It was my honor to be friends with Art Pinder for the last ten years of his life. I met him when we wanted to write a magazine article about him and found him living in Palm Bay, Florida, away from the limelight. I was struck by the fact that he was as funny as he was talented, and he had the most fascinating stories that I had ever heard. I had the feeling that if we didn’t write down his life history and scan those old photographs, they might be lost forever. So we set out to write his biography, entitled “Art Pinder — King of Sling”. In the process, I became good friends with Art and his family. It gave me great sadness to write his obituary and his eulogy last week. The world has lost a great man, and the dive world has lost a legend. There will never be another Art Pinder.
This following is an excerpt from the first chapter of Art’s biography, “Art Pinder — King of Sling“.
Although it seemed like just another day in the summer of 1948, Art Pinder’s idyllic life was about to take a dramatic turn. He was alone in the sea — carefree and in his element.
Suspended in the cobalt blue water off Cape Florida, Art slowly made his way toward Fowey Rocks Lighthouse.
The alien-like structure protruded from the sea, protecting ships from harm. For Art, it was simply a convenient landmark for his spearfishing forays. Except for two frigate birds hanging motionless above and an occasional scattering of bait fish on the surface, the casual observer would have no idea about the quantity of life that churned beneath the surface.
Art wore just a mask, fins, and bathing trunks. Snorkels and wetsuits were things of the future. He carried a homemade rubber banded sling, designed by his father years earlier. The sling, much like a bow and arrow, propelled free-flying spears through water for distances up to 20 feet. The target was usually a grouper, snapper, or hogfish — all highly desirable food fare.
Years of fin kicking, band pulling, and endless swimming had chiseled Art’s tanned body. He had grown from an ordinary boy into a man-fish, more comfortable underwater than on land.
Art kicked slowly, letting the current aid his progress. He took a slow, deep breath and quietly submerged beneath the surface. Art looked down through his mask, scanning the bottom, when he felt the presence of something near him…behind him…following him.
In a single fluid motion, he drew in his legs, whirled to his left, and found his target. He fired a well placed shot, striking a sailfish in the backbone — lights out! Art lunged forward, grabbed the bill, and began to steer the lifeless weight back toward the anchored boat.
Even with its streamlined shape and topsail folded neatly back into its own pocket, Art’s prize catch was hard to tow. The size of the fish and the opposing current meant Art would have to kick harder to make headway. With adrenaline still pumping, Art checked out his catch as he made his way back.
He had never speared a sailfish before and was awestruck by the colors — brilliant shades of blue and silver, iridescent in the sun and changing hues before his eyes. He also noticed that it was longer than his own six foot frame. Art finally reached the boat and heaved the awkward load up and over the side of the 19-foot open-fisherman. The sailfish plopped onto the floor with a thud, and the spear fell out of its spine.
Suddenly, it was as if someone turned on the lights. Awakening from a deep slumber, the sailfish convulsed with increasing furor, knocking the makeshift seats around. Spears and empty gas cans flew overboard. The boat’s sole occupant, Jasper Williams, stunned at the display, decided it was safer to follow suit and shouted, “Look out!” before diving into the water.
Art knew if he didn’t do something quickly, the sailfish would be next over the side. He thought to himself, “If it gets away, no one will ever believe this.” He pulled himself into the boat landing face down and spread-eagled on top of the flailing fish.
Art wrapped his legs around the lower body and grabbed the bill with one hand, trying to steady himself with the other. After several minutes of tumbling around together, Art was finally able to reach for the club. He dispatched the fish, but not before parts of the tail and bill had broken off during the wrestling match.
Back at the dock, Art’s sailfish measured over seven feet long and weighed in at 56 pounds. The photo of Art and his catch was published by newspapers around the country. The public was fascinated with the sea and her mysterious creatures. The same photo would later grace the cover of Skin Diver magazine. It was the first (and to this day the only) billfish to be landed by a diver using a sling.
Spearing bottom-feeding reef fish was easy for Art Pinder. But landing a sailfish with a sling was the equivalent of a golfer’s hole-in-one while aiming at a moving target. Landing a large mid-water fish required both great strength and perfect accuracy. The 5/16 inch arrow had to travel through twenty feet of saltwater and penetrate the 1/2 inch spine while both hunter and hunted maneuvered in three dimensions.
What Art did not realize is that this particular fish would kick-start an extraordinary journey. This feat would open doors and present opportunities that ordinary men could only imagine. It would be followed by several more legendary feats with a sling, rescues in a raging sea, and brushes with sharks and bullets.