Dummies guide to Spearfishing – Part I

To a newbie diver starting out, one is often face with a bewildering amount of equipment, different makes, different types, with each successful diver swearing by their own brands, whilst other just as successful divers swearing AT that same brand! It becomes quite daunting for a novice to sift through all this information and try and make a choice. So what I’m trying to do with this thread is to simplify matters, giving the new spearo a good foundation, making sure that he buys the correct equipment first time so as not to waste money and also to enhance his spearfishing career.

Let the fun begin!!

Mask

This is one of the most important items for ANYONE that enters the aquatic realm. Having an ill-fitting mask or one that fogs up continuously can not only be very frustrating but dangerous as well. The ability to SEE under water is what it’s all about.

There are many makes and models in the market. Forget about brand names and get the one that FITS YOUR face the best. Since everyone has different facial features, the only way to select a mask is to visit your local dive store and try on as many as you can. The easiest way to test a mask is to put it on your face, ensuring it fits snuggly and then gently inhaling through your nose. This should suck the mask to your face. Tilt your head forward, looking towards the ground. The mask should still be stuck to your face. Should the seal not be good, it will fall off your face. (NOTE: you do this WITH-OUT the mask strapped to your head!!) Make sure that the nose piece of the mask is comfortable enough for you to hold, as when you descend, you’ll need to equalize by pinching your nose. Try it with gloves!! Stay clear of masks with purge valves on. They DO work, but have a rather short life span. They also tend to have smaller space for your fingers for equalizing!!

For spearing you have two extremes: your shallower dives and your very deep dives. For deeper dives, you’re looking for a low volume mask, which allows for easier mask equalization. The downside with low-volume masks is that they offer limited vision. The term tunnel vision is often used. Popular SPEARING low volume masks are the venerable Cressi Super Ochio and Omer Alien.

For shallower diving, 0-20m (0-60′), I prefer a larger volume mask, which gives you a greater field of vision. Very helpful for spotting fish just on the edge of you vision!! The newer frameless mask designs work very well for many spearo’s. Well worth looking at!!

Once you’ve acquired your mask, you need to clean INSIDE of the lens, so as to prevent fogging up. Some toothpaste smeared on the inside and rubbed around works great!! Repeat it a couple of times and your mask should not fog up anymore!!

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Snorkel

All you need is a simple J shaped snorkel. Once again, stay clear of snorkels with purge valves and anti-splash contraptions. They also work, but add additional drag and the purge valves always BREAK when you least expect it!!

For the average spearo, a medium bore snorkel with a comfortable mouthpiece is all that’s needed. Having a mouth piece that’s uncomfortable or too hard, will cause your gums to pain or even start to bleed and possibly also irritate your tongue causing swelling. Many spearo’s are particularly partial to the Omer Zoom range of snorkels.

Wetsuits

Another very important piece of kit. Your whole diving experience will be largely governed by how comfortable you are in the water. Being warm is the greatest priority. A warm diver will have a more enjoyable dive, have longer bottom times and generally have a much longer dive.

Wetsuits for spearfishing work on a simple concept. It allows a very small amount of water into your suit, allowing your body to heat up that small amount of water. Body heat is therefore retained, allowing the diver to stay in the water for much longer.

Wetsuits are made of neoprene, which is very buoyant. To compensate for the buoyancy, a weight belt is needed. More about weight belts later.

Wetsuits come in various types of materials and thicknesses. The normal range starts from 1-1.5mm wetsuits, which are suitable for warm tropical waters. Many spearo’s also use lycra suits in these warm waters. They offer protection from the sun, save your back and neck from getting sun burnt, as you tend to spend quite a bit of time on the surface, as well as protects you from various stinging sea animals, like blue-bottles, Portuguese-men-o-war, fire-corals, etc.

The next thickness is 3mm and 5mm suits. For very cold water, you would use up to a 7mm suit. Needless to say, the thicker the wetsuit, the heavier your weight belt will be.

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The standard spearfishing wetsuit is normally a two piece: full farmer john/brown (that’s basically a wetsuit covering your legs, waist and chest going over your shoulders) and a jacket with a hoodie incorporated. Since most of your body heat is loss through your head, it’s imperative to have a hoodie on your wetsuit. In warmer waters, where the wetsuit is used more for protection that insulation, the hoodie is NOT incorporated into the wetsuit. It’s very easy for your body to overheat in warm waters, making diving very unpleasant and dangerous.

The most important part of a wetsuit is the fit. If you have an odd body shape, then a custom made wetsuit is the best option. Especially women spearo’s would benefit greatly from a custom fitted wetsuit.

