I Must Confess: ‘I Do Not Like Spearfishing’

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Publication: The Inertia

I give the climbing rope a tug, then turn and follow The Spartan down the face of the cliff to the isolated cove in Big Sur, California.

The Spartan had been a hunting guide in Montana before moving to California to become a firefighter. He loves jiu-jitsu, square-dancing, and swimming to the bottom of the sea to shoot fish in the face. The 31-year-old does not “hang out.” Rather, he goes on “missions.” The last time we were together I contracted a severe case of poison oak as we trudged through the wilderness to forage wild mushrooms. (The Spartan does not get poison oak, supposedly, because he eats it periodically). The time before that, we shot and skinned a boar together. The time before that, we drove to Mendocino to dive for abalone. When I am with The Spartan, there is a 100 percent chance I will be physically exhausted by the end of a memorable day.

“I bet there’ll be some fish past those kelp beds,” he tells me as we unpack our dive gear on the beach and look 200 meters out to sea.

Spearfishing is an uncomfortable sport from the get-go. The 7-millimeter-thick dive suits require lubricant to get into. I douse the inside of my suit with some “seaweed sludge” (a mixture of water and pulverized kelp) and slither into the neoprene. Equipped with a knife, weight-belt, stringer, mask, snorkel, fins, and gun, I wade into the water and kick out through the choppy waves.

Mariners warn that when the swell amplitude and interval are equal, it’s a recipe for seasickness. Today is six feet at six seconds of northwest wind swell. As soon as I reach the kelp and stare into the abyss, I feel queasy.

The Spartan is already braining a rockfish with his knife by the time I take my first drop. Although the visibility is poor when I dive down about 25-feet, I spot at least a dozen rockfish and wait for one to get in range. With the bands on my gun cocked, I lurk behind a pinnacle and stay as still as possible. No fish come within range, and I have to swim up for air. I take five or six drops before a small rockfish swims right up to the tip of my gun. I fire. The fish thrashes for a moment then opens its mouth and goes limp. I feed the fish back through the tip of my spear and tie it to the stringer around my waste. The process of fiddling with the fish in the choppy conditions, however, has left me feeling even more queasy. I surface, then remove my mask and snorkel and take a few deep breaths to ease the nausea. In one poetic moment 200 meters off the coast of Big Sur, with a bloody skirt of fish around my waist, I vomit into the sky.

I signal to The Spartan that I’m heading in. As soon as I reach the beach, I drink the beer I stuffed into my dive bag to wash down the sour puke taste in my mouth.

That night, in a redwood grove up the hill, we meet friends and cook the best fish tacos of my life. We tell jokes that will never leave the campsite. As I close my eyes in my tent, exhausted, I conclude that I do not like spearfishing, I do, however, like having spearfished.

CONVERGENCE: THE UNLIKELY PARTNERSHIP THAT SAVES PUNTA DE LOBOS

Converge: to come together from different directions so as eventually to meet.

Ramon Navarro didn't initially trust the millionaire. "All I have is my name, and if Nico backed out of the deal, my reputation would have been ruined," he tells me.

Navarro, Chile's most famous surfer, comes from a family of fishermen in the small town of Pichilemu. Nico Davis, on the other hand, is heir to EuroAmerica, one of the largest insurance companies in the country and was raised in a life of privilege in the capital, Santiago.

The two men come from different worlds, but both served as key players in a recent land conservation success story at Chile's best-known surf spot, Punta de Lobos, in the town of Pichilemu.

On a brisk November morning in 2017, Navarro stands in front of a large crowd at "El Mirador," the valuable beachfront plot of land at the tip of the point that has recently been protected from development. In the crowd are musician Jack Johnson, members of the outdoor company Patagonia, and hundreds of Pichilemu locals.

Cactus hug the iconic cliff and mustard-colored wildflowers explode in the surrounding pastures. Pichilemu has developed rapidly in recent years, and new homes dot the hills in the distance. Chilean architecture has a distinct style and the homes, although uniformly square and boxy, somehow complement the bucolic hillside.

As Navarro speaks, the wind whips into the microphone and creates a vibrato. His typically energetic voice sounds uncharacteristically shaky. "My earliest memories were listening to the seals barking on the rocks down there," Navarro says. He pauses and turns his head away from the audience and removes his sunglasses for a moment to wipe his eyes. He exhales and continues. "I just can't believe this is real, I can't believe the point will be protected forever." He says a few words of gratitude to his community in Spanish, puts the microphone down, walks over to his wife, buries his head in her arms, and begins to sob... (READ MORE)

THE HYDROFOIL HYPE

On a pleasant day last fall, although the water is still warm by Santa Cruz standards, I walk down to the beach in my thickest wetsuit with a hood and booties—a get-up I normally reserve for only the coldest days of the year. I’m not using the extra rubber for warmth: It’s a safety precaution.

