m, and I only 43m, not enough – by a long shot. However, in the final dive Tania pushed a little too hard, losing points. I managed to pull through and complete my last dive cleanly and come away with a 3rd consecutive national title and my 30th Birthday present. Pretty good 30th if you ask me!
The small pacific island is a beautiful place to visit. I can understand why it was inundated with Korean and Japanese tourists while we were there! The temperature was perfect, beautiful beaches and warm blue water, just a balmy 28 – 29 degrees on the surface! The best place to be by far was out diving on the reef, thankfully the masses of tourists didn’t follow us out there.
It was Magic. Great reef structures and ledges, with nice schooling fish out wide and the visibility to appreciate it. Dogtooth Tuna, Mahi-Mahi, Trevally and Wahoo darting through so lots of pelagics. Turtles, and nice variety of reef life also. It was sad to note the size of the reef fish though, as in most other tropical islands, there was clear evidence of overfishing with an abundance of small parrot fish, but very few larger reef fish. This not only made it difficult to hunt, but increased everyone’s awareness of the fragility of the reefs ecosystems. Seeing the results of poachers fishing at night and how having no enforced legal size limit can upset the balance and put the health of the reef at danger.
On the other hand, diving as a team with Alex and Megan Edwards was a fun experience. One particularly memorable moment was on a scouting day watching Alex getting attacked by a sea turtle after she inadvertently invaded its hiding space. The three of us took turns diving together. Learning how to dive as a team and trust each other in the deep blue, with the other buddying up with more experienced members of the men’s team and our managers. As we are developing the ability to dive deeper the risks do increase, so having experienced mentors keeping an eye on us and emphasising safety, dive intervals, and the basics of hunting at depth was invaluable.
We had great weather and opportunities on all of the scouting days to get out and explore the reef around the island. All of the locations we dived were on the outer reef and about a 40 minute boat ride out around the island from the ramps where we launched. However, come the day of the competition the winds picked up and blew up from the South, affecting the preferred two dive zones. Meaning on the first day divers competed in the toughest zone on the sheltered Western side of the island, the most unfavourable and least scouted of all the zones. The weather didn’t get better with the following competition day located outside of the the initial zone’s, causing most of the divers, apart from the locals, to be ‘diving blind’ not knowing the area. Despite the less fishy location there was a nice 20m visibility on the second day I dived. We had fun working the ledge between 25 and 35m for surgeons and the bigger reef fish that had been pushed down by the other men’s teams competing in the same area.
One of the main highlights for me was the people, the Guam divers were fantastic hosts, with many evenings at Monica’s (Guam’s Woman’s Rep) restaurant Mosa’s Joint. We would bring some of the day’s catch into the restaurant and they would prepare it in a variety of ways, leaving us eating like kings! It was also a great place to get to know the local divers and forge new friendships with the volunteers and local boatmen, who were kind enough to show us around and some of their spots!
Give me another opportunity I will be back in a flash!