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Without access to a boat, most of your early adventures are going to involve spearfishing from the shore. It’s how I got started, and for the most part it was fine.

At least, that’s what I tell my mum.

But after a few hairy encounters of my own and a variety of different scars from getting washed over rocks I was a little too close to, I thought I’d share this piece today to help any other beginner spearo’s from making the same mistakes.

Think of these like a set of rules to avoid disaster when you’re spearfishing from the shore.

Have a plan of attack for spearfishing from the shore

Spearfishing from the shore involves a huge amount of swimming, as you first need to make it out through the currents and the breakers, before getting to the spot where you actually want to go spearfishing. The first thing you need to do is have a plan.

Know where you’re headed, what gear you’re going to need, and ensure your dive buddy is on the same page and happy to follow your intended route. It’s so easy to start following a reef or a school of fish, only to look up and realize you’re now a couple of hundred yards from your buddy as they opted to swim in another direction.

Respect the weather and the tide

It may seem obvious, but when you actually make it down to a location only to find the conditions are a little sub-par, it doesn’t make sense to push it. Spearfishing is a dangerous sport, and when the surf’s a little big, or the wind has blown out your spot, my advice is to find something else to do.

Diving in dirty water isn’t fun as you won’t see anything, and what’s worse is the risk that you’ll get into trouble. Maybe the wind and tides are churning up a current that threatens to suck you out into the bay, or the waves are too strong and they’re pushing you too close to the rocks on the reef. If the weather and conditions don’t look good for spearfishing, don’t push it.

Have the right safety gear

This one I neglected for years as a grommet, because I was a little too cavalier. I didn’t want to spend my hard-earned money on dive floats and fancy equipment, it all went to my spearguns. But after nearly losing my whole setup to a Wahoo because my gun wasn’t clipped to my float-line, I realized just how silly that mindset was.

There is a right way to do things, and basic safety gear is a must. Get gloves for your hands so you don’t shred these on the rocks. Get a flag for your towline so any boaters actually know that you’re diving below. And buy a decent float. I had a small orange one that did little else except tell me where my floatline was. After almost blacking out on a deep dive on an island offshore and having to rest for a couple of minutes on a friend’s full-sized float, I bought a new one for myself that afternoon.

Get your gear organized

There’s quite a bit of force in a wave, and one of the surest ways to lose your gear is to waddle out through the breakers or to stumble on the rocks and drop it all. I know. I’ve done this more than a few times myself. Instead, you need to get as ready as you possibly can before you enter the water, or start climbing over the rocks.

For me this means, wetsuit and weightbelt on, along with my gloves and neoprene socks. I’ve learned to live with the fact my socks get torn up a little when I’m rock hopping, but I’d rather replace these than slice my foot open and have to spend a few days out of the water. My snorkel gets a couple of drops of shampoo to stop it fogging up and I position this on my forehead, and my dive knife clips onto my arm along with my dive watch. I loop my towline around my float, and carry both this and my speargun (unloaded of course) in my right hand, so my left is free to hold my fins.

It’s all a bit awkward till you’re in the water where the first step is to slip on your fins, slide your mask down, then grab hold of your gun and swim out and away from any wash.

If I’m swimming off the beach I’ll put my fins on when I’m in about waist-deep water, but often on the rocks it’s just as easy to put these on before jumping in, and doing a step-out with one hand on your mask like you do when you’re scuba diving. Just make sure it’s deep enough!

Keep a wary eye on the breakers

When you’re spearfishing from the shore you’re going to find the majority of the smaller reef fish in along the rocks of the headland or the reef you’re spearfishing on. What I quickly found, was that there were some rather large schools of fish feeding in the 1 to 2 feet of water the waves were pushing over the rocks.

If you decide to chase these schools and are spearfishing in close to the rocks on a headland, you need to keep a warry eye on the breakers. Sets of waves will come through, and if you’re unprepared or they catch you off-guard, you’re going to get washed over the rocks. Often, you’ll feel the swell pulling you back as the waves form, which can give you a second’s notice to duck dive and avoid the main push of the wave, but you’ve got to be quick. Getting washed over the rocks isn’t fun, and I’m still missing one of my favorite fins because I misjudged just how wrecked I would get in a particular wave. 45 minutes looking for it, and it was simply gone. I’m just lucky that I didn’t hit my head on the rocks as I was tumbling over them.

Know where you’re getting out of the water

This one is especially critical if the weather’s a bit rough, or you’re spearing at a new location. From the water, it can be hard to spot the right place to exit, especially if you’re planning to get in close to the rocks and clamber back up them (following the way you went in). My advice is to map out a path before you attempt it, or to simply swim all the way in.

I’ve found that entering the water with your gear is much easier than trying to get out again at the end of a dive when you’re exhausted and carrying a bunch of fish, so I’ll often drop my bags on the sand instead of trying to climb out over the rocks.

Otherwise, make sure you’ve got your bag and something bright identifying where you need to exit from the water, and wait for a lull in the waves before you go anywhere near any shallow water to try and climb out.

Spearfishing from the shore is where most of us start out, but if you want to do it safely you’ve got to follow these spearfishing rules. It may seem silly when you’ve got perfect conditions and you’re confident in your abilities, but one mistake or even just the decision to head out when it’s too rough can bring you back to reality fast. Be careful out there. The ocean is a wild place, and you’ve got to respect it.

Happy spearin’

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