Since the Coronavirus outbreak hit us at the beginning of 2020, everything has felt a little crazy. Like so many people, my world was turned upside down. I suddenly found myself juggling work alongside home-schooling a small child and caring for an elderly relative whilst unable to complete the simplest of tasks without a song and dance.
Fortunately one of my biggest passions – spearfishing – was barely affected. Diving deep into the quiet water, away from all the worries and troubles with no sound but my own heartbeat helped me forget what was happening on the land, if only for a few hours.
Spearfishing is a tranquil sport that offers so many benefits, it is of little surprise to me that so many women are getting involved. It offers a sustainable way to catch food (in contrast with the environmentally devastating industrial fishing industry) and it is also a small step-on from freediving which women typically try first (and are generally very good at!). The feeling of being immersed, surrounded by nature whilst catching your food in the most natural way possible, brings us peace and reignites our prehistoric hunting instincts (yes, women were hunters too!)
Find a buddy
If you want to try this beautiful sport, you’ll need some equipment and a dive buddy. Diving alone is ill-advised – simply, you can black out in the water (i.e. hypoxic blackout) and drown, or have a samba hypoxic fit (called that because you’ll dance around just like a samba, but it’s not a good thing). There are also plenty more medical emergencies that a dive buddy can help you out of. So a buddy is absolutely essential and you’ll find plenty of volunteers in Facebook groups such as @ukspearfishingbuddies.
It’s also helpful if you can kickstart your spearfishing career with a course, even if it’s just for half a day. There are so many little bits of advice that experienced spearfishermen and women can give you, it’s impossible to pick up from guides alone. It’s a bit daunting diving into the water with all your equipment for the first time and you’ll build lots of confidence having done a course. Often all the equipment will be provided, so it’s a great way to see if you actually like the sport before you splash out. If you’re spearfishing in Mexico, SpearfishingToday.com has a wide range of options for beginners departing from Cancun, Cozumel, Isla Mujeres, Playa del Carmen or Tulum.
If you’ve previously done any watersports you might already have a wetsuit. Unfortunately if you’re diving in cooler waters it’ll almost certainly be the wrong sort for spearfishing. Surf suits are made from material designed for those who are staying near the surface. Spearfishing wetsuits by contrast are made from neoprene which is much warmer as it won’t compress at depth.
Spearfishing wetsuits also come in two pieces giving you extra warmth around your mid-section. You can either have high waisted pants or long johns (that have a vest attached at the top) and as a women, you’ll want the high waist pants as it makes going to the toilet a bit easier.
Because women are getting into this sport a lot more, manufacturers have started making wetsuits specifically for spearas (i.e. female spearfishers) and these are a really good choice – they take into account that we’re physically different in all the right places! However, every wetsuit manufacturer is a bit different in their cut and sizing so it’s essential to speak to an expert when choosing yours. Spearfishing shops that have a good knowledge of all the brands will be able to consider your body type (essentially, chest, hips and bum) and tell you which suit will work for you.
Why does it even matter? Aside from poor aesthetics, a badly fitting wetsuit will leave you with pockets that water sits, and you’ll quickly get cold. If (like me) you often find regular clothes don’t fit you because you simply aren’t shaped like Miss Average (although who is?), you might want to splash out on a custom wetsuit once you’re happy you love the sport. They are surprisingly price competitive in contrast with a good quality regular wetsuit.
One last note on wetsuits: spearfishing suits do often have extra reinforcement around the elbows, knees and chest. You’ll appreciate the chest pad as it makes things a bit more comfortable for us girls and helps reduce bruises when you’re loading the gun. It also helps the suit last longer when you’re crawling around rocks.
Socks and gloves
It’s a bit of a running joke that us ladies have cold hands and feet all the time, but there’s actually a good reason for this. Our circulatory system is different to a man’s and centred around our reproductive organs, so our extremities have less blood supply and feel colder. If your partner gets annoyed with you snuggling your feet under them in the night, just tell them you can’t help it!
