In the ocean, big fish eat
small fish. Its that simple, or is it? Meet Roger Yazbeck, who gives the
saying a whole new significance. A born hunter but also an ecologist, a
spear fisherman but also an ocean lover with keen interest in marine biology,
he is above all a freediver.
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Born in 1957 in Beirut to Lebanese parents who
were both artistically and musically gifted, Roger Yazbeck attended the
Jesuit Fathers school, Notre Dame de Jamhour. He grew up in an atmosphere
that combined Middle East culture and traditions with western education
and languages. He is a multi-talented biochemistry university undergraduate,
singer, musician, song-writer, turned businessman. Yet the sea was the
earliest of his interests.
Since I was a kid, going to the beach and fishing
were a source of exaltation to me, he writes, Born with that hunter
instinct, I used a line and a hook to catch fish while swimming in the
shallow and beautiful water of the Riviera beach in Beirut. Since I could
observe various fish species and their behavior in their natural habitat,
it was probably very natural for me to switch from a line and hook to
the more challenging spear gun. But that was not to occur until much
After 4 years spent in the Lebanese war, Yazbeck
left for Riyadh in 1979 for a job in a mechanical and electrical contracting
company to provide for his family. In 1982, he immigrated to Montreal and
has been living there ever since. In 1985, 1986 and 1987, he wrote the
songs that represented Canada in the "Men and the Sea Festival in
East Germany at that time.
In Montreal, he became a well-known businessman
in different fields and was sought for interviews by TV stations. He became
involved in several industries, including fiber optics, film production,
video clips, record publishing and party catering.
For a while, he worked as a magician. For another,
he worked as a clown and became the highest paid in Canada. Yet at one
point during the early 1990s, the Canadian economy underwent a recession,
and his empire collapsed one piece after another as in a domino sequence.
I went through a dark five-year period, he
explains, God slapped me in the face for a reason. He opened my eyes.
The burnout made me stronger, strong enough to realize that the person
I had become wasnt me. So I started writing then. I returned to the things
that made sense. I came back to meamplified.
Swearing never to wear a tie again, Yazbeck abandoned
the corporate lifestyle, lost weight, quit smoking, and even became a personal
fitness trainer for others. With his last pennies, he bought diving equipment
and received professional diving training.
Fishing for Dangerthe Free Diving
As Yazbeck progressed as a diver, he sought better
equipment, specially a wetsuit that provided warmth and comfort while being
thin enough to retain the feel of being one with the water. He finally
discovered the 3mm-thick Picasso
wetsuit. It was a revelation. He repeatedly
tried but was unable to reach the Picasso dealer in the US.
After a year of trying Picasso products, Yazbeck
contacted the Picasso company owner, Alessandro Picasso, and met him in
Spain. Picasso liked Yazbeck, was impressed by his diving and spear fishing
ability, and gave him exclusive agency for Picasso products in the US and
Middle East. Yazbeck today is also a designer for Picasso. He designs spear
fishing gear and equipment with specifications for particular fish and
marine habitats (www.picassoamerica.com)
But to understand spear fishing the Yazbeck way,
one must first understand the free diving way.
Many see free diving as fishing for dangerwhich
in many ways it isbut for its lovers, it is much more. Free diving is
a way of life. It requires an attitude and training different from those
of scuba diving. Anyone, even a 90-year-old with a pacemaker, can scuba
dive given the proper training and provided they have no chronic sinus
problems or claustrophobia. Yet with free diving, every dive can be your
last, whether due to shallow water blackout, reckless and ignorant boaters
or even attack by sharksan experience Yazbeck has twice undergone.
Free divers are certified scuba divers, yet unlike
scuba divers, they dive on breath hold using only their lungs as air supply,
a wetsuit, a pair of fins, and releasable weights when a deep dive is desired.
Free diving is lung-powered and muscle-powered. A free divers duration
record underwater depends on individual endurance against lactic acid buildup.
Scuba divers never experience what free divers do in their underwater exploration.
Because free divers are tank-free and seek being part of the oceannot
aliensfish act naturally in their presence.
