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Freediving off Bayport

By TERRY TOMALIN, Times Outdoors Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 5, 2000


photo
[Times art: Earl Towery]

Humans have hunted fish with spears since before recorded history. But it wasn't until recently that free-swimming divers in California, Hawaii and Florida turned this pursuit of food into a sport.

In the 1930s, divers began venturing beneath the waves armed with pole spears and homemade copper goggles. These "freedivers" tackled shark, tuna, even sailfish, while holding their breath for well over a minute at a time.

The sport gained prominence after World War II as manufactured spear guns became available on the market. Freediving probably reached its peak in 1955 when Fred and Art Pinder, two legendary spearfishermen, graced the cover of Sports Illustrated.

Today most spearfishermen take the easy way and strap on the scuba tanks. But every now and then you will meet purists who count on nothing but legs and lungs.

Their favorite place to hunt is the shallow waters off Bayport in Pasco County, the site of several Florida Freediving Championships. To get started, visit your local dive shop. Ask about dive clubs. If you're lucky you will meet a friend willing to show you the secrets of the shallows.

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