Started in 1963 by a dozen Metairie mailmen with a passion for spearfishing, the Hell Divers Spearfishing Club (www.helldivers.org) is one of the oldest in the nation.
The club limits its membership to 33, and membership requirements include being "proficient divers, the ability to stay out of trouble, helpful on the dive trip, and display a commitment to the club." They also must be scuba certified and a member of the Louisiana Council of Underwater Dive Clubs (LCUDC). The Hell Divers' mission is to build knowledge about diving by using it for sports and scientific exploration to determine safe depth limits for divers and to help preserve sea life habitats, and to increase interest in the sport through education programs.
The Hell Divers meet twice a month, go on regular dive trips in the Gulf of Mexico and other locales, and compete in an annual rodeo for the largest amberjack, barracuda, cobia, grouper and red snapper, among other fish.
The inaugural rodeo was held at the Lake Pontchartrain lakefront in 1963 and had a competition for sheepshead. Today, sportsmen come from across the nation to compete in the rodeo, which celebrated its 50th anniversary June 2 with a weigh-in and celebration at Kenner City Park.
In addition to promoting and preserving the sports of diving and spearfishing, the club, along with the LCUDC, has partnered with the University of New Orleans, the University of Southern Mississippi and the National Ocean and Atmospheric Association to conduct research, including studies of the invasive lionfish and the tarpon.
ABOVE: Hell Divers (l-r) Rafe Antill, Paul Cozic and Wil Demuth spearfish under an oil platform. Cozic says the club has become as much an advocacy group for preserving oil platform ecosystems as a sports fishing and diving group. "We understand that we must preserve the fisheries in order to keep doing what we enjoy," he says. Photo by Toby Armstrong