story by Rufus Kimura
photos by Wayne Levin
If you have a window seat, glance outside just after takeoff and you’ll see how the ocean changes. Close to land, long white breakers mingle with the pale greens and mud-like patches of the shallow inshore reefs. Next come the coral fingers and sandy trenches, running perpendicular to the inshore reefs, stretching and darkening into cobalt hues as they reach greater depths. At their end is a mass of shadowy blue where the edge of the reef drops into oblivion. Rob White and I are out past this edge, out where the water is almost purple. Sheathed in form-fitting neoprene, we slide over the side of his boat into water 1,000 feet deep. It’s warm, womb-like, welcoming in a way that helps quell any unease. With a breath, I clear my snorkel and look around. Muted shafts of sunlight cut through the water at an angle, reflecting the ocean’s surface, dancing across its emptiness. I float, weightless, getting used to life in the deep blue. And I try my best to be silent. I am tagging along behind a veteran spearfisherman who is in stealth mode, looking for something to kill.
Spearfishing was once just a means to supplement the dinner table. Now it has evolved into a sport, a discipline, a lifestyle. There are television shows, magazines, local and international contests all dedicated to the idea of capturing the next big fish. “Diving is not like winning a race,” Rob reasons, “it’s not a one-time deal. And, best of all, you get to eat your trophy.”
As one of Kona’s premier spearfishermen and the owner of the dive outfitting shop, The Bluewater Hunter, Rob spends hours upon hours upon hours in the ocean. It is, he says, part of his being now, “my medicine, my church and my religion.” Then he adds, a little less philosophically: “If I don’t dive, I become a real jerk.” Standing six feet two inches and sporting Kona’s ubiquitous triathlete physique, Rob is the type of guy who regularly walks off with dive tournament trophies. He also holds the local record for the largest yellowfin tuna ever speared: 148 pounds.
Earlier he’d told me how it all started: He was a boy of ten in Santa Barbara when he overheard a group of scuba divers raving about the amazing bat rays loitering right offshore. Intrigued, he borrowed a mask and, with a friend, paddled a board out through the murky California waters to reach the rays. It was such a transcendent experience that he’s been hooked on the underwater world ever since. Thirteen years after meeting the rays, he landed on the Big Island’s southwest side and decided to call it home. He’d learned to free-dive in California; in Kona, he quickly fell under the tutelage of local icon Bruce Ayau. “I remember watching Bruce make effortless dives to 110 feet,” says Rob. “It blew my mind. I didn’t know anyone could do that.”
When he took over the operation of The Bluewater Hunter, Rob began clinics with free-dive champion Brett LeMaster to further his ability to dive. It’s a quest that continues, and Rob still spends a great deal of time conditioning his body: Aside from weight training, he uses static and dynamic apnea and depth training. In other words, he holds his breath a lot. “Now,” Rob said, “I think about spearfishing every day. It is my job to talk to people about diving. So I get to relive it every moment.”