George Vafis (05/20/1937-02/08/08)
From the June 1998 edition of The Freediver:
George Vafis has been freediving and spearfishing since he was in high school in Long Beach in the early 1950’s. He became fascinated with the ocean and diving after reading Jacques Cousteau’s “The Silent World”.
He and his buddies would drive to Palos Verdes and climb down the cliffs to get to the water. Their initial diving attire consisted of a t-shirt, swim trunks, a mask, a snorkel with a ping-pong ball, and duck fins. Later they would add a weight belt made from a surplus military cartridge belt. Their weapon consisted of a five-prong pole spear with one rubber. Besides looking around and enjoying the scenery, they hunted in the kelp for calico bass, opal-eye perch and blue perch. As George puts it, they would “freeze their butts off” and shiver for hours.
George read an article in Popular Mechanics which described how to convert a surplus U.S. Air Force regulator into an underwater breathing device. He bought a regulator which somebody had started and he finished the conversion. He bought a compressed air bottle, strapped it to a board and attached straps with buckles so he could wear it in the water with his converted two-hose regulator. He had no gauges.
The first time he used his self-made scuba equipment, he dove off the shore in Laguna Beach. He thought it was fantastic to be able to stay underwater. The next time he went to use the equipment he went to Palos Verdes. He and his buddies had previously seen a ledge with a cave underneath and he wanted to explore it. He dove down to the ledge, took one breath and… oops! He had no air. The tank was empty. Having enough air for a second dive was a small detail that never entered his mind. He finally graduated from high school in 1955.
George attended college and dental school at USC, got married, moved to San Diego, started his dental practice, had three kids and didn’t seriously dive again until 1969 when he got his proper scuba certification.
After a divorce in 1973, George started going on local trips on the Bottom Scratcher and later the Sand Dollar. He hunted fish on scuba for a while and realized that the crew was getting more fish in a shorter period of time. The difference was that the crew was freediving! George switched to freediving and found it was much more productive hunting. Long-range trips to San Benitos and Guadalupe soon replaced local diving.
Jan Davidson and George have been together since 1974. She has been George’s freediving buddy for the past several years. Jan retired in 1990 to work in George’s office, so she has the freedom to go on long-range trips with him. Although Jan has speared fish, she is content to be a fish spotter and helper. She really enjoys the hunt, watching George take his shot, keeping the sharks or seals away from the fish, and helping with the gear until the fish is under control.
In the early 1980’s, Jan surprised George with a gift of a custom made Jack Prodanovich speargun with a Wally Potts reel. This led to a friendship with Jack and Wally.
Two times in 1988 (January and November), George had the opportunity to go to the Revillagigedos Islands with Terry Maas. He learned a lot about gear and techniques from Terry and the other blue water hunters. These trips increased his interest in blue water hunting.
Working with Jack, he got a second customized gun for bigger fish. This “tuna gun” resulted in the highlight of George’s years of spearfishing experiences. In August 1990 he shot a 236 lb. Pacific bluefin tuna at Guadalupe Island.
George has not done competition spearfishing. He spearfishes solely for the enjoyment of the hunt and putting food on the table. With years of experience under his belt, his spearfishing goals have shifted from getting many fish to getting quality fish.
Since George still loves dentistry, he has no immediate plans for retirement. so long as he can regularly go diving and fishing (and spend some time with his six grandchildren) he is a very happy camper both at work and at play.
San Diego Freedivers was formed in February of 1994 and George has been a member since day one. He regularly attends the meetings because of old and new friendships and valuable information shared with others who have the common interest of freediving and spearfishing.
San Diego, CA- Dr. George Vafis, 70, died peacefully at home after a long and courageous battle with colon and prostate cancer.
George was a graduate of USC School of Dentistry. He was an excellent and well-liked dentist who had a private dental practice in Hillcrest since 1962. He retired in 2002. He was a life member of the American Dental Association, the California Dental Association, and the San Diego County Dental Association.
George is survived by Jan Vafis (his wife, best friend, and dive buddy). He is also survived by his brother, John Vafis (Diane); his children, Catherine Cottitta, Sara Webster (Brian), and Stephen Vafis; step-daughter, Sandra Landerer (Rich); and his precious eight grandchildren: Nikki, Amy, Dan, Chris, Travis, Jessie, Luke, and Leo.
George loved traveling to oceans far away to go fishing, SCUBA diving, freediving, and spearfishing. One of his prize accomplishments was freediving and spearing a 236 lb. blue fin tuna.
George served as Treasurer of San Diego Freedivers for 10 years from 1998 to 2008. He had been a member of San Diego Freedivers since its formation in February 1994.
Over the past few years, in spite of his progressing illness, George treasured his fishing and spearfishing trips with his son-in-law (Brian) and grandson (Travis). George’s last time on the ocean was on September 2, 2007. It was on that day that his 13-year old grandson (Travis) speared his first yellowtail. That was one of George’s happiest and proudest days.
When George wasn’t fishing or spearfishing, in addition to spending time with family, he loved working with wood, plants and fruit trees. His woodworking and landscape projects at home were done with the same precision and attention to detail as his dentistry.
George will be cremated and his ashes will be scattered at sea. He requested that no services be held.