Big smile, always in the good mode, having fun even while competing, those are words that can best describe Justin Lee. Member of USA National spearfishing team lives in the place that many spearos dream about because of the fish, Hawaii islands. I met Justin during World Championship in Syros, Greece where he left his stamp with 9th place, as no one expected that someone that is not from the Mediterranean can surprise.
(By Valentina Prokic)
Valentina Prokic: How and when do you start with spearfishing?
Justin Lee: I started spearfishing by following my dad into the water. My first role as a diver was the bag boy. The bag boy made sure all dive gear needed for the dive was there. Starting with my dad’s gear. Then, while spearing I held the bag and held all the speared fish. No spear just the bag to learn how, and went to make dives to see what fish to spear. Then I was given a pole spear and eventually, I bought my speargun when I was 20 years old.
Valentina P: How and when did you start to compete in spearfishing?
JL: In the year 2014. It was my first large spearfishing competition. It was the USOA National championships. I placed 5th.
Valentina P: What were your goals and still are your goals in competing?
Justin Lee: To always come home alive and unharmed, to meet and share as many memories and laughs with people around the world. To always give it my all, and would love to stand on the top of the podium one day!!
Valentina P: Your best results until now? Home and international?
JL: I recently won our National spearfishing championship here in the United States, and in the CMAS World Spearfishing Championship 2016 in Syros, Greece, I placed 9th.
Valentina P: What are your plans for competitions this year?
Justin Lee: I plan to compete in the world championships for freshwater spearfishing in the US next June, compete in the CMAS world championships in Spain next year, as well as United States national Spearfishing championships in Hawaii.
Valentina P: I know that you won Nationals in the Lake in the USA, can you tell us more about how was it? Did you expect to win? Who were your greatest opponents? What fish were you catching?
JL: My most recent victory was in Lake Powell at the USOA Spearfishing National Championships. The water was cold with limited visibility, maybe only 2-3 meters. Fish were shallow though only 5-10 meters deep. After the first day, I was very far behind, I had 71% and the leader was a local diver. I never like to give up and believe there’s always a way as long as I dive hard and get lucky. On the second day, I scored 100% while the first-day leader scored 68%, so very close but I narrowly squeaked away with a win!
The fish we were spearing on the first day were striped bass, walleye, and catfish. The second day was striped bass and carp. Striped bass, walleye and catfish were all worth 3 points each on the first day, and on the second-day the striped bass was worth 3 and the carp worth 1. On the first day I speared 14 striped bass and 1 walleye, the second day I speared 49 carps and 18 striped bass.
Valentina P: You are well known in the spearfishing world, especially after WC in Syros, where you maybe even surprised the European spearos with your performance. Can you describe the difference and how tough it is for you to adapt to the Mediterranean spearfishing as you live in the Hawaii?
JL: The hardest thing to adapt to is the depth of the Mediterranean. The fish are smart and like to run into holes and with no flashlight it was very difficult in Syros (flashlight was not allowed in that WC). Scouting was hard because spearing at 50 meters or more you cannot see the rocks and must dive to see every time. With only 1 week to scout, it was a lot of work just to see the bottom. I loved it though. The deep dives and smart fish challenge brought out the best in every competitor. I wish Syros was not my first WC, as I believe if I could dive into what I know now about WC I would have done better. I can’t wait to dive into the Mediterranean again!!
Valentina P: What is your favorite way of spearfishing and whitch fish?
Justin Lee: I love to sit and wait for the fish. I like to hide and try to outsmart and outwit the fish. My favorite fish to spear here in Hawaii is the Mu. Because they are so smart it is always a challenge, and they are always celebrated when brought home for dinner. They are also very amazing to eat.
Valentina P: Do you have any special way/secret/something different from other spearos that you use to catch specific fish or to find it?
Justin Lee: I tell people that you have to treat the fish like the pretty girl at the bar. When you leave the surface it’s like you’re walking into the bar, you have to be smooth no big splashes, and slow with no big movements. Get into streamlining and slowly get to the bottom. Once at the bottom move very cool and collected, nothing fast, you don’t want to draw too much attention.
Like at the bar you cannot stare at the girl, you’ll make her feel uncomfortable. So just look out of the corner of your eye. I like to scratch the bottom and then be very still. Try to attract the „Pretty girl’s friends“ staying calm and having the smaller fish come and investigate you helps. If the small fish come close and don’t scare usually the fish you want to spear will slowly start to move in. That’s when you slowly move your speargun out, then aim and smoothly pull the trigger.
Valentina P: What do you prefer as equipment?
JL: I like my Polosub wetsuit, Aimrite and Pathos spearguns. I don’t change gear too often as I like to feel very comfortable with my gear. So I don’t change for over 5 years now.
Valentina P: Fishing is not your job. How much time do you manage to spend on spearfishing?
Justin Lee: I try to spear at least 2 times a week. Usually, one fast dive less than 2 hours, and I try once a week for one long dive, usually all day. If I cannot, I try to swim or surf to keep in the water.
Valentina P: Recently I saw that you have school and courses for spearfishing? Is that correct? Is there a big interest in spearfishing between youngers?
JL: Because so many kids in Hawaii are starting to learn to spearfish, we want to make sure the kids are doing it safely. So at freedivesafehawaii.org, we offer free classes for people between 12-25. If we can help the next generation of divers dive safer, we can hopefully save people forever. We just want to encourage the next generation and make sure they know what to look for and what to feel for.
Valentina P: You are also a very successful hunter. How did you connect the sea and the forest?
JL: Following my dad into the mountain and seeing his ability to find and collect food intrigued me growing up. Archery hunting is a lot like spearfishing, hunting underwater. You have a lot of the same skills needed in both. The ability to read the situation and read the fish or animals’ body language plays a big part in being able to bring home dinner.
Valentina P: I believe that in Hawaii exist laws to protect the sea world, but still allow people to fish? What are the restrictions?
Justin Lee: Some laws limit the catching of certain fish during certain periods. The same applies for seasons on lobsters and crabs. As far as regulations, Hawaii is less regulated than lakes and oceans around the mainland USA.
Valentina P: Is there a lot of shark danger during spearfishing? How do you manage to deal with it?
JL: Sharks are a constant here. They show up and say hello always. However, you try not to feed the sharks or allow the sharks to take your catch. So most times you poke them in their noses and try to scare off the fish. If you feed them or they take your catch they will start to educate them to believe that if they see a diver they think of food.
Valentina P: Do you also like to prepare fish for eating?
JL: I love sashimi, whatever fish I can turn into sashimi I try to. I love to taste the fish. When I cook the fish I use simple ingredients to bring out the flavor of the fish. So fresh herbs and lemon are my favorite.
Valentina P: Did you have any advice to give to Apneapassion readers?
Justin Lee: I believe the best diver is the one having the most fun. If you take it too seriously and don’t smile what’s the point? I believe if you’re there to have fun, make new friends in addition to giving it your all and pushing during competition good results will come. But just have fun and dive safely so that you can come home and enjoy your catch with your family is the most important.