Hi! My name is Valentine Thomas and I actually don’t have a job title.
When I talk about what I do for a living, most people think that I’ve been spearfishing or doing something like that my whole life. It’s such an unusual sport (I’m from Canada so pretty unusual up there!) and I’m so passionate by it that it may seems like it, but my journey in this sport is not only pretty recent, but it also was not an easy one.
I was a lawyer in Canada and I worked in finance in London for 6 years. I had everything I worked hard for; a good job, a stable relationship, a nice apartment well located, two amazing dogs and a great group of friends. I spent most of my holidays hanging out on beaches all over Europe but I couldn’t help to feel bored. I couldn’t connect to most people I was meeting and all of it felt…not real.
At the age of 14 years old, I went on holidays with my parents in the South of France and got stuck in an underwater current. I couldn’t reach the surface, the lifeguard came and rescued me and I was helicoptered to the nearest hospital. It wasn’t a good day. After that incident, I refused to go in the sea. I would swim when there was no waves and water was at my waist top.
No need to say that my first experience of freediving was not a piece of cake, let alone my first spearfishing trip.
In 2010, a friend of mine was going to do a freediving course in Egypt and offered me to join. I’ve honestly never heard of freediving, neither spearfishing at this point. I wasn’t very excited at the idea, but I went anyways. I had no clue what to expect. I was a little scared, you know, just the tip, of the unknown.
It went surprisingly well. I was loving it. When I got back to London, my friends told me that they were planning a big trip and invited me to join. Explore the ocean, shooting fish, grilling it in the beach and drink some beers, hell yeah I was in. Until he explained me what Blue water Hunting was and that’s what we would be doing.
Indeed my first trip was pretty special. So I just finished my first freediving class – level1, and I was finding myself going to one of the most elite spearfishing destination on earth, Ascension Island.
A couple months before leaving, my friend gave me a training program and a ton of videos to watch. The day I was sent a Youtube video on ‘how to make a tourniquet in case of shark bite” I almost cancelled. But I didn’t. With the help of a friend, I built my own gun for the trip and made sure I understood how all the equipment work.
Straight out of the plane, we went Blue Water Hunting. I’ve never even shot a gun before. I found myself in the middle of the Atlantic, water was really deep (hundreds of feet), we were miles away from the shore, it was raining and the waves were huge. I was petrified. I was sitting on the back of the boat about to jump in and I couldn’t breathe. The little voice in my head was telling me to stay on the boat, to go back home. So I breathe and breathe and I reached deep (deep deep!) down for any little bit motivation I could find and jumped in. The second I opened my eyes in the water, everything lightens up. It was magnificent. Despite the dark and gloomy aspect of the sea at the surface, jumping in took me to what was another world. A hidden beauty that you couldn’t perceive from the surface. That day I also shot my first fish, I stoned a 12kg black jack, it was 200g under the current WR. I was hooked, but it wouldn’t be an easy journey, I had a lot to go over to really enjoy it.
I kept practicing the sport despite the occasional extreme discomfort, panic attacks and facing situation that terrified me. I was out of my depth in the water and I knew it. I’ve never been a good swimmer; I’ve never been comfortable in the water and my most exciting sea experience had been snorkeling with my dad when I was a kid, and even scared me. But there was something that kept me going. As I’m an avid cook, the lifestyle of going around the world and catching my food was just too brilliant to let it go. So I took my “women the hell up pills” (it’s a South African thing apparently), I took a lot of them and I kept spearfishing. I kept going to pretty remote destinations to try to learn from the best spearfishermen from around the world. I had the chance to dive incredible locations all around the world with a few goals – conquering all my fears, becoming a better spearfishing woman and eating the best food in the world by catching it myself.
I went to South Africa, Zanzibar, Cape Verde, French Polynesia, New Caledonia, Mexico, Brazil, California, Florida, New York, North Carolina and many more.
For a long time, before every trip I had nightmares, I was in bed imagining being eaten alive by a shark, imagining drowning or being dragged to 200m deep by a fish. I was taking the plane on my way to fishing destinations with a knot in my stomach, for over two years, maybe three. Considering all my fears and despite the fact that I so far (1) had a blackout (2) been lost at sea (3) and got tangled and dragged by a fish), reality was never even near the atrocities I was making up in my head. Of course they are real possibilities and I found myself making mistakes that could have cost me my life, but my experiences were never about that. I was coming back grown emotionally and physically as an athlete and always ended up never wanting to leave. I was happy I told the little voice to keep quiet.
I overcame a fear that was keeping me for discovering something new and that I didn’t even know was accessible to me. I worked on myself a lot and trained really hard and I am now a freediving instructor with PADI.
If you had told me 6 years ago that I would be at nearly 30 years old living in my suitcase, having barely no responsibility, I wouldn’t have believed you! Spearfishing changed my life in so many aspects and I grew to love it so much that I actually quit everything I had in my life – job, apartment, car, dogs… and boyfriend haha – to do it full time. It changed me as a person, it changed my dreams and I believe it changed my vision of the world for a much better one.
I think that sometimes, discomfort, even extreme is the way to discover yourself. Not the yourself you already know or being told to be, but the better version of yourself you don’t know yet.
I’m so glad I told the little voice to keep quiet because now, my big fear became domestication.