Report on 22nd World Spearfishing Championship —— Tahiti

Len de Beer, James Vine & I left for Tahiti on 28 Oct ’00 at 11H45 with months of struggle to arrange our participation in “Worlds;” behind us. (Len & I only receiving our visas at 08H30 on 28 Oct ’00 due to efficiency problems at the French consulate.) John Girzda left S.A. earlier and had a stopover in “Aussie” before we teamed-up in New Zealand.

The trip to get to Tahiti went without any hick-ups. A stopover in Singapore for one night and two days, due to limited flight availability and a 7-hour wait at Auckland airport included. (We left Auckland at 17H55 on 31 Oct ’00, and arrived in Tahiti 6 hours later on 30 Oct ’00 just before midnight.)

Our accommodation until the start of the competition — 09 Nov ’00 — is best described by the following:

“Enjoy the natural beauty and quietness of the peninsula, in originally sculpted cottages made of local materials and facing the blue green lagoon, overlooking the ocean...”

We scouted every day from 08H00 until 15H00, followed by a spearing session outside the competition area/s. Scouting took place using a &“poti marara” (22ft single hull, with 200hp diesel inboard — Volvo Penta, used by locals to harpoon dorado). Two competition areas, +/- 18km each, with only the outside of the coral reef in the area. No spearing was allowed —for competition purposes — on the lagoon side of the reef.

On the first day scouting, after some real pressure testing of our equipment, our newly sponsored 1,6m graphite guns with 2m spears ended up full of water. Luckily fixed with a drill and builder’s foam from the local hardware shop.

With water temperatures on average around 25 oC, you easily overheat, even in a thin suit. Visibility was however excellent with one day being 50m+ in some places. The only problem is that a 30m dive is shallow with a narrow area available before you drop to never-never land. There were basically two options, i.e. the shallows (you don’t wanna face those waves) or the DEEP.

70 of the 91 fish permitted during the competition I classify as “Bambie fishes”. These consisted of a variety of parrots, wrasses, goaties, soldiers, surgeons and unicorns. There were however some bigger fish, i.e. kingies, kaakap, sea pike, dogtooth, etc. if you were lucky to see them. Bottom limit was 300g (a hellova small fish) with top limit 10kg.

On Tuesday 07 Nov ’00 yours truly was invited to take part in a spearfishing competition held for all the captains at Moorea — an island across the bay from Tahiti. Without the specie restrictions of “Worlds” I shot a +/- 50pound Greater Barracuda (it always sounds better when you speak in pounds) amongst many “bambies”. This being the biggest fish, resulted in instant celebrity status in the local newspaper.

Due to many of the bigger fishes being implicated in “ciguatera poisoning”, no one really hunts the bigger pelagics. Tahiti has however real potential if you’re interested in BIG fish.

Herewith a break-down of the official programme:

08 Nov ’00 — We attended the opening ceremony followed by a cocktail party (hoola-hoop girls galore). This being a national event for Tahiti, with every type of president & mayor having their say.

09 Nov ’00 — I attended a team captains meeting that lasted for HOURS to sort out all do’s & don’ts for the competition days. Also decided was the draw for boats and officials or so we thought. We also transferred from our initial place of stay to the Maeva Beach hotel where all teams stayed for the duration of the competition. The team used most of the day to make final arrangements to gear and to plan tactics (it did not help much). The evening another meeting regarding the future of competitive spearfishing within the C.M.A.S. set-up followed and if the first meeting was a normal marathon, then this one was the comrades.

10 Nov ’00 — Up at 05H00 for breakfast followed by departure to the competition site (Marina Mataiea) at 06H00. On arrival at Marina Mataiea, we were met by an organisational disaster. Not only to get each competitor and captain to his own boat, but also to give the boat drivers and officials breakfast, T-shirts, peaks, lunch packs, etc. Hurry-up and wait got a new meaning. All boats eventually launched, and were to meet in the middle of the competition area. Some boats however ignored this and despite the fact that each boat had an official on, went to the end of the area. This was where disaster struck the S.A. team. As we were about to start, Len’s boat broke down. The only option was to take him on my boat making it impossible for me to commute between the other S.A. divers. Competition started 11H00 and lasted until 17H00. Len dived himself to a standstill in 45m of water without much luck, while John & James landed a variety of “bambies”. Len, James & John left for the hotel to get some rest with yours truly attending the weigh-in on behalf of the team only to get back to the hotel at 01H00 the next morning.

11 Nov ’00 — Up at 05H00 with the same routine. This time the competition started only 30min late and all competitors and captains had boats. (I only had to throw a little tantrum to get this sorted out — duly copied from the not so old one’s in the household). Another disappointing day for the S.A.-team. Overall standings — John 19th, James 24th and Len 44th out of 64 divers. The S.A. team ended 11th out of 20 teams with the Aussies edging us out with less that half a minimum weigher in it. The event was concluded with a prestigious gala dinner and prize giving in the hotel.

12 Nov ’00 — Day spend at leisure and we flew back to S.A. at 04H30 in the morning of 13 Nov ’00 only to arrive in Durban 42hrs35min later on 15 Nov ’00 at 10H10. The only hick-ups of the return journey being yours truly engaged in a one-on-one battle with a man from Africa regarding the non-payment of a tip and James’s dive bag being misplaced at Jhb airport (luckily found and returned the same day). 15 Nov ’00 ended eventually in a 36hour day.


Comparison with other teams

S.A. will never feature in “Worlds” if we don’t put money and time into it. The top team — Spain — flew 3 boats to Tahiti, 6 months before the competition. They stayed in top hotels and had a big scouting team, scanning the areas on SCUBA and using underwater scooters. Considering that New Zealand and Aussie dive regularly in Tahiti, then we did not fare to badly. It was however a disappointment with all S.A. divers spending R25000-00 each to make this trip (two of these closing their businesses down for the time) and not being able to compete for a top placing.

Just measured on ability, S.A. spearo’s are on par with the rest of the world. One question however the future of competitive spearfishing when you have to shoot “bambie” to crown a world champion. Saying that, the top divers came out tops, and they will do so in any conditions, given adequate preparation. Personally I struggle to shoot a 300g little blue parrot, most probably because of the quality fish that we find in S.A.

Tahiti as spearfishing/holiday destination

The French Polynesian islands have some of the most beautiful venues on earth. Definitely worth a holiday if you can afford the airfare. Big fish frequent Tahitian waters (we saw sailfish, dogtooth tuna and wahoo during scouting) and many marlin are regularly caught. Its potential for big pelagics is also untapped. The locals are friendly and many spearfish. They are however mainly shallow water divers, drilling the fish in the bottom of cracking waves. (Our cracker/brusher population will not last long with them here.)

By Johan Jacobs