Jim “Chiefy” Mathie, has been a part of Florida’s underwater world for nearly 35 years and is well known in South Florida SCUBA diving circles for his spearfishing and lobster catching talents. His commitment to diving, along with his warm and good-natured personality, and his willingness to help others has made him a local ambassador for our sport. With his two books, “Catching the Bug” and “Catching the Spear-It” Chiefy shares a lifetime of valuable knowledge with tips, tricks, and techniques for lobster hunters and spearfishermen. This is Chiefy’s story about the evolution of his dive equipment and his transition to tech style gear.
After retiring in 2007, having served 30 years with Deerfield Beach Fire Rescue, Chiefy now has more time for his love of SCUBA diving and is a regular in the waters offshore Broward County, Florida. When he is not diving, Chiefy is helping to introduce others to the sport by writing columns for local newspapers, blogging for the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB), appearing at local events and on radio shows, and through his work with the South Florida Spearfishing Club. His latest project, called Dive Dock & Dine, is a video collaboration with the Greater Fort Lauderdale CVB and ScubaNation television show. Airing on Fox Sports Sun Network and Visit Lauderdale Television, the show will feature underwater activities and will highlight the fabulous dining and waterfront locations in the Greater Fort Lauderdale area. Diving and spending time with Chiefy is always a lot of fun. His confidence and skill make him an excellent diver and you can always learn from an expert!
Recently, I was talking with Chiefy and he mentioned he had dropped by and picked up some gear from Try Tech Gear sponsor, Dive Gear Express that is based in his area. After complimenting their customer service and quality, he began telling me how much he liked his backplate, harness, and wing configuration. Since Chiefy does not mind sharing his knowledge, he agreed to let me publish his thoughts on why he uses the dive gear we call “tech gear.”
When the Broward County Fire Service brought Chiefy to South Florida at the age of 23 he knew nothing about diving but, living by the ocean sparked his interest. While helping a group of dive instructors for the Norwegian Cruise Line to become Emergency Medical Technicians he was introduced to the sport. As part of an outreach program, lasting many years, through Broward Community College, Chiefy would travel to the Bahamas to work with the dive instructors. He said, “I would teach the dive instructors to be EMTs and they taught me how to dive.” He originally learned to “skin dive” but eventually went on to become SCUBA certified. Since taking his first lobster and his first hogfish in the Bahamas many years ago his passion has been SCUBA diving and undersea hunting.
Most of Chiefy’s diving is done on the second or third reef lines off the coast near his home in Deerfield Beach, Florida where his dives are primarily in the 50’ to 100’ range. He is not a technical diver, but in the last five years or so, has changed the configuration of his gear to a backplate harness and wing, based on lessons he has learned over the years.
He started out like most of us just dabbling in the sport and learning as we go. “My very first BCD that I purchased was at the Dania Nautical Flea Market,” Chiefy told me with a chuckle. He said it was a jacket style BCD and it didn’t last long because it was used.” As a new diver, he did not have enough knowledge to understand the benefits of a proper gear configuration.
Chiefy went on to discover the back inflation type BCD and used various models for many years. He said, “I made that transition early on because I didn’t like the bulkiness of a full jacket style BCD.”
Over the years, Chiefy managed to wear out several BCDs and he would just go into the dive shop and replace them. One day one of the straps broke on his BCD that was in otherwise good condition so he went to the dive shop to have it repaired. Since it was sewn together and not modular it would have to be sent back to the factory for repairs. With this news, he began to look for alternatives and discovered the shop had modular backplate, harness, and wing configurations and he was sold.
It took some time and some changes to get his configuration set the way he wanted but as he says, “The good news is I can change it out if I don’t like something.” He quickly recognized the value of the modular design of tech style gear. I asked Chiefy what are his criteria in a BCD and he told me, “I dive a lot and I’m looking for something that’s going to last a long time. The beauty of the components is that if something breaks I can change that out.” He said he also wants his gear to be, “clean, streamlined, and efficient.”
Has the change in gear made Chiefy a more effective diver? He says it has. “By having the backplate it has distributed my weight more evenly on my body and I like that feature. It has a good feel. It has a good fit.” This has helped with trim and the fact that the system is less cluttered means the gear is not in the way when he is looking for lobster and fish. He says, “This time of year we’re doing lobstering and spearfishing. We’ve got a lot of gear that we’re carrying so it’s nice to have everything streamlined.” He went on to say, “Being an underwater hunter, buoyancy is extremely important. We are constantly kicking so we’re constantly moving; so you want to be streamlined, and your buoyancy has to be correct. It helps to have a good system.”
So, what’s Chiefy’s advice to new divers? “When you’re a new diver don’t buy gear; rent it and get a feel for the different types of products that are out there. The second recommendation is to go on charter boats and see what equipment experienced divers are using” Learn a little and invest your money wisely in equipment that will suit your needs.
Overall, Chiefy is sold on the high quality and ruggedness of his tech style gear. He is able to streamline it and modify it to suit his needs for a clean comfortable rig. When something breaks or needs to be changed, the modular design makes it easy. With years of real world diving experience, he is a diver who knows what he needs to get the job done. Chiefy says he’s not interested in being a tech diver, and he can’t spearfish using a rebreather, but he sure likes our style of gear!
Visit Chiefy’s website to learn more and to get your copies of his great books!