Having cold hands and feet in the water is just not pleasant. It can make the rest of your body feel colder than it actually is, and you’ll also lose some dexterity.
Having said all that, with the water temperature in the UK around 12 to 14 degrees, I’m usually happy with 3mm gloves for most of the year. When it gets colder (towards 9 degrees), I like to use 5mms. You only notice a very slight different in dexterity with the increase in thickness.
For my socks, I have 5mm which I use throughout the year. I like my permanently cold feet to be toasty warm!
In other parts of the world such as Mexico where the water is warmer, you’ll likely be fine with 2 – 3mm for gloves and socks.
You need to keep a close eye on your gloves and ensure they’re in good condition. They don’t just protect you from the cold – they also help avoid cuts from fish spikes and rocks.
If you’ve already got scuba fins, I really recommend that you don’t use them. They’re designed for something else entirely and they’re far too rigid. They will cause cramp and pain in your ankles, and it will ruin your dive.
Since generally speaking we have less muscle mass, a smaller bone mass and a smaller skeletal size, we can get away with a softer blade. Take care when choosing your fins because a firmer blade will cause too much strain on your ankles and quickly wear you out.
If you’ve diving down deep, you may want to go just a little firmer with your fins, compared to shore diving where the majority of your swim is on the surface.
Take into account your socks when buying fins – if they’re designed for 3mm socks and you’re wearing 5mm, you’re going to get cramp. Buy for 5mm socks – if you want to wear 3mm any time of the year because you’re getting too warm, you can use a fin saver.
Have a look at fins made from Carbon Innegra – this is a really smart material that combines all the strength and stiffness of carbon fibre with Innegra fibres, giving you lightness, durability and impact resistance. I think these are perfect for women, although do try out spearfishing first before you invest.
There’s quite a few different factors that determine which gun you should buy. Perhaps the first thing to think about as a women is strength. Again, we’re all physiologically different so I can’t point to a single gun that will work for every woman out there – especially if you can bench 200lbs and you’re running rings around the guys in the gym!
For the rest of us, guns with more forgiving bands are a good option. If you’re hunting around reefs for small fish, a single 14mm band will work just fine. If you need more power because you’re targeting bigger fish, you can go for 2 x 14mm or more. What can really help women if they want to buy something more powerful is to buy a load assist. This is a rubber tool that is worn over your arm and can make loading even 16mm bands a piece of cake.
As you evolve into a true spearfishing huntress, you’ll undoubtedly find yourself buying more than one gun to deal with different scenarios – a light, nimble speargun around 70cm – 75cm in length for shallow water hunting and a longer 110cm gun for reef hunting ambush style. There is a really comprehensive free PDF guide to all the different considerations for buying a speargun here.
As I mentioned above, women quite often have less muscle mass, a smaller skeletal size and a smaller bone mass than men, so we need more weights – but it’s not always the case. We definitely do not come in one single size and speaking to an expert in spearfishing gear will pay dividends here. It’s not just size either – getting your weights right really depends on the type of diving you’re doing (where and how).
As a mum with some back issues, I like to spread out the weight through a harness and belt. It takes the pressure off my lower back and just makes my dive a bit more comfortable. I think this is a good choice for any spearas, back issues or not, because the vest can help you perform a smoother duck dive, saving you energy.
The rest of the equipment you need for spearfishing is the same as for men – i.e. a float, stringer, knife, mask and snorkel. Your float warns others than you’re diving underneath the water, reducing the possibility of an accident. It’s also useful for tying things to!
Whilst I can explain the physiologically differences that we have to men and how our equipment changes as a result, you’ll hopefully appreciate the value of speaking to a spearfishing shop directly to get customised advice for your body type. Once you’ve got your basic gear, I hope to see you in @ukspearfishingbuddies where you’ll receive a warm welcome as a new huntress from me and the other spearas. Happy and safe diving!