By Sophie Sadler
When I meet Teresa Duarte, she will be the world champion of her discipline for another week. Becoming champion in 2018 – the next competition will be held in Italy this month – she will have to relinquish her crown as she is currently eight months pregnant.
Her sport is an unusual one; 2018 was the first year that ladies had competed internationally. When the CMAS World Championship was held in the Algarve, Teresa won the very first ladies spearfishing cup. What is even more remarkable was that this was the first competition Duarte had ever entered.
Previously, Teresa has only gone fishing with her older brother Luís, (featured in Tomorrow in June), whom she calls her “inspiration”. The desire to copy him led to her passion for water sports; Luís also surfed and spearfished. She started snorkelling very young and, at 14, she started competing in bodyboarding competitions and was threetimes National Champion. She took part in the European Tour and later the World Tour, which took her to Australia, Mexico, the Canary Islands, Hawaii and Brazil.
When she graduated from high school at 19, Teresa decided to follow her passion for animals and attended the Veterinary University in Lisbon. The course took her six years to complete due to her commitment to the world tour.
When she finished the course, however, she quickly realised that the working routine was far removed from her desire to have a peaceful and tranquil daily life in contact with nature and the landscape. “So I decided to return home and started fishing for seafood, shellfish and particularly goose barnacles (perceves) with my brother for a living, so he is my regular worker and teammate. My daily routine and life has always been organised towards the ocean.”
She followed her brother into spearfishing in 2013 when she was 30. In 2018, a friend of Luís’, Jody Lot, was competing in the championships and went on to win the men’s world title. He recommended her to the Portugal selectors. Teresa took part in a competition to qualify to represent Portugal.
In the championships in Sagres, Teresa competed with sixteen other lady ‘spearos’ from Chile, Croatia, Ecuador, Greece, Portugal, Spain and the US.
She admits she had a home advantage. “I had about 20 days to prepare for this event and at the same time, I was still doing my job. Somewhere in the middle of this period, I had an ear infection that kept me out of the water for five days. As the competition area was a very large and shallow area with a sandy floor, our strategy was to take advantage of knowing the area well and getting closer to the rocks where the surf was more intense because that is usually where the fish gather to feed and take shelter.
Another tactic was to focus on a diversity of species in order to get the most points possible with mullets, white sea breams, gold lines, wrasses and rocklings. These last ones are very hard to find in the competition area, but I had the good fortune to find one in an already highly scouted area by other divers.”
After five hours of competition, Teresa was victorious, with 17 fish and 32992 points. She also won the prize for the biggest fish. She remembers, “It was really special to arrive at the dock and have that immense crowd cheering for us girls. I didn’t imagine how big the Portuguese spearfishing community was until I started to receive their appraisal, comments, congratulations and best wishes. I felt proud for representing all that love for the sport.”
She is particularly grateful to her teammate Catarina and Rui Torres (captain of the Portuguese team) for their advice and guidance and to her sponsor Salvimar for the support and encouragement they gave her throughout the preparation.
Teresa attributes her success to being born in Vila do Bispo. “It is a very special and quiet place and it promotes full contact with nature. My first contact with the ocean happened when I was still in my mother’s belly. My family has been closely related to the ocean for at least four generations.”
She has not ruled out competing again if she can manage a schedule alongside motherhood, but sadly she also had a negative experience when she attended a spearfishing competition in Denmark and a Lagos-born competitor died.
“I would like to thank my family for instilling the love for the sea in me and always encouraging and supporting me when a lot of people thought I was weird.” She now hopes the daughter she is expecting will be the fifth generation to succumb to the lure of the ocean.
Far from being “weird”, Teresa’s story is an inspiration and demonstrates the deep connection and bond the locals have for the ocean, sea life and fishing.