The Malta Independent 4 June 2020, Thursday

Spearfishing and diving: A lifetime of victories

Shona Berger Monday, 16 March 2020, 10:38 Last update: about 4 months ago

Edward Arrigo leafs through four of his personal scrapbooks filled with irreplaceable photographs, newspaper cuttings and any other findings which he felt were worth remembering, going back 67 years. Arrigo, considered to be one of Malta’s very first recreational divers, speaks to Shona Berger about his fond memories, experiences and outstanding accomplishments of when he bravely represented Malta in spearfishing competitions from the 1950s to the 1970s.

Edward Arrigo nostalgically spoke about his childhood and said that he started fishing at a very young age, when he was about 14 years old. His love, passion and dedication for the sea and what lies beneath eventually led him to participate in a number of spearfishing competitions. At a young age, Arrigo won the Malta Junior Championships, and from then on it was a series of victories in his life.

“Throughout my years competing, I have won quite a number of challenge cups and trophies, such as the Chessi Trophy and the Aquatic Challenge Cup,” Arrigo said. He added that he was also chosen for a number of international championships, giving him the opportunity to represent Malta in several countries. “Together with my teammates, I travelled to marvellous places such as Portugal, Cuba, Ustica, Chile, Cadaqués and the Tremiti Islands.”

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Arrigo was described as a competitor who was “consistent in form however was always more focused on the bigger catches.” Looking back, Arrigo has had remarkable catches which automatically placed him in first place, such as the 45kg stingray which landed him the Barrakuda Challenge Cup.

The competitions were a great success, with the public at large closely following the process of the competitors. “The first International Competition which Arrigo participated in was held in Portugal. The Maltese Club competed against 12 other countries and successfully obtained fifth place,” Arrigo said.

“Unfortunately, Malta was always at a disadvantage when it came to international competitions,” Arrigo added. He explained that, at the time, the club he formed part of earned its funds exclusively from the sale of fish which was caught during training or competitions. This was the only source of income that the club was receiving. Therefore, “whereas other countries had the funds to send competitors two weeks in advance to the location of where the competition would be held, we would only be there two days before because as a club we barely had enough funds to actually compete, let alone have a bonus two weeks of training,” Arrigo said.

“From all the competitions I participated in those 20 years, I can happily say that I managed to acquire a collection of 120 trophies, which are displayed at home,” he said.

Arrigo’s scrapbooks are filled with several newspaper cuttings on his accomplishments, together with photographs showing Arrigo being presented with numerous trophies. Arrigo said that he achieved what was referred to as “The Triple Crown.” This was a great accomplishment as he emerged as the winner of the Malta Championship Race, the Cressi Trophy and the Rolex Submariner Competition.

Arrigo did not only get a great sense of satisfaction from winning such challenging competitions but he also obtained remarkable prizes, one of them being the Rolex watch which he still wears 60 years later. “It is the best watch I have ever had,” he remarked.

He said that “resources in the 1950s up to the 1970s weren’t as technological and advanced as they are today. We had nothing apart from ourselves, our swimsuits, our spear guns and our watches, which had to be kept in a glass jar, sealed with tape, as underwater watches weren’t available then.”

Despite the lack of resources, Arrigo bravely fought through it all and was constantly described as a “new star” and “an exceptionally strong swimmer, the fastest in the club,” winning numerous competitions, one after the other.

Spearfishing was quite a dangerous and challenging sport.

“I have lost many of my friends to spearfishing activities,” Arrigo said.

The act of spearfishing goes back thousands of years, to when men and women discovered that they could kill creatures in the water in order to survive. The act of spearfishing eventually came to mean more than just a way to put dinner on the table, as several divers across the world became more intrigued and interested in the practice. This eventually became a competitive sport, however, now it is a hobby to many.

Along the years, several divers formed clubs and organized a number of competitions. Arrigo said that he “formed part of the Malta Sub-Aqua Club, which was the first scuba diving club to be established in our country.” He added that “nowadays the club is called ATLAM Sub Aqua Club due to the numerous developments and advancements in aquatic sport and scuba diving. The majority of people were no longer interested in spearfishing, and thus the club started to teach scuba diving and free diving instead.”

Spearfishing was not for the weak as it “clearly demonstrates that, in this sport, every bit of energy and strength counts.”

Despite the dangers the sport posed on individuals, for many it was still considered as an exhilarating adventure. Arrigo said that “in the 1950s we didn’t have any of the equipment we have today such as a wetsuit, a scuba tank, a depth gauge or a dive computer, thus spearfishing was a lot more challenging and dangerous.” He added that this was one of the main reasons why several divers lost their lives.

“We used to go diving without any breathing apparatus to depths of around 20 metres.” He then explained that there was also “the issue of hyperventilation upon resurfacing, which unfortunately took several lives.”

Arrigo’s passion and devotion for the sea did not stop in the 1970s and, along the years, he has greatly influenced his three sons to follow in his footsteps.

One them, Taran Arrigo, fell in love with the sea at a very young age, just like his father. He has explored the sea in numerous places around the world such as Australia, Vietnam and Thailand, and is currently a diving instructor working with his father. Both Taran and Edward Arrigo teach scuba diving in Malta to people who are interested to see what lies beneath the beautiful Mediterranean Sea.

Apart from teaching locals and foreigners, he has also had unexpected but marvellous opportunities, as he got the chance to meet and teach the famous former astronaut Buzz Aldrin, and the English actor David Jason. Arrigo said, “they both needed a diving instructor who would side-by-side help them explore what lies beneath the Mediterranean Sea, whilst teaching them how to scuba dive.”

Arrigo still dives and sauys he is  “gladly sharing his extensive knowledge and experiences on scuba diving to his three sons, grandchildren and to anyone who is interested.”

 

 

 

 

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