Just a couple of guys hittin' the drink for fish with a couple of masks and spears
February 14, 2008 12:20 AM   Subscribe

Seventy four years ago, something happened off La Jolla Shores, California, that changed the world of ocean recreation forever. An invitation-only group of watermen, the Bottom Scratchers became the founding fathers of free diving. Although the club would eventually grow to only 20 members, the men did everything they could to grow the sport and teach others how to spear fish, keep a good spear gun or get lobsters and abalone on breath-held dives.
posted by miss lynnster (9 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
FYI, this is actually an obituary. Jack Prodanovich, spearfishing pioneer, died on Thursday of respiratory failure. He was 94.

Full disclosure: he was my next door neighbor when I was born, and an absolutely inspirational guy. He made kickass abalone sandwiches. :)
posted by miss lynnster at 12:23 AM on February 14, 2008

Interesting, but I very much doubt that that these guys were the first free divers. Sponge divers in Greece, Japan and elsewhere have been "free diving" for centuries, if not millenia --see the Kalymnos sponge divers for example...
posted by costas at 1:31 AM on February 14, 2008

Would it violate Mefi standards to ask you to tell us about him?
posted by Citizen Premier at 2:38 AM on February 14, 2008

costas: "Interesting, but I very much doubt that that these guys were the first free divers. Sponge divers in Greece, Japan and elsewhere have been "free diving" for centuries, if not millenia --see the Kalymnos sponge divers for example..."

Yep. "Freediving has been practiced for centuries across the Mediterranean, Caribbean, and parts of Asia, with certain adepts — Greek sponge divers, Japanese pearl divers — possessing a mythic status on par with the American cowboy" -- from a 1998 Outside Magazine article about Pipin Ferreras.

Hard not to mention Pipin in any story about free diving; he's legendary in the modern-day incarnation of the sport, along with his wife Audrey Mestre, who died while on a record-attempt dive, under controversial circumstances. James Cameron is making a film of Pipin and Mestre's story.

Or Jacques Mayol, whose life was roughly the inspiration for The Big Blue, Luc Besson's 1988 film.

I find free divers mysterious and fascinating. None of them seem to be "just guys" when it's all said and done -- Mayol, for example, believed that with strict physical and psychological training, man could become cousin to the dolphin (“One day babies of the future will be reconnected to the aquatic evolutionary past. They will be totally in harmony with the sea and diving and playing at great depth with their marine cousins, holding the breath for a long period of time and giving birth in the sea even in the presence of dolphins”), and committed suicide eventually.

Something about the sport seems to attract people that are otherworldly, to say the least.
posted by pineapple at 6:22 AM on February 14, 2008

I worked for a fisherman -- an uni diver -- who, when he wasn't diving up sea urchins and being a commercial fisherman, relaxed by entering free-dive spearfishing competitions.

He lived to catch fish. He was good at it. He could catch anything.

One time I asked him about it and he said a good spear fisherman had to learn to think like a fish. He said that was the part he liked best. Thinking like a fish.

"No wait," he said later, "I like that second best. Best is spearing them after thinking like them showed you where to find them."
posted by notyou at 6:41 AM on February 14, 2008

Miss Lynnster, if you're looking for a good abalone sandwich, Duarte's in Pescadero is pretty good. It's a bit of a drive, but it's worth it.
posted by doctor_negative at 7:28 AM on February 14, 2008

the bottom scratchers. hee...
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:27 PM on February 14, 2008

Would it violate Mefi standards to ask you to tell us about him?

I just remember him talking about hanging out with Jacques Cousteau. And watching him hosing down fish in his driveway that were bigger than him. It wasn't until I read the articles that it really hit me... HE HELD HIS BREATH, DOVE DOWN, AND CAUGHT THOSE FISH, DRAGGING THEM OUT OF THE OCEAN HIMSELF BY HAND. When I read the articles, all of the facts of what he really was doing hit me hard and I thought it was amazing. Because now when I think about him hosing down those hundred pound fish in the driveway, I find it almost impossible to fathom. I mean, I remember thinking he was an insanely strong man but that just blows my mind. Sweetest guy ever, though. Just so gentle. And his wife Gertie had really long grey hair and I remember her as a bit of an Earth mother type. They were a cool couple. When he would barbecue abalone in his driveway, he'd always yell over the wooden fence asking if we wanted to place orders. Just a great neighbor. I honestly didn't realize he was still alive until I found out he died... otherwise I would've gone to visit him last time I was in San Diego. I have such great memories of the man.

And no, I didn't think he was the world's first free diver. But if you read the articles about how they fashioned goggles out of women's compacts and stuff, it's all pretty damn fascinating.

If I hadn't been so tired I would've written the post a lot better so that more people would've taken the time to read it. Instead I just clipped phrases from the article which I regret. I just really didn't have the time or energy to put into it because I've been so busy with work this week. Jack deserved better so I feel pretty bad about that.

One more thing I remember... his grandson was my first kiss. I was about 3 or 4. And he was uber cute. :)
posted by miss lynnster at 11:46 PM on February 14, 2008

Ooo, forgot to post my thanks. I really enjoyed the story of these guys. Being a bit of an ocean lover myself, hearing of their exploits in the then relatively unspoiled marine environment was fascinating and made me a little jealous. Jack sounds like a fantastic neighbour to have had. Thanks for sharing miss lynnster.
posted by Onanist at 7:24 AM on February 15, 2008

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