Frolicking with Sea Foragers
Dusk was settling in over the Howe Sound. Dripping in saltwater Jennamae slipped out of her wetsuit and gracefully into her Taku Bibs and Jacket while Ben pulled the stand-up paddleboards above the high tide line, then scaled a Striped Perch for dinner. In synchronicity, the two started a fire and prepared for a seaside dinner as if choreographed. Jennamae prepped Sea Urchins while apologizing that she didn’t successfully forage sea cucumbers or a crab this go; even over an ocean campfire, she was a delightful host. Apologies unnecessary, I was just grateful for the experience.
Earlier in the day, Ben, Jennamae, and I loaded up on paddleboards with freediving, fishing, and camera gear. A normal afternoon in the greater Átl'ḵa7tsem/Howe Sound area for the two of them was a sought after experience for me. I had been eager to accompany the couple on an outing for a while to gain a greater understanding of local sea foraging, shore fishing, ocean access, and the act of freediving in general. A perfect fall afternoon united our schedules perfectly.
“Since always. He loves the water; he’s a water baby,” answers Jennamae when I ask her how long Ben has been fishing. I chuckle at her answer because it couldn’t be more accurate as I see Ben paddling around the Sound with a fishing pole on his back and tackle box on the nose of the board. He stops, casts, and carries on. After multiple bites fishing from shore and atop the paddleboard, Ben reels in a small but substantial Striped Perch that meets regulations and we celebrate - dinner!
Jennamae has been swimming and diving in some capacity her whole life. The art of it came naturally to her when she consciously started freediving this past summer. As a talented and well-known vocalist, Jennamae already knew a thing or two about breathwork, allowing her to jump into freediving with a high baseline. Her curiosity quickly transitioned into a passion and she pursued dry training before formally obtaining her level one freediving certificate.
“My favorite thing about freediving is the connection it makes me feel to the earth and nature. It reminds me that I'm just as a part of the ecosystem as the seals, kelp, mountains, urchins, fish, etc. I feel like I learn so much from freediving. Every time I step into the Ocean, I feel as though I’m being invited, because it's not a space I can freely and comfortably be a part of. It's a place I have to work and train to understand. Which has made me have that outlook on every environment and community I enter, as humans, we are all visitors, and I am constantly training and working to understand.”
With thanks, Jennamae and Ben both acknowledge that they live on the traditional, ancestral and unceded territory of the Coast Salish peoples–Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), Stó:lō, Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh) and xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam) Nations and spend time diving and fishing in the Átl'ḵa7tsem area. “I feel so privileged to live where I live. I have always had a connection to the Sea, my ancestry is mostly from the Philippines and even though the waters are much colder here, I feel that connection with every dive, like I'm where I'm supposed to be. It's definitely an insanely deeper type of self-care. It's given me the confidence to sustain myself and my family.”
Witnessing Ben and Jennamae connect equally with each other, the ocean, and the ancestry of the area was insightful and compelling; a glimpse at a new world that has been at my doorstep all along. I’ve dipped more than my toes in the water thanks to their mentorship and I can’t wait to pursue more experiences as incredible as this.