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The Story of California Waterman Rick Hadley

4 Oct

Richard Hadley 3/8/1958-9/28/2013

We all come from the sea, but we are not all of the sea. Those of us who are, we children of the tides, must return to it again and again, until the day we don’t come back leaving only that which was touched along the way.”  Chasing Mavericks, 2012.

Tonight, like the last couple of nights I find myself staring at the ceiling.  I can’t sleep even though I’m very tired.  I roll around in the bed and can’t stand it and I stumble back to my keyboard.  I look at some of Rick’s fish pictures he posted.  Tuna, yellowtail, white seabass, ulua…Wow, just wow…

I still vividly remember the last email I got from Rick, it was him sassing me about our annual Yellowtail contest.  I see his letter every time I open my email.  I’ll never delete it.

“Hey Chris,

I just sent in my yt smackdown $$$.  Any chance we can go retroactive to last Tuesday?  I’ll split the winnings with you if it holds up :).  JK of course.  Heading off shore tomorrow to get another one!!

Thanks, Rick”

Rick had shot an absolute monster last week, 40.5 pound yellowtail and it was a local fish, the biggest that we’ve seen all year.  We all had to bow down to him on that one and there was a lot of friendly banter among what we affectionately call “The Tribe”,  which is our tight knit group of spearfishermen.  If Rick had entered the tournament earlier he would have walked away with the title, something that we’d all laugh about together.  A running joke between our Tribe, is to always say “stay off my spotz, kook” (yes I know I misspelled spots, it’s part of the joke) and that was what I wrote to him as an answer to that email he had sent me.  Little would I know that this would be the last time I would get to talk to him.

The next time his name would come up was when my buddy John texted me that Rick had passed away while diving.  To me, this was an impossibility.  Rick was a fantastic diver, in a class so far ahead of me I was always in awe of him and his accomplishments.  Rick could hit over 150′ (yes, that’s feet) on a single breath, he had a fantastic breath hold and had a personal best static of 5:35 (5 min 35 sec).  He also had many years of experience under his belt.   I knew he was diving for “bugs” (what we call California Spiny Lobsters) in fairly shallow water at one of the islands.  In my mind it was impossible for him to have died doing that.  I immediately called my buddy and he confirmed it, with a shaking voice he gave me the details and again and again I told him I didn’t believe it.

It was the opening season for lobster and some friends headed out to one of their favorite spots.  They spent the day getting some nice fish and then pulled anchor and headed to another island, one of their favorite spots for lobster.  As usual Rick was the first in the water and he headed towards a likely spot.  When Rick didn’t show up on the boat after a while all the guys on the boat immediately had started to grid search.  Another boat of guys were in the area and they also joined the search as did the coast guard and county lifeguards.  Everyone did absolutely everything they could.  The ocean wrapped her arms around Rick to welcome him one final time.   We’re still not sure what had happened, the details weren’t really important, what pained us all was that our friend was not going to return.   At the very very least I know that on his last day, Rick was among his best friends and he was doing something that he absolutely loved, we all took some comfort in that thought.

For those who knew Rick, they knew he was a great father to two children.  That he was chairman and CEO of Hawaiian Springs Water.  That he was a philanthropist and had a true love for the ocean.  And for those of us who were lucky enough to get close to him, we knew he was a phenomenal freediver and spearfisherman.  He trained with professional freedivers and would spend a lot of time doing drills in the pool.  He would spend many days hunting in the water, this year would be a banner  year for Rick as he shot two of his personal best fish, a 40.5 lb yellowtail and a 60.4 lb white seabass.  Rick was so modest and humble you would never peg him to be a pro, he would never brag about his accomplishments and you kind of had to drag it out of him.  He largely flew under the radar.  Anyone who knew him would tell you, he was always there to help anyone out who needed it and always went out of his way to answer questions or lend a hand.  He was a wonderful human being.