Open cell wetsuits. What makes them special? Most divers have used a normal closed cell wetsuit. These are hard, tough rubbery like wetsuits. They are generally cheap and will last for a very long time. Their downsides: they don’t insulate the diver very well, they’re cumbersome to put on and take off, they restrict mobility and they often cause bleeding by rubbing the skin off the back of your knees (especially after a long dive session). Open cell suits are much softer and much more flexible. They need soapy water for you to put them on, which makes them VERY easy to get into and out of. There softness and flexibility allows the wetsuit to keep you warmer, for longer periods of time and keeps abrasion against the skin down to a minimum.

Their downsides are: they’re pricey and have a short lifespan. Which-ever wetsuit you decide to purchase, ensure that the knees, elbows and butt section have additional padding as these are the area’s that take the most abuse. Furthermore, a loading pad on the chest, which basically is a piece of padded neoprene stuck onto the chest part, is essential. Will alleviate the bruising of your chest from loading your gun.

Fins

There are quite a few long bladed fins on the market. Almost all of them will work well for spearfishing. If you’re hunting in less than 20m (60′), a “soft” fin is what you need. The most important factor is FIT!! Your fins MUST fit your feet PERFECTLY. Too tight, and your feet will cramp up, conversely, too loose and you’ll get blisters and probably lose your fins. So simply visit a dive shop and fit on as many types of fins as you can. Since almost all spearing fins are closed heel fins, so you’ll have to wear neoprene to socks. Fit the fins on WITH your neoprene socks on. There are very few open heeled long bladed fins on the market. These tend to lack the power of their closed heel counterparts.

Some of the most popular brands are:

  • Picasso black teams – great for guys with BROAD feet (like me!!)
  • Omer Millenniums
  • Cressi Gara 3000’s as well as their 2000’s

There are a multitude of other great fins in the market, so do a bit of research on www.deeperblue.com or forums.deeperblue.com for a more in-depth review of fins.

Weight Belt

A weight belt is needed to counter-act the buoyancy of your wetsuit. Since everyone has a different body shape each ones weighting will be different. Depending on the depth of water that you’re diving in, a spearo should always try to be positively buoyant until -6m. This is to ensure that he will float up to the surface should he suffer from shallow water black-out. Care should be taken NOT TO OVERWEIGHT yourself, as this might make you go down quicker, the extra time gained on the bottom is offset against the additional time it takes to swim back up as well as the additional time it’ll take to recover. It’s much easier to swim down against the buoyancy of your wetsuit, than to swim up, against gravity. Much safer as well. Remember, when you’re laying on the surface, when you EXHALE, you must still be positively buoyant.

Most spearo’s use the Marseilles rubber weight belt with a quick release buckle. This stretches and doesn’t turn whilst you’re diving, unlike the normal webbing belts. This accounts for the compressing of your wetsuit as you go deeper. This way, your quick release buckle will always be in the same position. When surfacing from a deep dive and you’re feeling out of breath, it is advisable to open your buckle whilst ascending. Should you black out, the belt will slip from your hand and the weight belt will fall off, allowing your wetsuits buoyancy to take you to the surface.

Another handy hint is to buy TWO complete weight belts. This way, you’d be more inclined to dump your weight belt should the need arise.

Knives

Contrary to the diving movies, your knife isn’t going to be used to fend off aggressive sharks!! A spearo’s knife serves two basic functions, namely, to dispatch his catch as quickly, safely and humanely as possible and to cut himself free from any line or rope he might get entangled in. A smallish knife with a strong sharp point is what is required. Bulky knives are heavy and cumbersome and tend to hook onto kelp and your floatline and offers more water resistance. Many spearo’s tend to favor the flat knives with a pancake type sheath, which is very streamlined. Popular brands are Omer Flat Hunt and Picasso Tigre.

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Gloves and Socks

Gloves are used to protect the hands from not only the cold, but from fish spines, corals and reefs. Most gloves are 3mm thick, which provides ample warmth. How-ever, most spearo’s prefer leather palmed gloves. These gloves are much thinner on the inside of your hand, allowing your hand to be more sensitive. Very nice on spearguns with sensitive triggers. For the spearo operating in warm tropical waters, normal cotton garden gloves work great.

If you’re spearing with a closed heel long bladed fin, you’ll need a pair of neoprene socks. They’re available in 2mm and 3mm thickness. Make sure that you fit your socks on when fitting your fins in the dive shop. Socks have a very short lifespan. Replacing them one a year is normal, obviously depending on how often you dive.

That basically sorts your diving kit out. Now all you need is a big bag in which to put all your gear in. Most companies offer large bags that have a mesh covering, that’ll hold your whole dive kit, including your long bladed fins. It’s a great way to keep all your kit together and also very convenient, as it doesn’t take up to much space.

Let’s go diving!

Why not read more in Part II of our Dummies Guide to Spearfishing.

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