Cold water. Big waves. Tiny fish. Most likely in tiny holes.
These were the big selling points of the I CMAS Women’s World Cup in Sagres, Portugal and I still decided to join the team.
I’m a fair weather diver. I like warm tropical clear water with lots of big dumb fish. I thought that diving in Portugal would challenge me and make me a better diver by taking me out of my comfort zone. I just didn’t realize how far out of that zone I would be.
It was actually easy to join. I went to nationals, I did well enough, the girl ahead of me couldn’t go and suddenly a spot on Team USA was mine. A few people tried to talk me out of it, convince me that it would suck or that someone better could go in my place, but I ignored them, and a few short weeks later I was donning my brand new 7 mm Sporasub wetsuit on my first day of scouting in Portugal.
The water was cold, like 49 degrees cold. And if that wasn’t enough to make me miserable, then the sea sickness from the rough water would. And if I was still enjoying myself, then the cold blowing winds would change my mind. And finally if that wasn’t enough to scare me away, there was no fish and no visibility.
At this point, I realized that I have made a huge mistake.
I did not want to get back in that water. After the first miserable day, I was scared away from the Sagres sea for about two weeks. Eventually the water started to warm up and on one particularly flat day we decided to check out the women’s competition zone for the first time.
It was beautiful. More beautiful than the other areas. It was shallow and crystal clear. We could see the rocks and the fish swimming around them from the surface. And it was warm. This was exactly my kind of diving.
Ryan and I spent a few days in the women’s zone. I learned how to hunt and shoot the different types of fish, we looked for conger eel homes and big rocks that held lots of sargo. We collected numbers and made a game plan. At this point, I thought we would all be on separate boats like in the men’s competition, so I made sure to find a lot of areas that would suit my teammates needs too as I knew they would only have a couple of days in Portugal before the competition.
Finally after a month of hard work, my teammate’s arrived. We only had five days until the championship and I was worried. I was worried that Kelsea and Rosibel wouldn’t have enough time to learn and shoot and measure the fish. I was worried that we wouldn’t nail down all our spots. I was worried that I was worse than I thought and I would be the one to mess up whatever chance we had at a podium spot.
In those five days, we could only dive three and the weather was absolutely horrible. Rosibel and I were both so seasick. Kelsea was a trooper and she worked hard to find and shoot some tiny fish but the area was totally ravaged and we struggled to find fish at all. The competition was looming nearer and we had virtually no practice and the swell was too big to even dive in our zone. I might have been nervous before but now I was freaking out.
On the morning of the competition I could hardly eat. I got on my boat and put my headphones in. I was shaking. I was terrified that I would mess this up for my team. I felt like I didn’t belong there. Kelsea was in her element, bouncing around, waving to everyone she knew or wanted to know. Rosibel lounged in her spot in the back of the boat, relaxed as could be. “I’m so nervous,” I said to Rosi. “Why? Don’t be nervous. We’re just going spearfishing, it’s going to be fun”, she answered. She was right. I tried to relax.
That day, the gods graced us with the most beautiful weather I had ever seen in Portugal. It was not just perfectly flat, but it was warm. So warm that I was able to wear my 3 mm Hecs stealthscreen suit. This was a huge advantage. And the swell had died enough to clear up the visibility. There was at least 30 feet of vis, which was all we needed in the shallow waters.
After many hours of staging, it was go time. We each jumped in the water with our floats and swam in different directions. I swam to fish bowl, a big bowl like rock with tons of sargo cracks. Here I would collect some sargo, my triggerfish and hopefully a wrasse if I saw one.
I swam down, found a sargo in a hole, missed. Oops. That’s ok, first fish, get the nerves out. I kept at it and finally collected my first fish, a barely legal sargo. I have no idea if this guy will weigh. I stuck him on my float and got ready to load my gun. I reached for the first band and pulled it back. I reached for the second band and did a double take. My band was gone.
This was bad. This is my big gun. I have another one but the boat is nowhere near me and I can’t easily get to it.
I shot at a triggerfish and watched as my pitiful shaft didn’t even make half the distance to him. I couldn’t help but laugh at my kook ass. I shot another sargo in a hole and reached for my knife. I came up empty, my knife was gone. This was going super well. I put him on my stringer still moving and used the shaft to kill him. I wasn’t about to let my errors ruin this for me.
With the changing tides, the vis changed drastically. I’m now thirty minutes into the competition and I have no knife and no band. As I’m heading to the surface with another small sargo, the universe decided I didn’t need my weight belt anymore either and I watched it unbuckle and slip off into the darkness.
I did say I wanted a challenge.
Feeling defeated, I ditched the fish on the float and kicked hard to try and find my belt. The vis was bad but after a couple of difficult dives I spotted it. As I went to grab it, I spotted my knife. Not as necessary, but it definitely makes things easier! My hopes were lifting. I saw the boat speeding my way. They pulled up and tossed something at me. They had found my band!
From then on out, I had the best day of spearfishing I have ever had. I shot my triggerfish. I still didn’t know if any of these fish would weigh but then I shot a massive wrasse. I knew he would count for points. I was stoked!
I moved into the shallows where I found even bigger sargos in holes in 10 feet of water. I started shooting the bigger ones, realizing that these would definitely weigh. The boat sped over again and the guys looked absolutely giddy. “Hey Sam! Kelsea has 12 sargos!” Woah. We might actually have a chance at this thing.
In the end, I had 10 fish. Kelsea and Rosi had even bigger stringers with bigger fish and more species variety, something that would be super important for collecting bonus points. Our driver and judge were going nuts. They kept saying we were first. I didn’t think so but I knew we were up there.
It turned out they were right. Kelsea and Rosibel had enough points to rocket us into 2nd place. And I collected just enough points to help close the gap for 1st. We did the unbelievable. We became the first team to ever win the Women’s World Cup. We are the first Women’s World Champions. It’s been a month and I am still celebrating.
My team was truly amazing and I’m grateful to them for accepting me, trusting me and teaching me. I’ve been diving with Ryan for two years, but the more time I spend with the ladies of the sport, the more I realize just how badass we all really are. I wouldn’t be where I am in this community without saying yes to every challenge. You can dive in your backyard every day, but you won’t get any better unless you get out of your comfort zone. Who knows, you might even become a world champion.