Once or twice a year, we hear of an elite level diver who died while spearfishing alone. Sadly, most of those experienced divers have been in the sport long enough to have had some exposure to or formal training in safety protocols. In other words, they fully understand the risks that come with ignoring freediving safety protocols. Just as if they were driving without wearing a seat belt or driving under the influence, those divers made the fatal decision to spearfish without a buddy. Whether they believed their experience, amassed from hundreds of dives to much greater depths, would allow them to safely dive “within their limits” and handle any dangerous situations that might arise, or whether they believed shallow water blackout fatalities only happen to other people, we’ll never know. They are no longer with us.
So what happens when you’re spearfishing with an experienced diver you (prior to the session) admire, but the diver is not diving safely? How do you handle those awkward situations? Given that such divers are more experienced and older than we are, shouldn’t we follow their lead? In a word, no.
Every spearfishing session should start with a few safety drills, such as LMC rescue on the surface or blackout underwater. This is a great time to warm up and refresh some of the important safety techniques learned in your formal training. Also, this first five to ten minutes of diving sets the tone for the rest of the session. You know you’re both on the same page, and your dive buddy is putting safety (i.e., your life) first.
Above photo: FII-certified freedivers Dylan Currier and Cory Fults practice shallow water blackout rescue drills on the surface. Image by Perrin James Franta.
By asking new dive buddies beforehand if they are formally trained in freediving safety procedures and asking to practice a few safety drills at the start of the session, you’re addressing any safety concerns before entering the water with them. Never assume an older, more experienced spearo will always follow the safety rules or is formally trained in safety procedures.During the session, if you notice your partner is distracted by the environment, a friendly reminder before you start your dive like, “Hey, safety, are you watching me?” should bring your partner’s focus back to the number one job. If your partner remains distracted, then it’s time to pull the plug. If you value your life and your buddy won’t follow the safety procedures, then you must finish the dive session. There is a real and present risk that one of you may not come home that night. It’s not only the unsafe diver who’s at risk; you are too because your partner doesn’t have your back. A few minutes of uncomfortable conversation with your dive buddy to end the session is a million times easier than explaining to a hysterical, grieving mother, father, spouse, or child how a loved one died under your watch.
While unsafe and unethical spearos commonly are blacklisted from spearfishing trips, safe spearos become highly sought-after dive buddies, not because they pass the vibe check or are killer spearos but because they have proven an unwavering commitment to following safety protocols. You know that person has your back. Those are the people you should admire.
FreediveSafe! offers formal freediving and spearfishing training to the local community at no cost. To register your interest in an upcoming event, please preregister at www.freedivesafe.org.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
73-5737 Kuakini Hwy, Suite 202
Kailua-Kona, Hawaii 96740
FREEDIVESAFE! ANNOUNCES CRITICAL SAFETY TRAINING FOR DIVERS
SPEARFISHING SAFETY TRAINING EVENT TO TARGET LOCAL YOUTH
Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, July 21, 2021: FreediveSafe, a nonprofit that works to provide lifesaving freediving and spearfishing safety training to all of Hawaii’s local communities, announced today it has launched an essential free community program to ensure everyone has access to critical freediving/spearfishing safety training.
With more than 50 percent of all Hawaii resident ocean fatalities related to spearfishing and freediving, FreediveSafe’s comprehensive initiative is the first to prevent freediving and spearfishing related deaths in Hawaii.
“Our sole goal is to ensure important modern safety training – proven to mitigate the dangers of this sport – is available to everyone who needs it,” said Niki Stepanek, Founder. “ We provide freediving/spearfishing safety training and presentations throughout the Hawaiian Island chain to ensure everyone’s safety and security. This safety training is critically important to all those — especially youth — who freedive or spearfish as it could be lifesaving in a difficult situation.”
In fact, FreediveSafe’s training is the minimum level of training required to safely participate in the sport of spearfishing. That is why FreediveSafe will be hosting its next event for local spearfisherman between the age of 12 and 22. The event will be hosted in Kailua-Kona on July 31 and August 1, 2021, with a maximum of 20 students led by local Freediving Instructors International (F.I.I.) certified freediving instructors Heidi Hoover and Sandra Hammel with gear support provided by Kona Freedivers.
Most freedivers and spearfisherman often underestimate the safety risks of the respective sports. Depth is only one of the many variables that defines how taxing a freedive can be on a diver’s oxygen. While most people strive to dive within their limits, one of the first symptoms of mild hypoxia (low oxygen) is confusion and faulty judgment. In other words, divers never really know for sure if they are within their limits while freediving/spearfishing — proving that a formally trained buddy is key to staying safe. The FreediveSafe! safety program ensures everyone can enjoy freediving and spearfishing responsibly and help ensure every diver comes home safe.
