The scene is enthralling and serene all in the same instance. Calmly you slip beneath the surface and an entirely new world lies before you. What was once a tragic scenario, now presents itself as a masterpiece for a variety of species to make their home. Shellfish happily accommodate each and every crevice of the wreck, while schools of spadefish flit about in perfect information. The push and pull of currents, the diversity, all of it balanced and perfect, yet ever so delicate.
What’s even more tantalizing is that this could be anywhere off our coast. With thousands of wrecks the possibilities for dive sites are literally endless. But as with any adventure, there is always a certain degree of risk, especially when it involves holding your breath and swimming with a speargun.
“The key is to avoiding getting hurt is awareness,” says local waterman, Ryan Rhodes, adding that when it comes to spearfishing, knowledge, etiquette, and mindfulness are priceless.
Ease of access
With our shallow waters, many of the wrecks divers and folks that spearfish seek lie just off the beach.
“As a kid, I remember coming up for air, looking around and wishing someone would come out with me,” he says. “These days, by 8 a.m., there will already be at least 15 people out.”
With a young daughter of his own who loves being in the water with him, Rhodes says he feels that it is his duty not only as a father, but also as a member of the community, to be an advocate for the sport.
“This is a rare opportunity to enjoy something unique in our own backyard,” he says. “I always tell my daughter to enjoy the beauty and appreciate the diversity of the species on the wrecks, and that it’s also very important to wait our turn and not crowd the spots.”
As a general rule of thumb, if you swim up to a wreck, and there are already a few people on it, then it’s time to move on, or take a break. “Don’t force the situation,” Rhodes says. “You always want folks to be aware of your presence, and never surprise anyone.”
Moments such as these are also present a great opportunity to slow your breathing down.
It’s super easy to get excited. With clear water, beautiful fish and a bright sun overhead, the adrenaline is going to pump. However, it is absolutely paramount to stay as calm as possible, and keep your heart rate down.
“A good standard is to stay on the surface twice as long as your last descent,” says Ben Morris, also a local waterman, who is teaching his youngest daughter to be a good steward for the sport.
This will help avoid shallow water blackout which is a dangerous situation that occurs when the brain is deprived of oxygen, Morris says.
Keeping your gear in check is also an item for discussion. “So many folks head out without realizing how dangerous the sport can be, and how easily someone can get shot with a spear,” Morris says.
- Never swim with your gun pointed down
- Never allow it to swing around erratically
- Always use the safety
- With a pole spear, never have the band loaded until you are ready to take a shot.
“I always tell my daughter that safety is first,” Morris says. “Know how to read the water, and only take what you will eat. If we wipe the wreck out, then other species won’t congregate, which will throw the entire ecosystem off.”
More often than not, fish will appear much larger under water, and there are those which it is illegal to shoot so make sure to check the NC fishing regulations before taking a shot.
When you’re out in the ocean, you are on your own.
“That’s why we have to look out for each other,” Morris says. “Never go alone. When one person is below, there should always be another on the surface.”
Remember: One up. One down.
“There are tons of opportunities and wrecks to visit; we just have to make sure we are setting a good example in the process,” Morris says.