I am about to try foil-boarding for the first time, and my theory is that if the board flips and the carbon-fiber blade cracks me in the head, the cut won’t go as deep. Two accomplished surfers accompany me: fellow rookie foiler Kyle Buthman, who is sponsored by Quiksilver and has been surfing since he was a toddler, and Santa Cruz Waves founder Tyler Fox, who makes it to the finals of the Mavericks competition most years and has ridden a foil on a number of occasions. 

The wave that we are about to surf breaks roughly 200-yards off of a popular beach on the Westside. The swells approach from deep water and hit a shallow reef, causing a wave to break momentarily. The reef then drops into deep water, the wave fizzles out, and all that remains is an un-breaking open-ocean swell. It is a horrible wave.

As the first meager wave hits the reef and crumbles, Buthman catches the whitewater and stands up—a simple task that he has performed thousands of times on a regular surfboard. Moments after he pops to his feet, however, the board levitates 2 feet out of the water, leaving only a small airplane-shaped wing in the water. It accelerates like a rocket down the face and launches Buthman onto his back.

Fox catches the next wave. As he stands and the board lifts, he crouches and centers his weight. The wave fades. Normally this is where a surfer’s ride ends, but Fox continues to accelerate to a velocity I have never seen reached on such a small wave.

When it’s my turn, I don’t even make it to my feet. As soon as the whitewater catches my back, the board abruptly lifts out of the water and, like a ship free-falling over the back of a wave, I come crashing down. The sharp wing tip narrowly misses me. For a fleeting moment as the board rises, though, I feel weightless. I’m hooked.

A Sport is Born

Picture yourself in an airplane waiting to take off. Seat belts are fastened and you’re still texting even though the flight attendant warned you to turn off your cell phone. When the pilot hits the accelerator, your head is forced to the back of your seat and you look out the window to see the airplane wing slice through air. What you do not see is that the foiled shape of the wing is deflecting the flow of air downward, creating more pressure on the bottom of the wing and less pressure on the top. At a certain velocity, this pressure difference becomes so great that it creates lift and the plane takes off... (READ MORE).

WHEN THE RIDE ENDS

IS PRO SURFING A DEAD-END CAREER? 

BY KYLE THIERMANN

PUBLICATION: SANTA CRUZ WAVES

Most of my friends are, or once were, professional surfers. I was born and raised in Santa Cruz and, given that I am a part of this tight-knit community, it’s highly uncomfortable and difficult for me to write about the harsh realities that I see some of these surfers facing today. That being said, I will continue on as honestly as possible—because pro surfing isn’t always the glamorous career it can seem.

The definition of “pro surfer” will vary depending on whom you ask. Some people will tell you that Nat Young is the only pro surfer in Santa Cruz because he is the only one who competes on the World Surf League (WSL) tour.

To gain clarity on the definition, I ride my bike to Pete Mel’s surf shop, Freeline. Mel won the Mavericks competition in 2013 and is one of the most celebrated surfers to ever come out of Santa Cruz. “A pro surfer is someone who gets paid to create value for a brand by surfing and getting media attention,” he tells me.

Right now, I am one of the few surfers in Santa Cruz who still enjoys a small salary from my main sponsor, Patagonia. If my friends were to be brutally honest, they would tell me that dozens of unsponsored guys in town surf circles around me. They would tell me that I have never been paid for my surfing, and that, in reality, I get paid to create video content that aligns with my sponsor’s brand. Thankfully, my friends are too polite to tell me any of this, so I’ll go on introducing myself as a pro surfer, although it is unclear sometimes why I really get paid. (READ MORE)

The 500-year Secret Conflict In Chile

In Chile, a secret conflict known as the Arauco War between colonial Spaniards and the Mapuche people has been on-going for almost 500 years. The war started in the 1500s when the Spaniards sought to take control of Araucanía, which at the time had been the homeland of many indigenous people groups, including the Mapuche. At the end of the first 280-year battle, the Chilean military succeeded in taking control of Araucanía. Since then, the Chilean and Mapuche people have continuously clashed over land, which has led to many brutal and violent encounters between the two groups.

I traveled with Nicolás Ríos Ramírez, a Chilean journalist to the heart of the conflict for Seeker Network, to learn how the centuries-long war has affected the Mapuche people and the nation as a whole.

Hawaii's Poo Problem

Hawaii has some of the most beautiful and diverse landscapes in the world. The clear, blue water is striking to look at, but the water surrounding Hawaii also has a big problem: cesspools.

A cesspool is essentially a capped hole in the ground used for residential wastewater discharge. Whatever comes from your toilet at home goes into this underground hole and is contained there. Because there is no waste treatment, the waste fosters pathogens, bacteria, and excess nutrients, which can seep out of the cesspool and into the nearby soil. This contaminates ground water that eventually makes its way to the ocean, threatening marine life and human health. 

But many people are working to solve this problem. Watch this Seeker Stories video to find out what's being done to curb the cesspool problem in Hawaii.