Competitive Spearfishing

What is it really and how will it unite the planet again next year? It seems that some people couldn’t rest until they had some proof of who was best and probably that’s how it all started. Spear fishing, as most human activities, began creating its own champions through

actual competitions across the seven seas of the globe.

As early as the start of the fifties, national and international spear fishing competition events had started to take place, in a frenzy of the pioneers of the sport to clash into one another, but also to get together, exchange information about their passion and develop their primitive equipment and fish approaching techniques. In a world emerging from a devastating war, any international sport activity seemed to bring heeling to the still open wounds of mankind and was therefore encouraged by governments. 

Competitive spear fishing rapidly grew along other sports within a solid system of national and international institutions and like all sports “recognised” by that system it formed its own athletes, national clubs and federations as well as world confederation (CMAS). Being part of the system since its early days, gave competitive spear fishing access to state funding, which provided the means for the organisation of prestigious continental and world championships. This did not come without a price: the sport submitted itself for life to state control. 

Although it never became a sport for the many, it was literally worshiped by the people around it, in a scale unprecedented for a mere fishing sport. Maybe it was the necessity of combining the qualities of highly demanding bodily exercise with precision judgement and live target shooting in a hypoxic state. Maybe it was the intriguing element of a possible uplift created by pure chance in the magical world of the sea. Or, finally, maybe defeat was not so bitter in spear fishing, given that one would be practicing his favourite hobby during the contest anyway. Whatever it was, it provided fascination, which made competitive spear fishing incomparable for its participants and the fans. 

The superpowers in the early years (1957 – 1963) were Italy, France, the USA, Spain and Brazil. Catalani, Corman, Lenz, Hermany and Gomis were the first world champions. During the eighties and nineties the sport flourished and especially in Europe international events were taking place in several countries frequently within each calendar year. The legendary clashes of the giants Jose Amengual, Jean Baptiste Esclapes, Bernard Salvatori and Renzo Mazzari overwhelmed thousands of astonished spectators and readers of diving magazines around the world. Most of the world championships of this period took place in the Mediterranean with big groupers deciding the outcome. It was the golden era of the sport, the times of plenty!  

No one, who has read about spear fishing in those days, is ignorant of the name “Jose Amengual”, the lame legged legend from Majorca, who dominated the competitions from 1973 until 1985, winning three world titles for Spain (1973, 1981 and 1985). Many say, that if it weren’t for the gap in the row of the world championships (from 1975 to 1981), Amengual would have been the greatest of all times. And no one who saw it, will ever forget the photo of Renzo Mazzari lifting 50 kilos of seabreams in Istanbul in 1987, to gracefully beat J.B. Esclapez and win his first world title, or the one of Mazzari with the groupers that brought down B. Salvatori in Majorca in 1992 to grant Renzo his third.  

Today, the enthusiasm amongst the athletes and fans remains vigorous. The generation that has matured during the golden age of the sport would certainly love to leave its own mark on it. But in the meanwhile the state funding in all sports has been reduced in most countries and especially the smaller sports under state supervision have found themselves struggling to survive. Organising international spear fishing events with boats is exceptionally expensive and despite the sponsor contributions, the national federations do not seem to be able to maintain the organisational quality level of the past when hosting a championship. New alternative rules for English – type (starting from the shore) competitions were introduced in 2004 in an effort to reduce cost and facilitate the organisers. The only experiment of such a competition so far, was the individual Euro African Championship 2005 in Saint Jean de Luz, France, which did not leave the best of impressions to the ones who took part in it.  

Another downside of the present times for the sport is that the environmental conscience the civilised world has gradually grown. Green organisations have constantly criticised the institution of competition spear fishing in many different fora and countries and the criticism almost lead to the abolishing of the discipline within the CMAS (Confederation Mondiale des Activites Subaquatiques) in 1999, when a resolution to that end was passed in the general assembly of the world confederation. The CMAS quickly realised it would only abandon power and money by renouncing spear fishing as a discipline and annulled its initial naive decision (as the sport would surely quickly reorganise itself outside the CMAS control) keeping it under its wings. Nevertheless, despite the insertions of many restrictions in the rules, the environmental pressure on spear fishing is evident today in many different ways.  

The Mediterranean countries dared not since 1992 (with the exception of Croatia in 2010) organise world events in the old Roman “Mare Nostrum” anymore. Italy considerably reduced the funding it once granted to its national spear fishing team and no one really knows what has happened to mighty France, where the top athletes felt so disappointed from the abandonment of their official Federation (FFESSM) that they formed private bodies to escape its control. Word has it, that the French will be back soon, but we all are a bit sceptical by now.  

The one country that has refused to play games of hide and seek about the sport, is Spain. Having produced the first ever competition spear fishing legend in the face of Jose Amengual, the Spaniards built up a remarkable tradition that rests on solid foundations. For many years, they have cultivated and maintained many clubs, regional federations and have organised many national and international events in their waters. Undoubtedly, Spain still invests heavily in the sport and is not afraid to show it. It always remained true to the originally laid principles and never backed down. It has constantly opposed any restrictive change in the rules and has always been there, when no other country would take up the organisation of an important event. It has come as no surprise, that since 1994, Spain has dominated the international scene of the sport.  

Pedro Carbonell is the last of the giants of international competitive spear fishing, having equalled the achievements of his uncle J. Amengual and the Italian R. Mazzari with 3 world titles. But with 4 Euroafrican titles under his belt Pedro is entitled to claim that he has been the greatest of them all so far. After the world championship in Mali Losinj he declared his retirement from international competition. In the age of 42 and with the restrictions in the rules having undermined his competing skills, he finally gave up the quest for the fourth world title. In an unprecedented 22 year career Pedro Carbonell took part in 21 major CMAS international championships and was NEVER below the first 10. With 7 gold medals, 1 silver and 2 bronze he is considered today the most iconic representative of the sport. 

Latest heroes of the international scene are today Daniel Gospic from Croatia, Jodi Lot from Portugal and reigning Euroafrican and World Champion Xavi Blanco from Spain (all of them having a Euroafrican and a world title).

So, what is competition spear fishing really about today? Will it find the means to finance itself and withstand the environmental criticism at the same time? What can it still present in a totally new world, where the information travels anywhere in an eye blink? How does competitive spear fishing impact any of us?  In the end we could all agree that no matter what the opinions are, or who the best fisherman of the world may be, one should always be eager to daily challenge his own self to a duel spear fishing contest. There is no doubt that to become good in anything, one has to compete, even if it is only against himself. One can’t always be best. But one can sure try to be better than yesterday…    

In an effort to celebrate that message in the sport's cradle in the Mediterranean Sea, the Greek Underwater Federation invites the best spear fishers from all the world and all the fans of the discipline to the 30th edition of the CMAS Spearfishing World Championship which will take place in the warm and clear waters of Syros, the capital island of the Cyclades archipelago, in September 2016 and hopes to be able to provide everyone with opportunity of a unique life experience.