For more information, please contact Niki Stepanek firstname.lastname@example.org or call 808-900-331.
Interested students can register for the event at www.freedivesafe.org.
FreediveSafe! Hawaii, 501(c)3 registered nonprofit was born from the desperate need to stop the rise of freediving and spearfishing related deaths in Hawai’i. We are a team of freediving professionals, from national record holders to subsistence spearfishermen, who care about our community. FreediveSafe! is the only freediving and spearfishing safety nonprofit organization in Hawai’i.
We are proud to announce FreediveSafe! is now a public charity with tax-exempt status under Section 501(c)3 of the U.S. Internal Revenue Code. The granting of nonprofit status is a major milestone for our organization, and we are excited to provide freediving and spearfishing safety training to our communities.
Thank you all for your participation and support of our freediving and spearfishing safety initiative.
As we enter the Christmas holidays, we’d like to take moment to thank you all for your participation and support of our freediving and spearfishing safety initiative.
Since launching FreediveSafe! Hawai’i in August 2020, we have trained over 43 people in lifesaving freediving and spearfishing safety protocols. This is nearly double our initial four month goal! Of those 43 students, 70% were between 12-21 years old, 99% were spearfishing or freediving without proper training, and over 50% knew someone who had died spearfishing. In addition to the young diver enrolment, we’ve also had many parents join the class interested in learning about the dangers of the sport to better educate their young children, and other parents. This is an essential step towards ensuring this training reaches those just starting out in the sport hopefully leading to “safety training before three-prong” approach.
As our students are learning, freediving and spearfishing safely isn’t difficult, but it does require a commitment from both divers to follow key safety protocols. For breathhold diving, this means both divers attending the formal safety training and both divers swearing to adhere to these safety protocols for the rest of their life. For Every. Single. Dive.
As anticipated, the pandemic has greatly impacted our ability to travel between islands, take larger class sizes and County pools remain closed to group reservations, but we are forging ahead determind to get this lifesaving spearfishing training out there. To adapt, we’ve been hosting classroom sessions in heavily ventilated classrooms, outdoors under gazebos, over Zoom and running the practical training in protected coastal bays on the Big Island and Oahu. Our precautions and your kokua have made these sessions a great success and we’ve had such a great time meeting everyone.
Many community members have been asking how they can help us. Firstly, by registering your kids or attending the training with your dive buddy, you’ve made a significant impact. Beyond this, we ask that you can continue to help us by spreading the word in the community. If you know a spearfisher or freediver that hasn’t taken any formal safety training, tell them to join our FREE program. Our next course is January 10th, 2021 in Kona, and we look forward to releasing more dates soon.
A huge mahalo to our volunteer instructor team, Heidi Hoover, Chris Funada, Dan Koval, Kristin Kuba, Mike Jutt, Martin Stepanek, Dylan Currier, and Cory Fults. Our support facility, Kona Freedivers/Kona Honu Divers and business owner Byron Kay, Freediving Instructors International (F.I.I.), our generous donors, Board of Directors, and to all of you helping our mission towards a safer ocean community!
Mele Kalikimaka, Happy New Year and as always, FreediveSafe! Hawaii.
From May to July 2020, we lost five members of the freediving and spearfishing community in Hawai’i. The divers, who were between 15 and 52 years of age, were freediving at Ka’ena Point, O’ahu; Ka’a’awa, O’ahu; Mahukona, Big Island; Old A’s, Big Island and Paia, Maui. As these tragedies unfolded, the media shared heart-wrenching images of the families and friends of these divers. The blow to our community was insufferable and something had to be done to ensure formal freediving/spearfishing safety training was widely available to the public at no cost.
From these tragedies, FreediveSafe! Hawaii was born with a mission to create sustainable, long-term change by launching a FREE community program to train divers in safe freediving protocols proven to mitigate the risks of this sport. By dramatically increasing the availability of this lifesaving training, together we can combat the increase of freediving and spearfishing deaths in Hawai’i.
As FreediveSafe! Hawaii, our mission is to ensure this critical training is provided to everyone who needs it. But achieving that will require a community effort. If you care about the safety of your community and are moved to take action from these recent tragedies, we’re asking you to help FreediveSafe! Hawaii on its mission. Whether it’s encouraging a friend to register for the program, talking story, donating, or putting a FreediveSafe! Hawaii sticker on your truck, every effort matters! Help us get word out and together, let’s prevent freediving related deaths in the islands.
Founder, FreediveSafe! Hawaii