Community Spotlight: Julie Riffe

Growing Up In A Spearfishing Family

Hey there, spearos. This is The Stone Shot, your monthly dose of spear content (and maybe some fishing, but we try to keep it below the water line)

It’s the 3rd Thursday of the month! That means it’s time for our monthly Community Spotlight. Here’s what we have for you today:

  • Community Spotlight: Julie Riffe

  • 3 Generations: Passing down the passion

  • Near Death Experience: Tangled up tuna

  • 4 Questions: With Julie

Community Spotlight

Julie Riffe

Being the daughter of a legend like Jay Riffe comes with some expectations.

And let me tell ya, Julie Riffe exceeded all those expectations and more.

She’s a 2x National women’s team spearfishing champion (1996, 1998), she got 1st place women’s largest fish in Malibu (1998) and held the IUSA world record amaco amberjack (2005).

But more importantly, she’s following her father’s footsteps in being an advocate for sustainable spearfishing and continuing to shine a positive light on our sport.

Growing Up In A Spearfishing Family

We asked Julie to give us some insight on what it was like growing up a Riffe.

“Spearfishing was my dad’s passion, and it naturally became the centerpiece of my childhood.

Growing up, I was constantly surrounded by the excitement of local competitions or the detailed planning of spearfishing trips across the globe. My younger years were filled with memories of helping my dad at tournaments, carrying the day's catch to be weighed.

I loved surfing and snowboarding as well, but nothing beat spearfishing. The most comforting moments were those spent freediving and spearfishing with my dad, sharing in his world.

I wanted nothing more than to hang out with my dad in the garage helping him build spearguns. We would spend countless hours sanding spearguns, tying power bands, framing and shaping the trigger mechanisms, attaching floppers to the spearheads, sharpening and polishing tips, forming shark fin tabs on spearshafts, and rigging spearguns for all the friends and customers that would pick up Riffe guns.

This was the norm in our house. My father worked a day job, come home at 5 o’clock to have dinner, then hit the garage to build spear guns.

I would sneak out of my back door to hang out with my dad in the garage into the wee hours of the night hearing fish stories from his friends.

He showed me the true joy of bringing home dinner, the beauty of catching your own fish and not wasting an inch of meat.

I hold these days so close because my father was my true hero, sparkle in my eye. I was daddy’s little girl.”

Julie and her dad

“Once you pick up spearfishing, it becomes a lifestyle. And it’s only natural that it gets passed down to the next generation. My dad passed it on to me, and now I get to pass it down to my daughters, Sierra and Kaelyn.

Seeing them, especially Sierra, find a passion for spearfishing, makes me smile. I know my dad would be proud.”

Julie and her daughters

A Scary Spearfishing Story

Tangled Up With A Tuna

Tuna’s are strong.

Sharks are unpredictable.

Spearfishing is dangerous.

Here’s a story that we can all learn from.

“I made a trip to the islands off Cabo San Lucas—Socorro, San Benedicto, and Clarion. This is where I shot my first wahoo and tuna. One particular tuna, nearly 100 pounds, gave me the fight of a lifetime, almost costing me my life.

My father, Jim Baldwin and his son Jason planned this trip aboard their 100 foot sailboat. Thanks to a permit secured by my uncle Jon Riffe, who assists divers in obtaining their permits, our expedition to these remote islands became possible. Joining us were my dad's friends Tony Smith, Robin Carden, and Ted Kurahara.

On our final day, before returning to Cabo, we decided to make one last dive. Jim Baldwin piloted the dinghy, carrying Robin, Juan, and me to a pinnacle teeming with baitfish. Diving in, I immediately spotted a massive leatherback grouper, over 35 pounds, which I successfully speared and brought aboard.

We then made another drift and a school of tuna passed us. I dove down reaching about 25 feet, and took my shot at the nearest tuna. The fish dove like a torpedo. My 75 foot float line nearly disappeared but I grabbed the handle on the back and went for the ride.

It was so exciting!

I screamed out of my snorkel as Jim brought the boat over. Jim looked at me and said “Julie you got a world record. Keep on fighting it on your own. This is your day.”

Not truly knowing how big this fish was I continued to horse it up, hand over hand, pulling on the bungee as I gained a little, then lost a little. By the time I got my hands on the shooting line Robin came up beside me and said “watch out Julie there’s a huge hammerhead circling your fish”.

Exhausted, I finally got ahold of the shaft. I asked Juan to hold the shaft so I could pull myself up into the dinghy.

As I was pulling myself up, the hammerhead shark came in hot. It rammed Robin in the chest, knocking his gun out of his hand! Simultaneously, the tail of the shark splashed out of the water, hitting me in the head and knocking off my mask. I fell back into the water, and my legs slipped into the bird's nest of float lines. Then, the tuna woke up—the fish dove straight down, and the lines cinched my legs together.

Robin made one attempt to untangle me, but I got yanked underwater as the tuna dove deeper. As I looked up, Robin's fin was the last thing in front of my face. So, I reached up and grabbed the blade. Robin grabbed my hand, and Juan quickly grabbed my wetsuit. Together, they pulled me to the surface. Within seconds, I was in the boat, and my tuna was on top of me, violently vibrating, as tunas tend to do.

It was a quick reality check that I almost lost my life. If not for Robin and Juan, I might not be here.

This experience scared the crap out of me.

For a while, I avoided talking about this particular story because I was afraid of backlash. But after discussing it with a few of my spearfishing buddies, they assured me there is nothing to be ashamed of.

'You should talk about this, as you could save somebody's life,' they said."

Juan, Julie and Robin

4 Questions W/ Julie Riffe

Advice for new spearos?

“Make a gear check list. After each dive make sure your gear is ready to go for quick notice. Make sure your line & bands are good, shaft is straight and tip is sharp.

Trust the people you dive with.

Make sure you have your fishing license.

Be prepared to fillet your catch, so bring some Ziplock bags and a cooler in the car.

Don’t forget to take some amazing pictures.”

Where’s your favorite place to spearfish?

“Being a local to Southern California, Baja, California was always our family getaway during Thanksgiving and Christmas and summer vacations. We would pack the car full of camping gear and all of our essentials and hit the road for a week or more. We’d drive down to Cabo and work our way back up on the gulf side of Baja visiting family and friends along the way. The spearfishing was unbelievable and these were the days that my dad taught me safety, I got the experiences of different fish to hunt. It still is my favorite place to spearfish.”

How has spearfishing impacted your life?

“I can’t imagine spearfishing not being a part of my life. It’s the best gift my father could have ever passed down to me. The feeling you get jumping in the water…it’s cleansing to the body, mind and soul. And the feeling after each dive is just as nourishing as the fish we catch and eat.”

Where do you want to see the sport go in the coming years?

“To be cautious of our surroundings. People are always watching and looking to judge. We have to remember to continue giving our sport a good name. Don’t just show the blood and gore but the food it provides.

My father has always said be selective and take only what you need to provide for your family. Don’t get me wrong a trophy fish is exciting, but with that trophy fish, feed your family and friends.

I’d also like to see more education about our local environment, the impact we have and the message we can send as spearos.

Safety is also very important. Educate yourself on the sport. Know what the pros, cons, dangers are thrills are. Dive safe! Have fun.”

That’s it for us! We’ll see you back here in two weeks.

PS - Who do you want to see us interview next? Respond to this email and let us know!

Any stories of your own that you'd be willing to tell? Respond to this email and we’ll send over a short questionnaire!

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