No matter what coast she is on, Keely Haussler dominates when it comes to spearfishing.
After winning the U.S. National Spearfishing Championships in Albion Calif., last year, the local diver and Sierra College student won her second straight national title at Kings Beach in Rhode Island earlier this month.
Pretty impressive considering Haussler, 20, has been spearfishing for only three years.
Despite coming into this year’s competition as the reigning women’s national champ, Haussler said she was more nervous for his event than any before.
“Rhode Island is completely different in the terrain and the fish,” Haussler said. “The fish are different in their behavior. On the East Coast, they are much more skittish, and much less reliable on where they will be. So the competition was a bit different in how much time you spent scouting the fish because it’s not always a positive that they will be in the same location.”
Haussler said that some spearfishers spend up to a month scouting their locations, but she had just three days.
In the national championships, spearfishers first scout their prospective areas, then on the day of the competition, they kayak out to them. They then have from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. to catch as many fish as they can.
“The water was warmer. It was actually really nice,” Haussler said. “The only difference is that fish are more difficult to hunt there. Fish in California are very reliable for the most part. They live in the kelp and certain caves.”
Competing with 88 other divers, Haussler finished as the top female with 30.6 points, beating out the next best competitor by 5.6 points. Points are awarded per fish and per pound.
She also tallied the biggest fish trophy with a 25-inch Tautog, the mixed-doubles trophy with her uncle, Dennis Haussler, and the Women’s USOA All-American Dive Team Trophy.
Keely finished in 28th overall, beating out 2/3 of the her male counterparts, she said.
“Spearfishing is a male-dominated sport, and not a lot of women do it, so it was nice to see more women competing this year,” said Keely. “I think (the win) definitely raises me up in the eyes of my peers because I beat over 2/3 of the men, and most of the men were local divers and have been diving there for years.”
Next year’s spearfishing competition will be in Hawaii, but Keely is unsure if she will defend her title. She said she already has plans to visit her uncle in Baja, Mexico, to do blue water spearfishing. But if the finances fall into place, she will be in Hawaii to try for a three-peat.
Keely is currently double majoring in marine biology and environmental sustainability and wants spearfishing opponents to know that the sport isn’t nearly as barbaric as some think.
“I eat everything I take,” she said. “In cases of the tournament, all the fish are donated to hospice groups, homeless groups for their kitchens. So I just want to clear up the bad ideas people have about spearfishing. People think we go out there and slaughter animals, but the mindset is different. All the divers I know have a very sustainable mindset.”
What makes the sport so engaging is atmosphere and change of perspective.
“When you dive into the water, it completely changes your perspective,” she said. “Your world is no longer around you on a horizontal plane, it’s all below you, and it completely changes your idea of where you are and what you are doing. To me, it’s a sport that takes a little more skill and a comfort level that not everyone has. It’s very selective, and you feel like your part of it. You’re not a distant person with a gun. You’re down in the water, in the kelp forest, and your speargun doesn’t shoot very far, so you have to become acquainted with your surrounding environment, and there are cool things to see all the time.”
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