How I (Actually) Won the National Championship

This is a follow up to my last article where I detailed my plans and predictions for the day. If you haven’t read that one go back and give it a read prior to this one and this should make more sense.

How to Win the National Championship

My plan was to focus on stripers at 3 points a piece and leave the carp hammering to the pros. The comp started with super windy conditions and the shotgun start was one of the craziest I have ever experienced.

We got off the line ok but then we were hit with the wind chop. The 21 foot ski boat hit 46 mph right into the 15 mph wind. Eric handled the boat like a champ and ran full out neck and neck with the 21 pathfinder carrying Mike Mcguire, Hana and Bruce. It was pretty clear we were headed to the exact same spots at the far end of the zone. These were not guys I wanted to dive shoulder to shoulder with. We were all headed for a series of maybe 10-15 sharp points at the front of bays that all held striper. When we got there I paused in the center of the bay till they selected their first spots and then marked them as blown on the GPS. I knew they would work from their farthest point back towards home so I setup right in front of them and ignored anything I had further down the lake. This is one of the benefits of scouting more than anyone else. I had way more spots than I knew I could hit and was able to adjust my plan according to what my competitors did.

At worlds I’ve learned the power of playing the whole field and not just worrying about yourself. We are scored on a percentage basis with first place earning 100% so any fish someone else doesn’t get to shoot helps you. I first learned this while diving a Palm Beach Freedivers tournament against Killian. We were on the same boat and both underwater on a wreck at the same time. Fish were scarce and he was in a much better position to shoot the barracuda than I was. Just before he took the shot I fired at nothing and spooked the fish. Neither of us got that fish but that was way better then him getting it.

Sam and I leapfrogged over each other doing only 3 dives at each point. Any points I could hit before they did essentially helped me twice. My first drop was strictly for stripers. My second one I would wait till the very end and just before surfacing shoot a carp if no striper came in. I’d then grab one more quick carp on a third drop and be gone all in less than 8 min. Sam would be dropped at the point in front of me and we leapfrogged like this all over our area. Hunting like this I busted up all the good obvious points and everyone behind me was forced to dive on stuff I’d already hit. This may seem brutal but look at any other competitive sport and similar tactics are used. Surfing for example utilizes blockers to gain position for other team mates. This is spearfishing at its highest level and exactly how the World Championship works.

Unfortunately the stripers weren’t there or I was moving way to fast to see em. After I hit all the obvious points I worked back into the cove hitting my less obvious high spots I’d found on Navionics. I worked these slower as I knew most of the obvious spots had already been hit and now I needed to spend time in the water.

Towards the end of the day my plan was to work the more traditional long walls where you hope to spend 30 min or more between moves just traveling 20 feet at a time and killing carp. I didn’t think I could beat the other guys hunting like this and I knew that’s what they would all be doing so I was trying to avoid it. The strategy here is to try and get a carp nearly every dive. If you dove twice in a row without seeing them it’s time to move. In the end one random point led me to a wall I’d never been on before that had more carp than I’d ever seen. Nearly every dive in a row for over two hours I pulled a fish. I was completely exhausted, dehydrated, and cramping. I felt so lightheaded from hours straight of hyperventilating to blow off CO2. I was completely exhausted but at the same time it didn’t seem like I needed to breathe at all. I was diving 40 feet and most of the time tackling the fish and stringing it before I hit the surface. I’ve never dove that hard in my life but couldn’t slow down while I was seeing carp every dive. That wall made the comp for me. I think I got the majority of my fish off that one random wall doing exactly what I didn’t plan on doing.

When Eric pulled up the stats from his Garmin I was wearing he found out I did 141 dives and spent 2 hours and 6 min of the 6 hour competition underwater. That’s one minute out of every three min of the day holding my breath. I moved 25 times and this includes all the time spent dumping fish and changing spots. I truly dove my heart out.

I made so many shooting mistakes this comp and lost at least 15 fish to tear offs and just plain misses. I passed my stringer to Eric with about 8 fish on it and it broke losing half of them. All rookie mistakes. Talking with the top guys and hearing each of them only missed a few fish makes me again realize I have to be the worst shot in competition spearfishing. I’ve started measuring my days not by how many fish I land but by how many I should have landed. One of my goals for this comp was to significantly decrease that number and on that I think I failed.

I was shooting a 70 cm Rob Allen carbon roller with a breakaway style speed loader. Moana medium-soft fins and an Omer 5 mm suit.

I’m completely honored to win this after working so hard for months of preparation. Thank you so much to Eric Shearouse who came all the way from Florida to drive, help scout, and rig everything including my obnoxious spares of everything. Thank you Sam for putting up with me during another nationals even though every time you say never again. Conditions were brutal yet you absolutely crushed it missing second place by only one fish.

I always felt like the 2016 World Championship in Greece was mine to win and wish I’d been there with more experience. Now I feel like I’m getting a second shot at the Mediterranean. So beyond stoked to represent Team USA for the 6th consecutive year! Italy here I come.

(Ryan and Justin Lee with Terry Lentz, the only American to ever win a 1st place individual title at the World Championship)

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