Amy Molloy is a journalist, author and ‘digital nomad’ who takes her work on the road at every opportunity. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter.
As the daughter of a strict vegetarian, who flunked science because I refused to dissect a pig’s heart, I never thought I’d find myself standing on the edge of a rock platform, with a spear gun in one hand and a knife strapped to my ankle.
I do not have what it takes to be a spearo. I hate confrontation – if I watch a scary movie I have to ‘emotionally cleanse’ with a comedy afterwards. As a child I was terrified of the lines drawn on the bottom of the swimming pool because I thought they looked like hammerhead sharks.
I am also female and spearos aren’t women, right? Wrong! As a long weekend spent in Eden taught me, anyone can spearfish and what’s more anyone can love it. Even this plant-eating, peace-loving, former sea-phobic.
My introduction to spear fishing came through my fiancé Kurt, who I started shadowing when he went out spearing, kicking behind him in my mask and snorkel. .
At first I was just going for moral support, but every time Kurt got a fish I felt a surge of excitement. It also didn’t sit well with my conscience that I was happy to eat the fish that he caught but I was not comfortable pulling the trigger. That’s why I decided to jump in the deep end.
Although there are great spearing locations nearer Sydney (Cape Solander, Jibbon Point and Boneyard in Kiama), we chose Ben Boyd National Park near Eden for my initiation.
When we arrived at Bitangabee camp ground we asked Evan, the campsite official for a fishing spot recommendations and he pointed us down a fire trail in the direction of ‘Castle Rock’. Apparently two teenagers staying at the campsite had caught ten leatherjackets there the previous Saturday.
The difference is that teenager boys are fearless, whereas I am a woman raised in London, where the scariest organism in the River Thames is the Rabies virus. But I wasn’t about to back out now, especially as I’d already invested in my own speargun – a ‘Mean Green’ Torelli that is apparently a favourite for female spearos. And so I took a deep breath and jumped…
Did I fall in love with spearfishing the moment I made my first shot? No, if I’m honest. I can only apologise to the ghost of the first fish I killed because I gave it a horrifically slowly death. I was so shocked at hitting anything that I forgot everything Kurt had taught me about killing a fish humanely.
But the second time I hit a fish it got easier and by the third fish I felt like an action heroine. I can’t explain the sense of primal pride I felt when we returned to the campsite victorious and traded one of the fish with Evan to ‘pay’ for our campsite. I was a hunter, gatherer!
Since my first initiation at Castle Rock every spearing outing has been an education and I’ve learned some unique lessons.
Don’t try and spear fish in bodyboarding flippers. I’ve finally just invested in some Seac Motus fins, which are one of the few brands who stock tiny women’s sizes and it’s made a huge difference. I no longer have todo the underwater equivalent of Irish dancing to move forward.
I’ve accepted that everyone feels scared sometimes. Weirdly, I find that having a GoPro gives me a false sense of comfort because I feel like someone is watching out for me (I know it’s a placebo effect but it seems to work).
Oh, and if you want to boost your breath holding go hiking at high altitude. Kurt and I just got back from a 4-month trip across South America where we were 5.600metres above sea level. Since then I feel like my lung capacity has doubled.
I have also become a bit of a research nerd, Instagram stalking amazing female spearos like Jessie Cripps for inspiration. According to Obsession Dive in Sydney, who runs spearfishing and free diving courses for beginners, in the past year they’ve seen a surge in women who want to try the sport.
How does my vegetarian mother feel about my new hobby? Well, she’s actually far happier that I catch my own fish, than buying it from a supermarket because of the problems with bycatch.
But for me the biggest revelation about spearfishing was how calming it is, which is the opposite of what I expected. There is something meditative about floating along with a fish in your sights and then free-diving with only your own breath to rely on.
That is how this plant-eating, peace-loving, former sea-phobic became a spear fishing convert – and why I urge you to try it. As for Eden as a camping destination, as the name suggests, it really is paradise.