BENEDICT, HOWARD JEFFREY March 7, 1945 to Feb. 7, 2012 Howard was born in Pasadena, Ca., although they moved every couple years, as Howard Sr. was an officer in the U.S. Air Force. Younger brother Mike was born in Formosa and older brother Chuck was born in New York. When Howard was 10 and Howard Sr. had died, Betty raised the three boys in Clairemont, Ca., which overlooks Mission Bay. Her career and means of supporting the family was mostly as a nurses aide. Sisters Charlene (Jones) Rhinehart and Elinor (Jones) Taylor helped with their care as well. This was such a magical area to grow up in, as it was so near the Pacific Ocean. Howard told me his love of the sea began when he asked his Mother to take him down to visit the site of a recent shark attack, near La Jolla. From then on everything he was interested in, revolved around being in the ocean. He became fascinated with free-diving and spearing big fish in his teens and landed a job with Chuck Nicklin, at The Diving Locker in P.B. In typical Howard fashion, he went all out with this sport and carved the most beautiful wood spear guns ever seen and crafted the metal pieces for them himself. He was encouraged to use his artistic talents, by a fellow spear fisherman named Wayne who was a dentist, to enter college, and so Howard did. He specialized in the field of cosmetic dentistry and had his practice at an office on 101 in Leucadia, Ca. for over 25 years. He was admired for his skills in creating beautiful healthy smiles, but envied even more for his ability to combine ocean sports and travel, along with managing a successful career. He had been a graduate of Madison High, San Diego State and USC. Howard also contributed his success at becoming a dentist, to West Leffingwell, as he was the dentist to give him his start in the little round brick building, in Cardiff in the 1970s, by allowing him to use his office during the evening hours. He followed that casual schedule for his whole career. This was the best thing he could have set-up, as it facilitated his healthy life style and interests in long board and tow-in surfing, free diving, windsurfing, bike riding and sailing. During the years he lived on his sailboat, the G.V.Black, he would always say to me, in a sweeping motion with his arms across Oceanside Harbor “Life is good” when you have this for your backyard! Everyday was wonderful to him, every person he met was the best person you could ever possibly meet, every wave epic. He was incredibly positive about all things. You were instantly swept up into his enthusiasm for most things ocean related. We (Jennifer and Howard) traveled in our early years together in a humble camper usually to Baja, with the Barstows, Mosels and Grahams. Later to many always surf related exotic destinations. He charged though life with extreme energy and expertise, and had a story to tell about them all, embellishing only occasionally and always ready for the next adventure. He lived life to it’s fullest, his motto to me, he’d laugh and say “Everything in excess, nothing in moderation” all in a healthy, “Summers Day” kind of way. The real thrill of his life was born on October 31, 1988. Having Bridgett was the best thing that ever happened to him, of course. They surfed together and he indulged her in “all thing outdoors”. He was an enthusiastic “Horse Show Dad”. Even as his illness (bv ftd) left him hard-pressed to communicate, I believe his last shining light was her graduation from college, which he was extremely proud of. Immense gratitude to Tom and Marie Hanly and Jeff Dowell for their many Las Pulgas bike rides and Batiquitos Lagoon walks, his last four years. Most recently their care with Howard’s well being Dr. Glenn Soppe and Dr. Gregory Mattson. In the end, Mike Benedict’s kindness in caring for him his last days on earth.
The Addict-style Pushrod Spearguns of Howard Benedict
Several years ago, I was introduced by Addict Club member Barry Wagner to Howard Benedict. He brought out his personal collection of spearguns which he had made over a series of years. It was a thrill to see the exquisite craftsmanship and competent design of these personal, hand-made underwater hunting artifacts. It is important to always remember that ‘confidence’ alone in an offshore situation is based upon the hardware you carry. The bluewater hunter is a predatory fisherman who enters the food chain of the open ocean. A freediving bluewater hunter is even less streamlined than a turtle, yet he (the individual diver) strives with the aid of his hardware, to reach the predatory competency of the top carnivors of the oceanic food chain.
