WORDS BY: MATTHEW TEEL
PHOTOS BY: JERRY GUERRA
What used to be a primitive method to gathering food – spearfishing – is now a means of entertainment for anyone with access to a body of water. How is it that this ancient hunting method has eventually evolved into a popularized water sport? What is it that drives this sport the ability to flourish around the world and throughout the existence of humanity?
Jerry Guerra, owner of Neptonics Spear Fishing in Long Beach, has based his life around spearfishing and is the local expert on the sport. Now practicing the sport for over 32 years, Guerra has competed in over 150 competitions, won the state championship several times and has an interesting insight on the aspects of spear fishing.
What is your favorite aspect of the sport?
“You get to see the ocean for what it's worth, not just what YouTube wants you to see it as. For me, diving isn't just about hunting and killing a fish. It's about exploring the ocean, the wildlife, being with your buddies in a boat all day, and cooking what you catch. When we first started, it was all about catching the biggest and most fish, but after all of these years, it’s more of an excuse to travel around, meet new people and explore things that you have never seen. Going to a new location and making friends with local fishermen is the best way to do this. You get stories and adventures out of the sport. Every dive is always a foreign experience.”
Any tips for people that are interested?
“What's great about spearfishing is that anyone can dive. It's about the experience, not necessarily the hunt. So be safe, patient and enjoy your surroundings. They even have spearfishing charters now, and you can always find guides online. This sport has gained lots of popularity in the last 20 years, and I am excited to see that more people are showing interest.”
What goes into spearfishing?
“There are a lot of things running threw your head when you first begin spearfishing. Having done spearfishing for so long now, all of the aspects of the sport have become second nature. The first rule is that you always have to have a diving buddy. Other than that, you have to think about how far down can you dive, what fish type you are looking for, is it legal size, is your equipment ready, how you want to approach the fish, and there are many more things to think about... But like I said, after all of these years, it's a lot more fun and relaxing just being down there. The hardest part for people is patience. It’s hard to be patient while hunting when you also have to worry about holding your breath. With practice, you lose the pressure and gain an enjoyable environment.”
Any close calls while spearfishing?
“I have had a total of three shallow-water blackouts. I haven't had too many scary shark experiences... just a few inquisitive sharks if you want to call it that. But the shallow-water blackouts; that's the creepy stuff man. Your body needs oxygen. Essentially, the further you dive, the more air is pushed from your lungs into your bloodstream. Your lungs get crushed down so much with more depth and pressure, so as you come up to the surface, your lungs begin to expand back to normal and adjust to the atmospheric pressure. Not giving yourself enough rest between dives limits the amount of oxygen that can reach your brain, and, thus, it will actually turn off, causing a blackout. This is why you always have a diving buddy. A lot of beginners will go chasing a fish and end up tiring themselves out – which puts them in higher risk of danger. This sport will test you physically and mentally, but like I said, after practicing all of these years, you learn your body’s limits and the monkeys are off your back. You get to explore the ocean for what it is, and it becomes a relaxing environment.”