George Vafis

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 1994 and 1995 George and Jan went to the Great Barrier Reef to dive. In 1996 they went to the Revillagigedos. In 1997 they dove in Fiji and in 1998 they went to the Sea of Cortez.