Our direct ancestors of several thousand years ago faced extreme life challenges on a daily basis. Obtaining food was a very real and significant life necessity. Adequate protein for the tribe was often obtained by hunting large herding animals like bison, horse and mammoth. Our distant ancestors, learned that discipline, respect, appreciation and specific adherance to ritual magic was essential to not only a successful hunt, but essential to personal safety as well. The artistic animal drawings upon the deep cave walls of Lescaux and other European caves, made by our ancestors over 50,000 years ago suggest that hunting rituals are hard wired into our collective psyche. Art and image representation are a key element for the hunter. Howard Benedict respectfully represents some of the fish he hunts as precisely carved wooden models.
It is not an accident that this fine craftsman has chosen fish as his artistic subject. It is part of the ritual study of the prey which every hunter engages in. The discipline, appreciation and devotion to the elements of the hunt are the signs of a true master. Of course Howard Benedict also builds his own spearguns. His hand-crafted spearguns are based upon the Addict-style pushrod actuated mechanism. For big game bluewater hunters, this style speargun layout enabled them to evolve more accurate and more powerful equipment, yet still keep it compact and maneuverable to track fast moving pelagic fish.
You can see an evolution into bigger and bigger spearguns in this collection. Eventually Howard has hunted some of the largest of tuna at the Revillag Gigedo Islands. These long range rubber band powered spearguns are essential for hunting the largest of tuna. Smaller, less powerful equipment may not adequately penetrate the fish to secure it. Although the guns are the vintage artifacts, the complete rig from break-away floats to floating elastic lines is necessary to stop a fish weighing hundreds of pounds. Bluewater hunting is not a fishing methodology for anyone less than in perfect physical condition and trained by years of personal experience. It is not an inexpensive venture, nor is it a safe hobby. With every breath, if the diver does not retun to the surface he drowns. It is vastly more than a sport. It is a personal affirmation of the human spirt evolved over thousands of years.
Howard was never an ‘Addict’, he was in the spearfishing club called ‘SPEARFISHERMEN’ from 1965 and 1966. He is now over 60 years old. His early mentor was Chuck Nicklen at the Diving Locker in San Diego. Howard spoke of Chuck with great respect. He suggested that without Chuck’s influence, he probably would have been ‘on the street’ today. In his youth Howard was more of a spearfisherman than a surfer. Howard attended San Diego State from 1965 to 1969 and had a successful career in dentistry, now retired.
Brothers Mike and Howard Benedict of San Diego were diving in a thick California kelp forest on a warm sunny day in the mid-1970s. Fish were everywhere. The brothers discovered a new untouched reef. They knew it was a virgin reef because of the 10-inch abalone perched prominently ontop. Soon, each had a belt stringer with 50 pounds of fish attached, hula-skirt fashion, around their waists. They separated, which is not unusual for them. Howard remembers:
I am out of breath, coming up from a dive. Curiously, I see a 10-inch abalone drifting down from the surface. My unconscious brother follows the abalone, his back is arched, his arms are straight out pointing backwards. Desperate for air myself, I still manage to reason out a plan as I swim to intercept him. I discard both of our weight belts and holding him, we both float up to the surface. I do not kick in order to conserve what little oxygen I have left.
We surface. There are no boats in sight. Mike is deep blue. He won’t breathe. I cannot get his snorkel out of his clenched jaws. Finally, I free the snorkel and start mouth-to-mouth ventilation. I experience a horror you cannot believe as I force air into my dead brother s mouth. What will I tell Mom? Just then, Mike spasms. I hold him at arms length, facing me. His eyes are rolling around. When his eyes stop rolling and focus on me, he says, Did you see that abalone?! Mike drifts back in and out of consciousness several times as I swim him back to the beach.
Mike spent three days in the hospital intensive care unit while his swollen lungs responded to therapy. He remembers expending a great deal of energy pulling that abalone free from the rock. His heavy load of fish impeded his ascent. Both the exertion and load caused him to consume too much oxygen.