Some of my earliest memories are gently swaying in a hammock next to the diesel engine on my father’s boat as he chugged out to fish. The continuous rhythm of the engine and the sounds of the water on the hull instantly put me to sleep, (unless it was the diesel fumes or petroleum smells!). Fishing was what provided us with food, income and standing in our little village on a small tributary of the Mekong Delta in Vietnam.
My father was a very well respected fisherman, from a long line of fisherman, so it was always in the blood. We trawled the shallow beds of the Mekong for prawns, squid and just about anything that was unlucky enough to get caught. When the nets where brought in I used to drag a bucket of prawns or baby squid to the galley where they where quickly tossed into a hot wok, swished around and served with rice. The extra catch was sold at the local markets or traded for other commodities.
So the sea was intrinsic to our way of life, survival, and prosperity, life without it was incomprehensible….
However, when I was still very young my family escaped Vietnam by sailing on that same boat (crammed with more than 40 others) further down the Mekong and out into the Gulf of Thailand. After a traumatic journey that featured pirates, sharks and dwindling supplies our boat, the key to both our livehood and our identity as a fishing family, was confiscated in Malaysia. After a year in a refugee camp we finally ended up in Hawkes Bay, New Zealand working on orchards, farms and in factories – a long way from the ocean we loved.
The little connection we still had, and we all loved as a family, was our weekend fishing trips down to the Napier wharf, on a great day we would bring home a kahawai, trevally or some parore. My favourite family memory was when we headed out to Whirinaki and picked mussels off the rocks, lit a beach fire, threw a corrugated iron sheet on top then cooked the mussels with Mum’s lemon, fish sauce and peanut salsa.
Then life got in the way again with university, family, jobs and kids and the sea moved further and further away from me.
It wasn’t until my wife and I and our young family moved to Taranaki that I really reconnected with the ocean again, it is such an amazing area and living next to the coast was like coming home.
Long before kayak fishing was even a thing I had an old plastic kayak that I paddled off the beach on calm summer days and chased the schools of kahawai and kingfish. Back then I couldn’t afford fishing rods so it was all hand lines, I have one incredible memory of a kingfish that towed me out to sea for miles. (I finally caught it but had to paddle back in the dark, my wife was not happy!)* The Taranaki coastline is incredible and I wanted to explore as much as I could, so I ended up strapping a 2hp motor onto the side of the kayak and zooming all over the place. People would always come over and see what I had strapped to my kayak and be amazed at what was caught, in the following years more and more kayaks starting showing up!
On beautiful warm summer evenings we would take the kids down and paddle a long line out off the beach, have a swim or walk and pull the line in, there was always a snapper, gurnard or kahawai to take home for dinner.
However, I wanted to explore further still so I convinced a friend to go halves in an old 12 foot tinny and we started launching off the beach, if you know anything about the west coast you will know how rough and unpredictable it is and beach launching is an adventure in itself.
We soon grew out of the 12′ tinny and updated to a very rough 16′ Fryan and the adventures continued, we have been swamped, stuck, rolled and smashed into and onto that beach more times than I can count.
After a few years my confidence grew and I got back into diving (I did my PADI dive in my 20’s) and to my delight found the quality of the diving to be incredible – I now have spots marked that rival anything I have found overseas.
In addition, in the last few years I have added sailing and free diving to my passions.
So I guess the love for the ocean has always been there but it was Taranaki that gave me a chance to reconnect and fully immerse myself…and so the adventures continue..
*Wife’s note – oh this was just the start of me being unhappy with the amount of time that was spent fishing………………………