James Simsic is one of those fortunate few: he’s found his purpose.
“My passion is teaching kids about spearfishing,” he said.
The 28-year-old Marathon native has tried his hand at this, and that, and now his focus is clear: to mentor other Keys kids in the sport; more than that — the ethics and spirit of the sport. He’s formed a team of young kids that include Clay and Cole Daniels, Michael Goheen and Tommy Kirwan. They dive together, they wear his Spearcrazy gear (see sidebar), and they agree on safety and harvest.
“He’s taught me a lot,” said Clay Daniels, 14, who regularly free dives to depths between 45 and 55 feet, though he’s pushed the envelope further. Clay started to speardive when he was a little kid, old enough to hold a spear gun. He learned from his father, and his older brother, and now he’s learning from his peers and Simsic.
Late last month, Simsic and his short crew attended the Blue Wild expo that highlighted all things underwater at the Broward County Convention Center. They met some of the greats of the spearfishing sport including Hawaiian legend Daryl Long and attended safety seminars.
“We learned about shallow water blackout and things like that,” Clay said.
Freediving in and of itself is a dangerous endeavor. Adding a hunt, a struggling fish and gear to the mix — all the while holding your breath — isn’t easy. In a roundabout way, Simsic makes it clear he wants level-headed, good kids on his team that are trustworthy.
Simsic also wants kids that understand the importance of a responsible harvest. That means not shooting anything big enough to eat the diver, too small by regulation, and going after a shot fish if it gets away.
“You have to do everything in your power, everything, to retrieve a fish you’ve shot,” he said.
In turn, he revels in the kids’ successes.
“I was with Jeremy Foell on the day he caught his personal best — a big mutton,” Simsic said. “When we started diving together, he would go as deep as 40 feet. Now he regularly dives 85 to 90 feet.”
A typical catch includes some mutton snapper and hogfish (notoriously dumb, according to spearfishermen, who say they present sidewise to give them a perfect shot). Increasingly, however, spearfishermen are going after bigger gamefish — cobia, wahoo and sometimes dolphin (mahi mahi).
It ups the ante.
“I recently shot a 32-pound permit. And a 48-pound cobia. That was crazy,” Clay said.
He finds it difficult to articulate his love of spearfishing. Clay said he likes being underwater and choosing the fish for the dinner table. He likes the hunt.
“It’s just the coolest. I can’t explain it,” Clay said.
“The popularity of spearfishing, and the industry, has exploded. It’s bloomed five-fold since I started spearing,” said James Simsic.
Simsic, 28, graduated from Marathon High School in 2003 and headed off to Florida Atlantic University in 2003 in Boca Raton. Deprived of his fishing grounds, he started surfing.
“It wasn’t until I had almost graduated that I got really into spearfishing and got good at it,” he said. His classes were promptly rearranged so he could maximize his time underwater in the Keys. After graduation, he spent some time in a suit and a tie managing Enterprise rental car counters. That was, until one childhood friend gave him an unvarnished opinion of his new suit-and-tie look.
“He said, ‘Man, you look like crap.’ It was really a turning point,” Simsic said, laughing.
He started Spearcrazy, an apparel company in 2009. The business has had its ups and downs and learning curve, Simsic said. It’s continuing to grow and new designers like Caleb Goins are coming on board to offer new designs. Right now, there’s hats and shirts for sale and Simsic supplements his income with spearfishing charters.