For owner Rob White, Blue Water Hunter is not only a comprehensive source for spearfishing and freediving equipment, but also a place for information and in many ways, a teaching center.
“We make sure we train every customer; we don’t just sell to them and say learn on your own,” said White, who opened the sporting goods store in Kailua-Kona in 1997, first as a manager, then as an owner.
Blue Water Hunter got its start 50 years ago in Santa Barbara, Calif., as Bob’s Dive Locker. White started working for the company in the 1980s, and noticed on a trip to the island that there weren’t many places in West Hawaii to purchase spearfishing equipment.
“I suggested to my old boss we open a shop together in Kona,” White said.
It was rough going for a while, waiting for the word to get out. But the business developed a foothold and expanded to offer firearms, bow hunting equipment, binoculars, knives and a guided charter spearfishing service. A strong educational component now defines the business, White said.
“I’ll suggest spots to dive, depending on the customer’s skill level, where the conditions are right, not too deep, less chance of sharks,” White said.
Whether they’re trying to purchase a rifle or a speargun, a customer who walks into the store will be asked many questions, White said — first to determine their skill level and what kind of equipment is suitable for them, and second to make sure they know how to use it safely. The shop also offers women’s self defense instruction.
“We are extremely safety conscious,” White said. “We make sure you know how to field strip the gun and hold it properly. We demand that the customer know what the product is for, why they bought it and how to use it.”
“We recommend to anyone who buys a firearm: use it, practice with it, don’t put it in a box,” he added.
The culture of spearfishing has evolved along with the equipment, White said.
“When I grew up spearfishing, there were very few places you could go to get information,” White said. “There were only a few guys who knew anything, and it was like pulling teeth.”
These days, there are videos on YouTube, online chat forums and a number of stores where information is available. Would-be spearfishermen can learn in a year what would have taken years of trial and error, White said.
Since he opened the store, the number of brand and price options in spearguns, wetsuits and fins have increased.
“It’s not such an underground sport anymore,” he said.
Spearguns offered at Blue Water Hunter range from a Evolution 90 by Hammerhead for $211 to a Riffe gun made of teak wood for $696. There are also guns by Mares and Rob Allen and fins by Mares, Cressi, Riffe and Hammerhead.
Mark Cuison, who works for Big Island Coastal Contracting, wandered into Blue Water Hunters last week. An experienced spearfisherman who dives from a kayak and has speared a 32-pound ono, Cuison ended up buying an AQA dive mask after an extensive talk story with White about proper fitting and how to clear the ears and sinuses while diving.
“The most important thing for you is to clear early,” White advised. “Don’t wait until you feel pain. What I try to tell people is to clear every 5 feet.”
White told Cuison that the mask is covered with residual silicone that must be thoroughly washed with soap and water or it can get on the lens, causing fogging.
“We have people who come off the plane with lei around their necks, and they’ve heard about spearfishing and they want to try it,” White said. “In the old days, we would have said no, you have to have some experience. Not anymore. We’ve learned a lot ourselves, how to give proper instruction, how to be safe and enjoy yourself at the same time.”