Team USA Spearfishing: What Does it Take?

This year I am once again honored to represent the United States in the highest level that one can take our sport: The World Championship. Twenty-five of the best teams in the world gather every two years to compete. The 2018 World’s will be held in September in Sagres, Portugal. The team will comprise of Justin Lee, Paul Young, and myself as divers. Kelston McGuire as alternate and Cameron Kirkconnell and Joe Fernandez as co-captains. This article will seek to shed a bit of light on how we as individuals and as a country qualify to compete. And also on the scouting process and competition itself.

Each country’s first step is to select four of its most deserving athletes to compete in either the Pan-Americans, Euro Africans, or sometimes Inter-Pacific championships. Depending on the countries region. These events are qualifiers for countries to earn a spot at the world championship. The way each country selects their team varies. Some, like Spain, have a large team of ten or more divers that arrive on site, scout as a team, and then just a few weeks before the comp select the divers doing the best in that location. Some countries hold 3-4 selection competitions a few months before the big event. Some only have 4 willing divers and they are the team every year.

The United States uses the average of the previous two years nationals results to determine it’s national team. Our method requires a serious commitment as locations for the two years are rarely nearby and are almost always of very different conditions. One day of diving can determine your next two years. This need to perform when it counts and ability to thrive in any condition is exactly the diver we want. The 2016 World’s was held at 45 meters. 2018 World’s will be held in less than 3 meters. 2017 nationals was held out of a kayak in the arctic waters of Northern California. 2016 was held in a lake shooting carp. I’ve been dedicated to making team USA for the last 4 years. For each of those years I’ve had 2 major events a year. A pan-Americans on odd years or World’s on even, and a US nationals every year. Both equally important for the momentum to continue.

During odd years these teams meet in their respective districts and compete for a spot at the World Championship. It isn’t terribly difficult to qualify a country for Worlds as they end up taking maybe the top 80% of applicants. However you must show up and basically not screw it up for the guys next year. In the U.S. the team is selected yearly so the Pan-American team is not always the same as the Worlds team although it sometimes has some of the same members.

How do I consistently do well in such varied conditions? Scouting. Not all scouting is GPS marking fish in holes and hoping they will be there. A lot of it is just working out the bugs of traveling far away, sleeping in a new place, and diving unfamiliar waters. Many times there are completely new species to learn to identify and hunt. Then there’s the shooting part of scouting. There’s a very strict measurement system used in the international level. Each species must be a minimum weight in grams and penalties are given for falling under that mark. We are used to measuring fish in length not weight. So in the scouting period we must shoot, weigh, and measure. By doing so we can learn what the minimum weight relative to size looks like for each species.

Tournament day isn’t about just going spearfishing and seeing what we find. It’s a well coordinated effort to collect the highest scoring collection of pieces we can find. Each fish list and scoring system is different but many times it comes down to 1-point per gram plus 1000 points per each fish. The key though is in the bonus points. Bonus points are awarded for completing categories or shooting different species. For example in Greece we are allowed to shoot 4 individuals from a list of 5 grouper species. Shooting 4 of the same species scores much less than shooting 4 different species. However completing the category of 4 groupers gives another bonus so it’s a very delicate balance of shooting all legal fish encountered and holding off for a better scoring one. At the international level there is no swapping out of fish. Once you shoot it the judge on the boat checks it in and it’s going to be weighed in front of a lot of people. Doesn’t matter if it’s too small or if you see a bigger one later. This part of the strategy is where scouting becomes so critical. Knowing not just where everything lives but also how likely you are to bump into each species. This is made significantly more difficult once 75 divers are thrown in the mix. Another variable that only competition experience can teach you how to predict.

I travel all over the world on basically zero money. I do this by staying with friends and diving on their boats. I’m very good at this. I’ve managed to wander for the last 4 years like this and dive some of the best places in the world. Why then are these competitions so expensive? Because we aren’t going somewhere that we choose. Most of the time we don’t know anyone in whatever small coastal town they hold it in. There’s no friends to stay with, no free boat rides to go on. The boat owners in the area are well aware of the number of people coming and price their boats far above what you would normally pay for a day. This is unavoidable. This is why I’ll spend $5000 in just 10 days of scouting a pond in Arkansas but can travel and spear Africa for 3 months on $5000.

The governing body of CMAS is Olympic accredited. We follow much of the same anti-doping, judging, and strictly solo systems the Olympic committee has come up with. Some countries have state sponsored teams, like Spain. Some countries like New Zealand are excellent fundraisers and as a spearfishing community have really gotten behind their team. Team USA has always been on its own for fundraising. The last few years since I’ve been around we have found funding for nearly 100% of our expenses. For decades US spearfishing has done nothing special. I think that’s part of why we’ve all shied away from the competition scene. We feel no pride in our national team. We had no real role models to look up to. The team changed every year, was never well supported, and consequently, didn’t do well. We are building something new here. A new system for everyone. Create career athletes that compete over and over again. Create a career captain with the experience to fight for us. Give the young guys in the sport something to look up to and aspire to be a part of. The first real United States professional spear fishermen. Every year we get closer to full corporate support, and we will be there soon, but we aren’t there yet. For now, we need your help. There’s a link here for the Crowdrise. We have some really sick shirts for sale with designs by Amadeo Abachar. We make nearly $20 off a shirt so be confident your money is going towards spearfishing and not some shirt company. Go buy some for you and your friends, share this post, and email me if you want to be a bigger part of Team USA. We are always looking for scouting help and local knowledge. If you have any connections with companies that might want to get involved, shoot ‘em over. There’s a long road between where we are now and winning a world title but we are on the right path.

Team USA T-Shirt Link:

Crowdrise Link:

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