Dan Silveira can freeze time. In one instant, he fuzes the clock together in a single shot. Sometimes, that shot is fired from a spear gun; sometimes it’s fired from a camera.
“It’s the moment of death,” he says. “When you’re lining up the fish, the future, the past and the present are all blended into one.”
The waters that Dan calls home are treacherous. “There’s always the threat of the guy in the white suit,” he says, meaning great white sharks. “A friend of mine died. A white shark took his head off.”
But gilled-men in white suits don’t bother the laid-back Californian as much as real men in business suits do. So several times a week, Dan grabs a friend or two and treks on foot over boulders and creeks and isolated beaches — kayak in tow — towards the sea.
Here by the sea, from his home port in Half Moon Bay, California — a sleepy, coastal community about 30 minutes south of San Francisco — Dan sheds the burden of land and searches for life-breathing experiences aboard an Ocean Kayak Trident 13 in the cold waters of the Pacific. Sometimes he’s fishing. Sometimes he’s carrying a camera. But he’s always diving, and he’s always exploring.
When he’s scouting for the big tuna or yellowtail that have over the years become his favorite prey, Dan spends 10-14 hours atop the kayak. And when he finally finds the fish, he doesn’t pull out a rod. He tethers the kayak to his person, dawns a pair of flippers, a mask and a spear gun, then dives in.
Dan travels into the fish’s world outside the realm of normal human comfort. Sometimes, he delves 200 feet down into the ether. In 2012, the downward journey took him to a National Spearfishing Championship title. Dan is an expert.
Consider his view as he plunges below the crest of the Pacific, entering a blue-hued world of flowing motion. Many times, his only landmark is an infinite world of shifting sand below. “White sharks attack at the surface, so I try to stay on the bottom for as long as possible,” he explains.
In this world, you’re forever getting lost. “There’s no point of reference, you’re just swimming over vast amounts of sand,” he says. “Free diving is like being in the dark with a strobe light that only flashes once every minute or two, when you have to come up for air.”
In this vast, blue world, there are few landmarks for Dan to follow, but there is one constant—the kayak up top. It’s always there when he needs it, tethered safely to his body. Unlike a boat, which remains stationary as you drift with the current, Dan’s Trident follows him effortlessly at the surface, giving him a quick exit from the dangerous strike zone of white sharks that lurks at the surface. “I like to get in and out there as quickly as possible, and the kayak helps me do that better than a boat, which can make you take long surface swims and turns you into a floating target.”
And unlike a boat, Dan can launch his kayak from beaches that are 20 to 30 miles away from the nearest ramp. That means he can easily access waters that he says most people don’t put the effort into finding. From the Trident, he can dive from a platform that gives him the piece of mind normally associated with boats. “I’m an adventurer,” he says. “I like to find areas that less people go to, and the kayak offers a unique perspective of the ocean. My boat is always with me, and when I’m on it, I still feel like I have the comforts of a boat. So, I can get into it, take a breather, warm up or focus on finding spots.”
“Me and my friends, we measure life by experiences,” he says. “I look back on 2012, at that National Championship, and it’s very emotional for me. When I was on stage, I realized that the trophy in my hands wasn’t the one I was chasing. The real reward was all of the people standing beside me, the friends who supported me over the years on scouting days and camping trips…When you’re kayaking with someone, you form a special bond with special memories that are always at the front of your mind.”
Most recently, the memories on Dan’s mind rise from the most remote location on Earth — Ascension Island. There on a volcanic island, 1,000 miles from the nearest continent, Silveira once again delved deep in the pursuit of tuna. When he found them, cruising off the mountain-island’s steep coasts, he raised a speargun, lined up the shot and froze time once again. “We decided not to kill them. We decided to take pictures.”
Such is life in the heart of the sea, where Dan says a different equilibrium exists between man and life. The sea is where it all starts, he explains. “It’s where life begins and starts a new journey.”
And for Dan Silveira, the free-diving maverick of Half Moon Bay, the journey often starts with a fishing kayak.