David Ochoa: Spearfishing guide and filmmaker

DSC03915David Ochoa travels around the world to explore the most stunning spearfishing areas. In his home country Portugal, he also offers commercial “spearo” guiding tours.

Besides, David owns a production company. In his spearfishing movie “Agua Negra” he combines both passions and gained worldwide attention in the spearfishing community.

In the interview David not only talks about big fish, but also about his childhood full of freedom, film production under water and how the Corona Crisis affects his work these days.

You’re a film director and a spearfishing guide. That's a very interesting mix. Spearfishing especially is not a common profession. How did you become a spearfisher?

It’s not a common profession, indeed. To be honest I didn’t even know this was a profession or a possible career. I always had a strong connection with the ocean and I wanted to spend as much time in the water as possible. All my career choices came from the fact that I wanted to do what I love in the first place and eventually things fell into place and those hobbies became a profession and a career. Of course, we do need to make money, but I tried to put passion first. Everything just naturally came together by working hard and focusing on what I love doing the most, I guess.

So, I started spearfishing at a very young age. On the one hand, I had quite a poor background growing up and this was my first form of income. It started with trading fish for meat or veggies and then later I got a commercial license that allowed me to sell sustainably caught seafood that I harvest while freediving. On the other hand, I’ve always loved to film underwater as a way to show my friends the awesome things I could see underwater so naturally both passions grew together. I did my first documentary INHALE- The Azores in One Breath as a crowdfunding campaign that ended up having quite an impact on the spearfishing community and I started having people contacting me so that they could also experience the encounters we were filming with whales, sharks or just learning to spearfish. I kept investing in traveling and balancing paid jobs with personal projects to keep pushing these opportunities which I believe, is a major factor for anyone who might be looking for a similar path. 

At what age did you start spearfishing and did someone inspire you?

I started spearfishing when I was seven years old, as I always had a lot of freedom since I was a child. My parents believed I should be treated according to the way I behaved and not necessarily my age. Consequently, I grew up surfing, fishing, spearfishing and doing a lot of things that were probably not the safest for a kid. I’ve always had a deep connection with the sea and I had so much freedom that it allowed me to grow a lot and experience things that would be very hard for a kid to get to experience these days. I then started going to the Azores by myself when I was 12. I used to stay at a friend’s place and at 13 I had a little house and a boat for myself. That’s when spearfishing became a big part of my life. Until then it was just another fun thing to do like many others, but the time I spent in the Azores is what made me prioritize spearfishing as my main focus in life. My father was the one who introduced me to this ancient sport but I was fortunate enough to have good friends who are world class divers and I learned a lot from them. That along with all the travelling allowed me to learn so much from different people that it makes it hard to name one person.

What was the most special catch you've ever made?

That’s a very hard question for me. I do love the thrill hunting big predators in uncharted areas but I love going out of my doorstep for a 1kg seabass as much. I had to leave Portugal and travel a lot to truly appreciate that but that’s how I feel now. I’ve shot a big black spot bream when I was 15 and I’ve never heard of anyone shooting one ever as it is a very deep-water fish so that’s kind of cool and another standout would probably be a 66kg dog tooth tuna that I landed on a reel gun.DSC04052

What do you like most about spearfishing?

Another hard one! Most of my life gravitates around this sport, way of life or whatever I can call it. I love that it brings a true disconnection from the outside world. No matter what you have going on in your life, there’s specific moments in spearfishing where you will not think of anything else. Either when you are fighting a monster fish or dealing with sharks, there’s just so many scenarios where you just naturally become truly focused on the moment and that’s a very healthy thing, I believe. I love that it allowed me to travel the world and I love even more some of the people I was fortunate to meet along the way. I love it gives you the ability of catching your own food which is huge, now more than ever. And in my case it allowed me to start a life when I really didn’t have many options so I’m very thankful to spearfishing and the ocean in general.

How can we imagine an ordinary day in your life?

