Tuesday, 26 May 2020


Bittersweet Inter-Pacific Spearfishing Championships for Mercury Bay locals

Bittersweet Inter-Pacific Spearfishing Championships for Mercury Bay locals

The New Zealand men and women’s spearfishing teams are back from the Tahitian island of Raiatea where they participated in the Inter-Pacific Spearfishing Championships during April. Manager of the men’s team, Herb Herbert and team members Callum Relph and Rowan Virbickas live in Mercury Bay. Another team member, Todd Herbert grew up in Mercury Bay, but is now serving an electrician apprenticeship in Queenstown.
The team suffered a setback their very first day in Tahiti with Rowan injuring his leg to such an extent that he wasn’t able to participate in the competition. Kolt Johnston from Auckland was flown in and was a worthy substitute, helping the team to come third overall, behind Tahiti and New Caledonia. The women’s team came second, behind Tahiti.
In the men’s competition each team consisted of two pairs diving together. Callum dived with Todd. Kolt dived with the other team member, Jackson Shields from Auckland.
The team’s schedule was very full while in Tahiti. That is not including Rowan who had to spend most of the time in his room with his leg in the air. “We used the first week and a half to scout the four zones around Raiatea set aside for the competition,” said Callum. “We were going to dive in only two zones, but didn’t know which two. We dived for nine out of our first twelve days for more than eight hours every day. At the end of each day of diving, we would shoot a few fish for dinner. The chef of the resort we stayed in was unbelievable - every night we would give him the fish we shot and night after night he cooked it in this amazing variety of ways.”
The competition itself was a big event on Raiatea, not a traditional tourist destination. The opening ceremony was attended by Tahiti’s Minister of Sport and the local Mayor. It was broadcasted on local television. “All the local people were really excited to have an international event on their island,” said Callum. “I was amazed at how popular New Zealand is among the locals. They support the All Blacks and just wanted to know what they had to do to get hold of one of the New Zealand hats and t-shirts we took with us.
“The competition itself was held over two days, with six hours of diving every day. Todd and I had a very good first day, after which our men’s team was second. Kolt and Jackson had a good second day, but it wasn’t good enough to prevent the New Caledonians from taking second spot. We beat the Aussies, though.”
Asking Callum what the difference is between spearfishing in New Zealand waters and the tropics, he said, “Depth first and foremost. We free-dived every day to about 35m. In New Zealand, we normally would go to 15m. The water is also much warmer, the visibility is much better, in fact the water is crystal clear, and there’s a much bigger variety of fish.”
Asking Rowan if he’s injury would put him off competing again, he said, “Look, I was like someone who was given a really, really bad Christmas gift. But all it did was to motivate me to get back out there and try to represent New Zealand again. 
We’ve heard next year’s championships may be in New Caledonia. I suspect it’s going to be tougher to make the team with more divers trying out, but I’m going to give it everything I have.”
To which Callum added, “Count me in too.”


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