August 2, 2017
USOA Nationals – Noyo, California
The Owen Churchill!!! If you don’t know, you better ask somebody. It is the holy grail, the Stanley Cup of US Spearfishing. A trophy that was gifted by the one and only Owen Churchill to US Spearfishing in 1950. Circling the base of the trophy are the US’s past national champions, for team and individual. In addition to the honor of having your name etched into “The Churchill”, it will forever signify the hard work, sweat, blood, time, some tears and sacrifice that you and your team have poured into the pursuit of such an honor of accompanying US Spearfishing greats. At the 2016 US Spearfishing Nationals in Beaver Lake, Arkansas, they announced that 2017’s bid was won by Cen Cal and that it was going to held in the chilly, windy, rough waters out of Noyo Harbor, Fort Bragg in California. At the announcement, teammate Ryan Myers and myself took a deep breath. It was as if Ryan and I had any hope in making the US team to compete in Portugal at CMAS’s 31st World Spearfishing Championships. We would have to do well where most do not. It was then that we started to devise a plan and pick our third member of our team.
Our initial plan was to try and find someone local, but everyone we knew was already on a team and finding local knowledge was going to be a challenge. Then we thought, who do we know that can crush fish? My buddy Spencer Haskins was first choice. Better yet, he is also on the HECS elite team with Ryan and I. So it was done, we had our team. Now came the hours of YouTube videos, pictures, blogs and calls to friends in hopes of starting to paint a picture of what we would be up against in terms of fish, competition and weather elements.
All reports came back the same, be ready to not feel your fingers and toes! The water is going to be cold and visibly will be poor. Your kayak will flip in the wind and waves, however if you can find fish, you will be able to spear them… only thing is that all the local divers will already have found those fish, so be ready to race to your spots. However well you think you’re going to do, times that by two and that’s more realistic. Ryan and I slowly realized that being the top 10 was going to be a lot harder than we ever thought. It was set and we were going to need thick 7mm wetsuits, 20 plus pounds of weight and lots of time to search under every rock to find our fish. Before long, it was time to head North. Ryan and team mascot/manager, Sam drove their Toyota Sienna van cross country from Miami to Fort Bragg just so we would have a vehicle. A lot of credit to Scott Eastman who drove his 27 ft trailer from Reno, so we would have a place to stay or we would all have been sardines in Ryan’s Sienna. We planned on putting in two solid weeks of scouting, which should give enough time for our bodies to acclimate to the 49 degrees cold and dirty waters of NorCal.
Hours of scouting and miles of kayaking, searching under every rock and crack is boring enough and hard to stay motivated. Add in water so cold, that your gums tingle and after just a short time, your thumbs stop being able to push the buttons on your flashlight. But, at least you don’t have to worry about your feet hurting from your pockets because you lose feeling all together about an hour into your day. It was hard to stay focus but was work that needed to be done and with Portugal being the carrot in front of my nose, I kept chugging along. In the days of scouting, I personally wasn’t seeing much of anything great. In talking with the other competitors, my morale kept falling as it seemed everyone had found their big lings and spots that they had dove before were still holding fish.
It was the morning of the 2017 Nationals and the spearfishing gods gifted everyone that was not from NorCal the most surprising gift: flat like a lake, calm waters. Not a whisper of the wind or ripple of a wave. It was as some locals described it “A once every 10 year calm!” I was pumped! Ryan and Spencer were pumped! It wasn’t anything like we had scouted. Our morale instantly jumped through the roof, but our high hopes were short lived because not only did we get to dive in this never before calm water, but so did the rest of the field of extraordinary spearfishermen and women. Paul Young, who sat in first after 2016 Nationals, now gets to dive his backyard in epic conditions. His team consisted of legend, Mike McGuire and his son,
Kelston. I want to say up and coming but he’s already here and at 16 years old, Kelston is dominating in both fresh and saltwater. The ever dangerous Dennis “Chicken Leg” Hossler, was teamed up with World competitor Alex Reynaud and always a threat, Greg Fonts. A few other strong local dive teams consisted of some serious local power and knowledge of the area. I remember thinking, “Here we go, this what we wanted, a fight to earn your spot on Team USA. Here we go, it’s go time! Do you! Just dive!”
As all the competitors loaded their kayaks on the beach, it looked like the giants were playing “Pick up stix”. It wasn’t long until it was time to stage, before the Coast Guard blew their horn signaling that it was 9 a.m., which meant it was time to go to your favorite spot. There was a 30 minute travel time, which meant you have 30 mins to go anywhere you like, but you weren’t allowed to enter the water until 9:30. I paddled to my first spot which was a lingcod. I paddled right to his home and dropped my anchor. I got there about 10 minutes after the start and took my time clearing my mask and getting ready before it was time to enter at 9:30 sharp. I slipped in, loaded my mini Aimrite and descended along the underwater ridge to my ling’s home and he was home. A quick shot and my first fish was shot not 3 mins past 9:30. From there, it was hop scotch from spot to spot trying to collect all my pieces. At 2:15 p.m., I lined up and landed my last Rainbow perch to fill my catch quota of 16 fish. At this time, I wound up my anchor and stored all my gear into my kayak. I felt good, I found some monster cabezons that filled my 10 RGC (rockfish, cabezon, and greenling). I had two lings (but not too big) and I had my four perch. With an hour and 15 mins before it was time to stop diving, I started paddling around and talking to fishermen and to the other divers in trying to figure how my catch would measure up. I felt good and thought my stringer was going to be hard to top.
Upon hearing the horn of the Coast Guard signalling the 2017 US Spearfishing Nationals had come to an end, the buzz on the beach as everyone started pulling fish out of their kayak hauls were amazing. Kelston pulled out a monster lingcod, by the looks of it, it looked to bury the 20 lb mark. Local Kona boy moved to Cali, Wasen Van Ventura, had an equally large one if not bigger. Other’s catches were impressive, with huge vermillion rocks, a prize fish in the Northwest. Soon, it was time for our team to carry our bags of fish to the scale to see where we sat. Spencer was first to weigh his catch. He had a rough day, that found him scratching his head after most of his fish weren’t home. But being the “White Hammer” that he is, he still crushed it and came
in with very respectable catches. Then, it was my turn and upon seeing my catch I felt strong and felt good. My three big cabezons and 16 total fish put me in at 83 points, which sat me in 1st place. However, it was short lived as Ryan “Meow” Myer’s snuck in like a cat with a massive catch of big fish, complete with four beautiful vermillion rockfish. His catch shot him to the top with 99 points. When the scales were done tipping, that’s where he would stay, with me in 2nd place and Adam Suave in 3rd place. The big fish honors went to Wasen, with a 21.22 lb lingcod.
Mixed team champions went to father and son duo, Paul and Jacob Castillou and Kathy Cosby taking individual woman’s champion honors. To our surprise, three warm water boys from Hawaii and Florida took the National Champs Team Honors. To say we were pumped and stoked is a true understatement, cloud 9 billion is where we were smiling. I want to send a huge thank you to Cen Cal Spearfishing for organizing an amazing meet. With more volunteers than I had ever seen, seas of blue shirted volunteers greeted us on the beach and at every turn they were there with a helping
hand. Everything was awesome! 2018 Nationals will be in Tampa, Florida. Hope to see some new faces, so start preparing now!