It’s hard not to sound cliché but there’s really not much of a typical ordinary day in my life. When the Corona Virus situation arrived I was completely offline on a live aboard in Zanzibar and I almost didn’t make it back home. But then I’m also happy editing at home for 12 hours a day. Living in Portugal, I manage my schedule around the ocean as much as I can. While I do have commitments either filming at home or with trips, I also have a lot of editing and production work that I can manage with a bit more freedom so if the conditions are good for surfing I’ll try to always go surfing even if for just a couple hours. And then if it’s good for spearfishing I try to take as many days off as I can and then compensate by working harder on the other days. Still trying to find that balance, but I’m also quite sure I’ll be doing that my entire life.

What advice can you give to someone who also wants to try spearfishing but never did it before? What are the biggest risks?

The biggest risk is the shallow water blackout. No doubt about that. Yes, there are sharks and other bad scenarios but this is by far the biggest cause of deaths in our sport. Nowadays there is plenty of information about this and it’s also very easy to do a freedive course where you will learn all about this. So, safety first and always try to go out with a buddy that knows what to do in case something goes wrong. This sport brought me both the happiest and the saddest moments in life and it can be a very unforgiving hobby. Another thing would be to focus on having fun with the little things. People get so caught up with shooting big fish that everything relies on that. I've done that too. Travelling for spearfishing is such a fun thing to do so don't let that get in the way of having fun. Travel as much as possible, meet new people, see different things and accept whatever outcome you might get. And if you ever have any questions on where to go or any tips in general, I am always happy to help.DSC06044

You released a movie called "Agua Negra" that shows you on a spearfishing adventure across the Cape Verde Islands. Can you tell us a bit about your movie?

This was the most challenging and rewarding project I’ve ever been involved in, it was an independent project and it was only possible due to Ricardo Nascimento, my good friend and partner who is the only guy that I know crazy enough to work endless amounts of unpaid hours with a smile on his face. I also have to give props to Rui Rodrigues, another very good friend who helped us in this and many other projects.

I really have to mention these guys first as they are as much a part of this project as I am and nothing would have happened without them. The idea came up from a conversation at the beach with Ricardo, just a cool story we wanted to tell. By the next week we had our plane tickets and off we went. We had a bit of pre-production but we also knew that there are so many things you cannot script on trips like this so the story was pretty much open to whatever would come. We spent a month there filming and diving with very basic conditions, going out on wooden boats and exploring the area by ourselves. This was a zero-budget project which made it challenging and also a lot of fun. We were fortunate to have some amazing encounters and then Ricardo and me spent one year editing and adjusting our story. This was something we made with no expectations and it ended up having a very nice impact on the spearfishing community. The film was sold to 48 different countries and it opened the doors for us to start working with brands like Red Bull and others.

For the movie you had to film many sequences under water (how deep do you go?). For this work you need to be sure that you can rely on your equipment. What equipment do you use for your filming under water (or which equipment do you generally use in case you don't use any Peli products under water)?

I can freedive and film in constant weight up to 40m. A 35m dive is a deep dive though and there’s a lot of things that I take in consideration when diving deep. Most of the things we filmed on this movie were around 15 to 25m. There’s also a lot of surface action! It’s funny you mention the gear because even though I’m proud of this project, it doesn't really represent what we do right now. It was filmed with very average cameras which made it even more challenging. We now film with a Red Gemini 5K and other high-end cameras both in and out of the water. And for this, Pelican has been a huge help, especially for trips to rough and far-away places. There’s a lot of technology that is very expensive and salt water is our worst enemy! I carry all my gear in Peli Air Cases because they’re light and I can throw them into the water with waves crashing on them and the gear is safe. And trust me, I tested them in some rough environments.

Now with the Corona Crisis many projects in the close future probably got cancelled, however what are projects you currently work at and is there a special place (or fish) on your bucket list where you would love to go in the future 

Yes, all of our trips and projects got cancelled or postponed unfortunately, but it is also a good time to reassess and prioritize other things. We are finally having the time to organize footage from all over the world which was sitting on the hard drives and we are also working on new projects. We will soon release a new online series with a lot of interesting stories and info on spearfishing and we are also working on Agua Negra 2. When it comes to fish, I’m not targeting anything specifically but I do have some places that I really want to explore in the west coast of Africa and also Asia. All of this is on standby now so we are focusing on the rest.

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