I’ve only known Rick for a few years.  The first time I met Rick was probably at a Long Beach Neptunes meeting, a well known spearfishing club which he was a member.  My buddies introduced me to him and it would be the first of many times that I would experience that warm smile and firm handshake.  I never even really thought Rick would remember me but in an odd coincidence one of my former coworkers was on a flight and unknowingly sat next to Rick.  Rick was reading a Hawaii Skin Diver magazine on the plane.  I was fortunate enough to have an article in that issue and my friend told Rick that she knew a guy who wrote one of the articles in there and pointed to it.  Rick lit up and blurted out my name and told her about the article and how he was my friend and some other nice things.  When my friend told me about it she couldn’t remember his name until she described him and I said that had to be Rick Hadley.  To me, Rick was a spearfishing legend.    He was taking down large tuna before a lot of guys even figured out how to shoot them.  Early in my spearfishing adventures I remember seeing pictures of him next to gigantic yellowfin tuna.  I remember seeing his posts as “Kumu” years before, Rick was a big guy and the tuna made him look small in comparison.   I believe his biggest was about 276 lbs.  He had stopped posting for various reasons and I was honored when he found us and began posting on a small spearsite I owned and when we made the transition to the new larger site Rick made the move with us to that site as well and posted often.  I always looked forward to seeing that boyish grin from the big guy who looked like a surfer from a magazine.  I still remember talking to him at Byron’s 50th bday.  Rick had brought a present for Byron and with a serious face, handed it to him.  Byron said, “aw man Rick you shouldn’t have!”  Rick (with a straight face), “oh it’s no big deal, just wanted to wish you a happy bday, open it”.  So with a lot of encouragement Byron finally opens it and it’s a big pack of Depends adult diapers.  Rick’s face suddenly splits into a big smile and roars with a booming laugh and we all crack up.  What a character Rick was!

When Rick passed, the news spread through the freediving community like wildfire.  I  received texts, calls and emails for the rest of the night and the next day as well, every single one was disbelief on what had happened.  Our forum blew up with posts of sadness and prayers for his family.  In 24 hours pretty much anyone in the Tribe knew what had happened, although Rick was modest, pretty much anyone who was a freediver knew who he was.  When I first got the news I  came home from work and I was numb.  I scooped up my six month old son Hawke and held him tight and the tears just kept flowing.  It took a while before I could tell my wife what was wrong.  It’s been a few days, but when I see all the Tribe banding together and swapping stories and pictures of Rick I still get teary eyed.  We lost a great spearfisherman, a loving family man, a business role model and a real ambassador to our sport.  It is a tremendous loss for anyone who ever was lucky enough to meet him.

I didn’t feel like doing anything the last few nights.  We are all still depressed and can’t believe what happened.  I often deal with grief by writing, and when my fingers were done tapping, I came up with something to try to comfort our loss to the Tribe.

 “The Freediving Tribe is so small that when we lose someone, it’s always a tremendous personal loss. We’re doing this on one breath of air, and on that one drop it’s that one breath that sustains your life. I’m sure everyone who wasn’t fortunate enough to make it back up wishes that they had used that one breath to tell someone they loved them, to whisper a last thought into someone’s ear, or at least to tell us goodbye. But since they couldn’t we just have to take comfort knowing that on their last breath, they were doing something that they truly loved.”

I’ll never be able to truly accept that Rick is gone, in my mind he’s just on vacation and I’ll see him again sometime.  I’m sure he’s going to be watching over us while we dip our fins under the sea.  I like to think he’s exploring new spots now, finding big fish, swimming free and never having to worry about coming back up for air.  When I see him again with that boyish grin and barreling laugh I’ll tell him the same thing I always tell him.  “Stay off my spotz, kook!!!” :).

Memorial service will be held at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach October 10, at 11:00 am.  Hawaiian shirt attire requested.

A really nice article about Rick and his company: http://www.ocmetro.com/t-Cover_Hot25_12Rick_Hadley1110.aspx http://www.ocmetro.com/t-Cover_Hot25_12Rick_Hadley1110.aspx

And below are a bunch of photos I got from friends or Rick’s facebook page.

Rick with two big Yellowfin Tuna                                                      Rick hit 150′ with the monofin

Rick, Carla and Byron

2013 Personal best local yellowtail, a monster at 40.5 pounds

Best of friends:  Rick and Lyle with a couple of nice white seabass.  BTW I told you kooks to stay off my spotz! 😉

Rick and Daryl Wong with a nice Ulua.

Aloha,

Its such a tragedy that we have all lost a member of our tribe. Even more so to those that have been lifelong friends with Rick. I’ve only known Rick a few years now and he’s everything that has been described and more. 
We would go out diving when ever he was in town for his Hawaiian springs business. He was always so positive and Hawaii has lost a true friend. Through his business, endangered plant species are being saved through his companies sponsorship. Many companies come over to Hawaii and do well, but Rick’s company not only provided a service, but gave back. He had the true meaning of “Aloha” spirit in him. He was a member of our dive gang here. It was always nice to dive with him and then have him over for our traditional Sunday BBQ’s after diving.

I’ll miss my friend Rick, but will always think of him. His legacy here with his company, its goodwill, his positive attitude and the friendships he made will always be in our thoughts with the dive gang here.

Aloha Rick, dive on!

Daryl”

Yes that fish is that BIG

These two kooks are practically brothers.  Sorry Lyle, Rick’s fish looks bigger 😉

Rick’s water company                                                                                                Another big white seabass

Center Punched Yellowfin Tuna                                               Personal best white seabass:  60.4 lbs.  Nice pink line you got there Rick 😉