Women in Diving: Diving and spearfishing Diva, Jean Hattingh

CREDIT | Text by Nicolene Olckers

If you type the name Jean Hattingh'' and "spearfishing" into the Google search box you will find countless references to a phenomenal woman in diving or spearfishing circles. On the website, www.spearfishingza.co.za  Jean is described as “A woman spearo who regularly out-shoots the men, one of SA's leading modern era spearo's with an incredible record of spearing three or more of the bigger fish species, including a large marlin, half a dozen sailfish, a huge dog-tooth tuna and now a big tuna off the Cape, well done Jean Hattingh.” We tracked her down to ask her about her passion for the sport and her involvement in spearfishing and diving in South Africa.

SPEARFISHING OR SCUBA

She started her spearfishing in 1987. “I did a scuba course while I was studying at the University of Cape Town. My instructors were very keen on spearfishing. Instead of taking me scuba diving, they took me spearfishing and I got hooked. I never actually qualified as a scuba diver in the end,” she said

By 1988 she moved to Port Elizabeth. Where she soon earned the nickname of ‘Parrot Queen’ because she was very good at shooting Natal Knifejaw. "That was about all I could manage to shoot at the time,' she laughingly said. A year later she moved to Johannesburg. “It shows that even living in a landlocked town you can still pursue your sport if you are that keen, she jokes.

It is here that she met friends and joined several clubs to play underwater hockey and scuba diving. Practising underwater hockey is very good training for spearfishing. This activity improves breath-holding and stamina, that is essential for spearfishing and freediving.

DIVE DIVE DIVE

“I tried to go down to Natal as often as I could. I would hitch a ride with my scuba diving friends to Sodwana Bay. While at Sodwana Bay I would go out on the scuba diving boats to Two Mile reef and then swim back to shore as I was not allowed on the dive boats with a speargun.”

I have lived on the wild coast – at that time it was known as the Transkei – for 8 years, then in KwaZulu-Natal and from there move to Western Australia for ten years. I currently live in Sierra Leone in West Africa. All this time I’ve been fanatical about diving. I shot some amazing fish and been very lucky.” We also went to Mozambique as often as we could.

A RECORD SHOT

During one of these trips to Mozambique Jean was very lucky. At the time she was a member of the underwater hockey club and accompanied her scuba diving friends on a yacht trip to Bassas da India.

“I jumped in the water with my 1,1 meter Cape gun, which was rather feeble for that area. This huge fish swam up to me. Turned sideways and just sat there. I just gave it a shot. The fish took off at absolutely the highest speed you can imagine and dragged me along. I managed to hang on to my float and was fortunate that the water was only 14 meters deep and the fish couldn’t go deeper than my 30-meter float line. I definitely would have lost it. I was dragged along for about 30 minutes and there was this huge Potato Bass following us. Weaving in and out, trying to interfere. I finally managed to get the fish onto the yacht. We couldn’t hang it up and I lay down next to it to get a picture. We had to cut up the fish in four pieces to weigh it. It turned out to be a 52 kg Dogtooth Tuna and it was a men's world record at the time. This world record was broken a week later by an Australian spearfishing man and many times after that. "We ate well that night and gave the remainder of the fish to passing local fishermen.”
 
When Jean started with spearfishing, almost 32 years ago, it was a very male-dominated sport. The sport still is male-dominated. In fact, there were very few ladies that did do spearfishing. The few that were doing spearfishing, did it for fun now and then. “I was very competitive.” There were no women’s records and no women’s teams. She always had to compete with the men. Jean also achieved National and provincial colours for spearfishing. She was a member of the Gauteng and Eastern Province teams in the National competitions and went to every competition that she could get to. Travelling to Mozambique as often as she could and spent as much time as she could at the coast. “It is a fabulous sport for women and I highly recommend it to anyone that is vaguely Waterwise, to go try it out. It adds a whole new dimension to life and there is a whole wonderful new world waiting to be explored down there. It is very meditative as well.”

She currently lives in Sierra Leone in West Africa. The village has many dhows and local fishermen mainly catch small fish. There are many big fish around making spearfishing exciting and rewarding. The very first fish she shot in Sierra Leone was a 26 kg West coast Barracuda. The fish was given to a local orphanage that she supports. “A few days later I said to Rob: We should check on what the local records are. The fish I shot would have been a men world record, which I can’t claim because we had already cut it up and given it away. We are having a wonderful time here, doing a lot of fishing and spearfishing.”

NOTE: For more info and to connect on Facebook: @divingdivasSouthAfrica

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