Stalking the depths: Freedive and spear fishing store opens in Destin

Savannah Chastain
Mike Pooler and Beach Safety Chief Joe D’Agostino stand in Benthic Ocean Sports.

Stepping into Benthic Ocean Sports at 501 Harbor Blvd. Suite G in Destin, it is evident that owner, Mike Pooler is passionate about what he sells. A flat-screen T.V. on the wall plays scenes of deep-sea freedivers hunting large fish by spear fishing. In another corner of the store, a large fish tank bubbles reminding customers that the shop is truly all about the ocean.

 Although the store holds all the materials for freediving and spear fishing, Pooler is the first to express that what he is really selling is a great experience.

“We are telling people all the time to forgo the expensive fiber fins and spend half the money so they can go and get certified so they can dive longer,” said Pooler. “For people that get into it and do it, it’s probably one of the most rewarding fishing or hunting you can do.”

Pooler has partnered with the Destin Fire Control District’s Beach Safety Chief Joe D’Agostino to offer the freedive certification classes.

“I do the certification course from the safety aspect of it,” D’Agostinosaid. “I think that people should know what they are doing because it can be a dangerous sport.”

D’Agostino said during the summer months he tries his best to offer at least one class per month.

“It’s a day and a half or a weekend course and we get people to hold their breath for up to three minutes and dive to depths of 66 feet,” he said.

Pooler explained that freediving differs from traditional scuba diving as a freediver does not rely on an air tank, but simply holds their breath.

“Freediving is breath-hold diving,” said Pooler. “You dive on one breath. That is all you have to stalk, hunt, and catch your fish. That is all you have to use.”

The benefits of freediving are numerous, but for spear fishing purposes Pooler explained the biggest difference is the added stealth.

“Spear fishermen and especially freedivers are a lot more selective hunters in general,” he said. “Freedivers see bigger and better fish and can get closer to them than scuba divers. It’s also a really sustainable way to go fishing as there is no by-catch,” he said.

Pooler told The Log that his inspiration to open Benthic Ocean Sports stems back to his childhood, and his strong love for the ocean.

 “I kind of grew up in the water in south Florida between Naples and the Keys,” he said. His love for spear fishing, he added came, “When I was a child, just shooting hog fish in the keys.”

Pooler said that it took spending four years out of the water, while serving in the Army, for him to realize his real dream was to live and work near the open ocean.

“I was forced to stay out of the water for so long while I was in the Army, that when I got out and was offered a job down here that kind of got me back in the water and I realized I wanted to do something that was fun,” he said.

As the only store of its kind in the area to offer spear-fishing coupled with freediving certification, Pooler said the combined sports are leading to a new type of community along the Florida Panhandle.

 “I saw a need and realized that free diving was growing in popularity,” said Pooler. “More and more people are getting into it and it seems like freediving is set to explode on the Northern Florida Coast. It does help bring the community together. It is new and growing, right now we are just getting together and sharing the costs to train and get out there.”

For more information on gear or certification courses visit www.benthicoceansports.com or call 837-3315.