San Diego Freedivers From the Start
by Ray Dittenhoefer
In the early ’90’s, Ken Jenkins took a trip to New Zealand and came back with a bunch of stories of big yellowtail, deep diving, etc. But what was most amazing was the gear he encountered. The Kiwi’s were diving a hundred feet, and shooting big yellowtail with one-banded guns. This kind of started things with me. I got on the phone and contacted Andre Biller of A.B. Biller spearguns, and asked him if he could get me some of those guns. He knew about European guns, etc. and got them for me. Along the way he told me about National Competitions, etc.
While I was waiting for the new guns to get in from France, I started thinking about how every time I went to La Jolla Cove to swim out I would meet other divers, and we were all using the same Prodanovitch, Potts, Homemade gear, etc. and we weren’t really evolving in San Diego as divers compared to other regions of the world. The more I thought about that, the only viable conclusion I could draw was that as a group, the freedivers had poor communication, and that was basically because they didn’t form a group. Hence, a club was the answer!
I asked four guys over to my house on Mt. Helix to help me form a club. Ken Jenkins, Rich Breitenbach, Lee Olson, and Randy (last name forgotten, sorry.) We talked about this and that, where to meet, how to get going, etc, and mainly drank a lot of beer. Finally, we got Quiggs in O.B. to allow us to have our first meeting, mainly on the basis of me promising them that divers were notorious drinkers and were liable to run up a great bar tab! That settled that. Then I copied some flyers and distributed them to all the dive shops I could think of, and some of the other guys did the same. We had no idea what would happen.
The big night came, It was time for our first club meeting. I left the house and my wife asked me how many people I realistically expected. I told her that if I got ten guys, I’d be happy. I had no idea how to hold a club meeting, no rules, no nothing.
I got to Quiggs about 6:30, and the meeting was to begin at 7:00.I went into the banquet room where we were supposed to meet and it was full of men and women milling around drinking. A meeting had just concluded, and everybody was socializing while I was trying to get the room ready for our meeting.
Finally, at about ten minutes to seven, nobody was clearing out, so I went up to a small group of people and explained to them that we were having a freedivers club meeting at seven. Before I could ask them to go into the other room, they chimed in and told me that they were freedivers and were there for the meeting. Wow! I went around the room and started chatting. Everybody was there for the meeting. On our first meeting, we had eighty people, the meeting was standing room only, and I didn’t have the faintest clue how to proceed.
At 7:15 or so, people were still straggling in, and I got up and introduced myself, told everybody that I was starting a club that was about spearfishing and for spearfishermen, etc. Right off the bat, we had people who chimed in who wanted to talk about underwater hockey, photography, etc. Everybody had an agenda they thought was important.
That was fine, all that was good, I let them know. But this was a spearfishing club, and about spearfishing and spearfishermen. If they wanted something else, they needed to form their own club. And we were off and running.
It was always my intention from the start that the club be of and for the members. I ran the club for the first few years, but we didn’t have any rules, I never viewed myself as President, etc. That was partially because I wanted to avoid it becoming ‘my’ club. I wanted to supply all the energies necessary to get it going, but then I wanted it to live on through the leadership of the other guys. Everybody puts their own spin on things, and it was only right that the club experience new leaders and their views.
But primarily, I wanted the club to be that conduit of information for the freedivers of San Diego wherein they could find out about new information, new gear, new dive spots, new techniques. Remember, as little as ten years ago it was difficult to find a long bladed freedive fin with a foot packed, low profile masks were few and far between, freedive suits with hood attached and skin out were only in Europe, etc.
The last ten years has seen a bonanza of freediving information and popularity, thanks in great part to the Internet. Gear has improved, ability levels worldwide have increased, and we all benefit from this. I dove five tournaments in Alabama in the last five years, and the divers in Alabama show up with the same gear, enthusiasm and ability as divers in San Diego.
And I think that’s great for our sport!
When I was a kid growing up in Clairmont and saving money for dive gear, I didn’t have any information available on what was the new trick item. Which guns did what, what fins outperformed others, etc. We just went to the Diving Locker, talked to Chuck or Flip, and bought what they said. I had the good fortune to dive with good guys throughout my life and learned a lot from them. But I know a lot of guys that didn’t. And I wanted the San Diego Freedivers Club to be that group that they could belong to where they could benefit from other’s knowledge and experience, and not have to wait years to do it like I had to And make good friends in the process. And that’s how it started!