THE CREW – EDWARD ARRIGO
Edward Arrigo the founder of Aquarrigo and one of Malta’s pioneers of diving, represented our country Malta in spearfishing competitions in the 50’s and 60s.
Today he is still showing his passion for the sea and enjoys sharing his experiences with others. With over 40,000 dives under his belt, he has quite a few stories to share.
The Life Story
Please take care of them,” says Edward Arrigo, handing me four old photo albums. “They are all my life.”
I skim through the old pages, covered in fading and tattered newspaper cuttings and old photographs, a few going back more than 50 years. Clippings in the first album talk of this promising young man taking the world of spearfishing by storm between his junior and senior wins.
“Successful outing for young competitor,” a headline reads, showing a picture of Edward with his winning catch. “New star,” says another. Articles, now more than 50 years old, talk of Edward closing the gap between him and the more experienced leader at the time. “Arrigo’s catch… does credit to a champion,” says one article as it describes a win by the athlete – even before he had won his first major tournament the newspapers were referring to him as a champion.
A later clipping from the same year, 1956, shows that Edward didn’t quite snatch the lead from his opponent this time around. “He could have done better, perhaps had he not wasted so many chances at the beginning,” claims one article. Edward “has paid dearly for past lapses, and has learned his lesson for next year,” says another.
I am once again riveted by articles that talk more about him chasing down the same competitor as I reach 1957. “It would take a superhuman effort by Arrigo to catch up.” It seems it may pan out the same as the year before. But I leaf through and find the headline: “Arrigo’s splendid catch lands him triple crown” – superhuman indeed.
“This is when I won the coveted Rolex,” says Edward, flashing his wrist as he still wears the watch more than 50 years later; now, at 70, he still cuts a trim and fit figure. The Rolex championship is one of many awards won by the spearfishing legend as he tells me he has around 110 trophies at his home. From this point on, his scrapbooks are filled with photographs showing the sportsman being presented with numerous trophies at award ceremonies. His home must be full to the ceiling with them.
The years that followed Edward’s epic last minute win took him and his colleagues around the world, representing Malta in different world championship tournaments in underwater fishing. “We went everywhere from Cuba to Portugal,” he says nostalgically, noting the sense of pride he gained representing his country as he points to a score sheet that lists Malta as seventh out of 30 nations in a world championship tournament held in the Lipari islands off the coast of Italy in 1969. There was always a huge element of sportsmanship among the competitors, recounts Edward fondly. “Although we were rivals when we were out there in the water, we were always proud of a colleague who did especially well on an outing.”
Edward himself was known for battling with the larger fish to bring home. An article, speaking of an impressive 99 lb. stingray caught by Edward, says “Arrigo’s catch must have been a blend of courage, strength and good luck and clearly demonstrates that for this sport every bit of energy and strength counts.”
But there are darker memories too – as he lost many friends and colleagues along the way and has kept clippings from newspaper reports on such events. “It was a dangerous sport because we dived without any breathing apparatus to depths of around 28 meters,” explains Edward, adding that hyperventilation upon resurfacing “was a killer that took many lives.”
“My parents used to worry greatly about me,” he adds, “especially when I went abroad to unknown seas where the unexpected could happen.” However, he describes his career in the sport as “very lucky” since he never felt he was in any danger. “I was definitely one of the fortunate ones,” he says. Though, recalling just one disaster, Edward’s voice saddens a little as he tells me of a colleague that was lost. But he shies away as we approach the topic in more detail – perhaps he wants to remember more the good times than the bad, as if recognising the danger may change his past in his eyes.
Making light of the moment, he recalls when in Cuba he came across a turtle the size of four dinner tables. “At first I thought it was a large rock,” he laughs, “but then I realised it was alive.” The sights underwater have always been a thrill to the man, even to this day. “What you see today, you may not see tomorrow in the ever-changing scenery down there.”
Edward’s life hasn’t just been about spearfishing however. Along the way, he has had three sons, has undertaken commercial diving contracts in Libya and Egypt, as well as locally, has been part of a triumphant water polo team, owned a succession of clubs and bars, and now runs his own scuba diving club, the Preluna Beach Club in Sliema. “I settled here in 1995 and have been here ever since,” he smiles.
His passion for the water seems to have been passed on to his three sons who all have careers involved in the sport. Kurt is a well-known underwater photographer and travels with the Rolex sailing races, Taran has dived in many places around the world and now works with his father at the Preluna club, and Shaun directs educational underwater videos. “We’re a family of divers,” says Taran as he walks past, catching what we’re talking about. “Dad has been a huge influence on all of our lives and led us all in the direction to something we love.”
As he leafs through the albums and clippings, recalling the highlights of a lifetime spent in the sea, Edward talks proudly of his sons, and Fynn, his grandson, also now taking to the water. “We often spend some time clearing up litter from the seabed,” he says. “It may not be much help, but we try to do our bit.” He is proud to have made the name Arrigo synonymous with diving, to the point that he has taken Buzz Aldrin and David Jason to explore the sea depths. Now, at 70, he can enjoy a slightly quieter pace of life, passing on his knowledge of diving to locals and tourists alike, taking them to see all that he loves under the surface of the ocean.