Article by Julia Donoth for Spearing Magazine – National Spearfishing Magazine (October 2022, Volume 15.3 – Buy hard copy $10.00, e-magazine $5.00 at https://spearingmagazine.com/collections/back-issues)
Poised, perceptive, preparing his next move; he eyes his target with encyclopedic knowledge of Hawaii’s elaborate reefs. But contrary to his well-disguised, aloof demeanor underwater, today, National Spearfishing Champion and revered Honoka‘a native Justin Lee finds himself vividly seen, He’s not underwater, and he’s not hunting fish. Standing inside a classroom in Waimea, Hawaii before an audience of twenty-five wide-eyed, awestruck children, Lee employs his decades of wisdom towards pursuing a new target: the safety and empowerment of Hawai’i’s youth.
Bursting with the excited whispers of youth spearos and freedivers from across Hawai’i island, the classroom reflects the determination of 501(C)(3) nonprofit FreediveSatfe! Hawai’i. Providing free spearfishing and freedive safety training to community youth ‘ages twelve to twenty-five, their program focuses outside the classroom, in the expansive underwater galaxy of dynamic scenery, unique geography, and ecological billance Surrounding the students’ isolated island home. Active volcanoes, luminous reefs, and plummeting drop-offs, 2.000 miles away from the nearest continental landmass; the
convergence of biological and geological extremes in Hawai’ creates an extraordinary place of discovery for community youth. But when the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic locked down the isolated island community and community interest in spearfishing and freediving grew, so did freedtving fatalities. Between January and July 2020, freediving and spearfishing accounted for 50 percent of all ocean-elated fatalities involving Hawaii residents (State of Hawa, Department of Health). There was a fatality in Hawaii’s waters every month for five months, most of them youth.