When Paul Miller got invited on his first free-diving trip, he grabbed his 4mm surfing wetsuit, a pair of snorkelling flippers and mask, and hit the blue water with the anticipation of a big mahi mahi. He lasted about 15 minutes before returning to the boat empty-handed, shaking like a bird teaser. These days, he’s a finely tuned submersible human – and he shares some hard-won lessons on picking and maintaining gear to get the best out of your dive.
Keep them simple; forget purge valves or ping- pong balls. They’re just there to recover on the surface. Snorkels with attachments can increase drag in the water and get caught in lines.
Buy free-diving and spearfishing gear from people that do it. When shopping, look for a good range of sizes and brands. Every label has a different kind of fit. Look for staff that ask lots of questions – and offer plenty of tips. In Paul’s experience, staff that work in scuba-diving stores don’t have a passion for free- diving, and especially not spearfishing.
Always try on masks before buying. Paul’s preference is for masks with less volume of air, effectively reducing the ‘squeeze’ of air pressure when descending. Whether it’s one- or two-piece is personal preference, just make sure you buy a mask with a wide field of vision. Fogging masks are the biggest distraction on a dive. To permanently remove fog, leave it on the dash of your car for several weeks. Paul reckons it removes the residues that cause fogging. Then give the whole mask, rubber and glass a scrub with toothpaste. Paul is not sponsored by a toothpaste company, but he’s open to offers!
Paul’s back was starting to play up, so he went for a custom- made harness rather than a weight belt. It’s not for the inexperienced as you can’t release it in an emergency. Paul urges divers never to be afraid of dropping the belt. They’re expendable; you can buy a new weight belt, but you can’t
buy a new life.
Suit up before you head
offshore. Shampoo or personal lubricant (watered down) will help you slide in, particularly if using an open cell
suit that grips to the skin. Make sure your wetsuit has a hood. The water temperature can dramatically decrease as you head underwater, and your neck and face is particularly sensitive to temperature changes. Although, it’s actually an old wives tale that it loses more heat – it’s just more sensitive. To prolong the life of your suit, don’t piss in it, rinse in fresh water
and don’t leave it in the sun.
FINS & BOOTIES
Paul has dived with all shapes and sizes – and reckons short-legged people shouldn’t have long fins. It’s just inefficient. Long fins only work when ascending from deep water, so don’t bother in the shallows – they’ll only bust on the rocks. When you’re buying a new pair, make sure the foot pocket is comfortable with your bootie on. And go for a nice sleek, smooth foot pocket. Paul has even trimmed tags from his fins with scissors to reduce the drag. Paul wears a hard rubber sole bootie made by Quicksilver, bought in 1997. They’re more Aussie than double-pluggers
and tough as nails when walking over barnacle-encrusted rocks.
Picking a gun is like
picking a woman. It’s a very personal choice. Most of the guns used by the pros aren’t off-the-shelf items. Modifications can include custom spears and tips, floppers (the barb on a spear), handle or length. Only experience will tell you which gun suits best. In Paul’s experience, a bad spear-fisherman with a good gun is not a good spearo. So practise shooting submerged plastic bottles whenever
Gun: Kes 1300 mid-handle gun, made by timber craftsman Peter Kesby. You can touch Paul’s woman, but don’t touch his gun – he’s had an 18-year love affair with it
Wetsuit: Salvimar 2.5ml. It’s not an open-cell, so he can get it on and off quickly
Mask and snorkel: Salvimar. It fits – and it works
Fins: Salvimar boom-blast carbon fibres. Paul cuts the pull-on tags off to improve dynamics
Booties: Quicksilver 1997 models. Check your local garage sales
Weight-belt: Custom-made (clearly Salvimar don’t make one)
Paul shops at: Fathom Dive in Brookvale. He says they have a good range and they’re happy for you to try gear on. Owner Ash Boler is a former world record- holder for wahoo (50kg+) and has his finger on the pulse of spearfishing on the Australian east coast.