Diving for Foodor rather Spear-Hunting
I am a sportsman, a fish-hunter rather than a
fisherman, says Yazbeck, I dont go annihilating an area. I release before
I catch. Thats my motto. I take pride in being selective. I take only
what I eat. I always eat what I catch. I hunt for food, not trophies.
We are all, he reminds, living in a material circle of being, of ingestors
and the ingested. In one sense, everything feeds on another. Even the plastic
we use is derived from petroleum and decayed bodies.
Yazbecks stand: Every life demands respect.
I respect my prey in that magical moment when it gives itself to me. It
knows. Native American Indians pray for the beast after they kill it. In
turn, we have to be food for others, when in the water, to accept not being
on top of the food chain. He believes in a hunt well-earned. He never
shoots fish while scuba diving. He hates seeing fish suffer and focuses
on making his aims immediate kill shots. Yet pain, he concedes, is part
of life. If you cant accept it, you cant live. Instead, you have to hold
that surf and navigate well with it. We cannot be radicals. Otherwise,
why do we kill cockroaches? Dont they feel pain?
So what does Yazbeck propose? He is a promoter
of responsible hunting, which he defines as licensed hunting restricted
by ecological and civic rules specifying the location, season, and type
of species involved. A hunter should be informed: For example, what is
local, as distinguished from what is migratory, has to be preserved, yet
if it becomes overpopulated, it will decimate.
If I were a Minister of Agriculture in Lebanon,
I would sit down with specialists and conduct an analysis of the entire
landscape. I would set rigid hunting and fishing rules for a 3-year-term
to let nature breathe then designate a hunting and fishing season per specie
with size and bag limits supervised by a game officer. But most
important: Id increase the coast guard boat presence and give them absolute
power to crack down on all poachers, especially the commercial ones. The
worst of them all are dynamite, cyanide and compressed air marine life
annihilators. Id also ban bottom gill netting and our nationally infamous
net-dragging fishing method, known as the «jaroofeh»
Yazbeck proposes education through raising awareness
and the enforcement of rules governing water and underwater sports so that
neither swimmers nor spear fishermen, divers, or jet-skiers interfere with
one another: The sea is not an open highway. It is a living space. The
underwater world belongs to everybody. In the eastern Mediterranean, our
life comes from the sea. Our ancestors made their fortune and reputation
sailing. Yet today the Mediterranean is a closed ocean that has become
the toilet of all civilizations.
The Mediterranean, he reminds, can rejuvenate
itself once every 50 years. To connect to an open oceans, it only has one exit to
the Atlantic, through Gibraltar and another to the Pacific, via the Red Sea
through the Suez Canal.
The Nile was once the Mediterraneans largest most
important source of fresh water and silt, but the dam of Aswan closed it.
Luckily, Eastern Mediterranean countries, unlike western ones, have a rudimentary
rather than advanced fishing industry and still have high fish reserves.
Breathing for Survival - and the Ocean Home
Yazbeck adopts an alternative view of evolution
that proposes water as mans native element. If we were to have evolved
from a life form, he argues, it would be an aquatic one. Humans are the
only mammals on Earth whose skin is tightly glued to the flesh, just like
the dolphin and whale. Second, we have the ability to sustain water pressure,
and our physiology changes as we dive. Cold water temperature slows down
the heart rate. After 20 minutes or so of semi-continuous emerging (diving
in and out of the water), the spleen starts producing up to 20% more red
blood cells, indicating adaptation to the water environment. No wonder
free divers at this point feel they have grown a third lung.
According to Yazbeck, once you learn that breathing
is everything, every life activity becomes a thousand times better. All
that he needs to start a new day is ten minutes of breathing right. He
even calculates land distances in breath holds. As mastery over ones breath,
free diving is the ultimate addictive sport.
The rewards of letting go in the water are
immeasurable: When in a water environment, whether in the big blue or
a small pool, you must learn to relax. When you relax, your heartbeat slows
down, and so does your oxygen consumption. Of people who swim, 99.9% are
tense. The trick--first and second and third--is to relax, relax, relax.
Further info at:
www.yazbeck.com/roger . Also visit the Pablo
Picasso' Arts Gallery
You can write to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Picasso Freediving Gear and Equipment at: www.picassoamerica.com