A champion in freediving, this young man from Piedmont has recently ventured into fishing competitions and is already making significant strides. Next year, you'll see him at the Porto Scuso Absolute. Having recently joined the Firefighters, he enjoys searching in dens, even in depth, as shared
Stefano Konjedic has had an exceptional journey in our maritime world. He began as a formidable fin swimming champion, continued as a freediver and deep-sea diver in the Navy, and now pursues competitive spearfishing as part of the prestigious Cressi Sub Team. We met with him to hear his life and sports story and to get a sneak peek into his future plans.
Hello Stefano, can you tell us how a story like yours developed, starting from a small town near Turin?
«I was born in Villastellone, near Turin, where I completed my studies and pursued competitive fin swimming until the age of 21. When I stopped competing in fin swimming, I no longer had anything tying me to Turin, so I decided to move to Sardinia. In my childhood, I used to vacation there with my relatives because an aunt lived on the island, and that's where I started catching my first fish. Later, during my time in Turin, I went to Liguria with my twin brother Davide, my dad, and our friend Silvio, who was my first instructor, especially for spearfishing. We used to go to Ventimiglia, more often to Capo Noli, leaving early in the morning and returning in the evening. Now, I have permanently moved to Sardinia and live in Cagliari.
«I was the European champion in fin swimming, and the passion for the pool hasn't disappeared, but an even stronger passion for the sea has taken over. Until I was twenty, the sea was just a hobby, yet I always wanted to turn swimming and freediving into a profession. At that time, I hoped to join the Fiamme Oro team. However, this idea didn't materialize, so I applied to join the Navy».
Can you tell us how that happened?
«The crucial encounter was with Bruno De Silvestri. On January 4, 2018, I went fishing with him, and I glimpsed a new horizon of life. So, I decided to change my future and shift it to the sea. I applied for the Navy competition to try to join the 'underwater and raiders command,' based in La Spezia. You need to fill out an online form, and then the process of medical examinations and tests begins, which are extremely challenging. After that, the training starts, lasting a basic year plus some months of additional tests. In short, a very tough selection. But now I've left the Navy because I joined the big family of the Firefighters, with the idea of being included as soon as possible among their divers. It was a difficult choice for me, but I believe in it a lot, and I hope it brings stability to my life».
What kind of fisherman are you?
«At the moment, I'm focused on training as a Firefighter and completing my university studies; that's why I go fishing no more than a couple of times a week, always with a boat. I prefer it because I enjoy being in good company and seeing many places. But sometimes I have to start from land, especially during the preparation and holding of the selective competitions. I have two adventure buddies, a guy named Stefano and Angelo, De Silvestri's brother. Angelo owns Bruno's boat, and around this symbol, the magic of friendship with Bruno continues, even after his passing. He was a professional, very intelligent, prepared, and sensitive, a true master in many aspects. He taught me a lot; he was a complete man. In practice, Silvio was my teacher for spearfishing, and Bruno taught me the search in dens».
So, from a spearfisher, you've become a great "dens" hunter, as we see on your YouTube channel. Would you like to talk about it?
«Yes, indeed. Before meeting Bruno, I was a spearfisher, and on the first day, I showed up on the boat with a 130 air rifle. But thanks to him, I discovered the pleasure of hunting in dens. Except when there's fish in motion and you have to go down to spear them, today, I like the classic hole hunting. I feel competitive in dens, and I find this technique essential for competition because, in a race, it's crucial to relocate the fish after spotting it in preparation. If needed, I also go deep. In recent years, the release technique has spread, increasing safety, but it's important to remember not to use it to increase operational quotas. After all, the 'release' has spread because fish near the coast have declined in quantity».
Tell us how you put it into practice...
«It depends on the area and the spot. For dentex, for example, I prepare a lot and try to relax, already figuring out my position from the surface once I've descended. Typically, my companions and I arrive at the diving point being towed, holding onto the handle of the inflatable boat. Personally, during this phase, I close my eyes to relax, and if a fish passes by near the surface, I don't see it at all. Then, the boatman signals when we're five meters from the vertical of the den, and as soon as I feel the engine idle, I let go of the handle and start the dive. It usually lasts about a couple of minutes. In deep-sea fishing, there's no need for more time in the den. If I'm trying deep waits, I pull up more. Also, for each deep descent, I plan at least 10 minutes of recovery. I primarily use air rifles, but sometimes also a harpoon. There's no perfect weapon. It depends on the situations».
What, in your opinion, is the state of fish in the areas you frequent?
«In Sardinia, 2023 has been a good year for grouper. But I've also read news of quite a few catches throughout Italy, meaning it might have been a good year for grouper in general. For bream, I'm noticing that they are getting deeper and in increasingly smaller quantities. Virgin dens are no longer found. Instead, I've noticed a huge increase in parrotfish, especially in the south. Until two years ago, they weren't there, but now they're plentiful and large. I wouldn't want their proliferation to have somehow influenced the decrease in bream and corvina».
Tell us about a particular episode.
«An almost unbelievable event happened to me three years ago. I was in the Gulf of Cagliari, in front of Poetto. It was winter, in November, and I was in a boat with two friends on a 24-meter seabed. I caught a corvina, and right at that moment, I heard the 'beep' indicating that the camera had run out of battery. I was calmly retrieving the fish from the surface when, from the bottom, a shark came at me in a feeding frenzy. It bit the corvina, and it must have been pricked with the spear, because it got scared and made a monstrous leap, almost ripping off my mask. Then, it dived back towards the bottom with the half-cut fish in its mouth».
Tell us about your competitive career.
«I'm thrilled to have moved up to the Italian Qualification Championship this year after my first season of qualifiers. Which, it must be said, represent a significant commitment (in 2023, there were 8, and I participated in 7). This year I was free, and I could attend them, but I don't think I could repeat such a tour de force. Fortunately, I qualified for the Italian Qualification Championship, where I finished seventh, thanks mainly to an excellent second-place finish for the day. Therefore, I've secured a spot for the next Absolute, which will be held in Porto Scuso. It was a stroke of luck because, having won the competition in the Firefighters (where I joined on October 16), I'm going to work a bit in Rome for training and a bit in Cagliari, and I wouldn't have been able to participate in the qualifiers in the new year. I want to perform well in Porto Scuso and nurture the dream of winning an absolute title in spearfishing, after the ones I've already won in fin swimming and underwater hockey».
What can you tell us about your sponsor, Cressi Sub?
«Becoming part of the Cressi team was a dream I had for many years. I consider it a giant in the underwater industry. I admire the people who work there, and the equipment is excellent. So, albeit reluctantly, I left my old sponsors. But I believe it was worth it for Cressi. I use Comanche rifles because they are simple and never give problems. They always work, and I rarely miss the fish. Now I have to try the Cherokee and the Sioux for the harpoon. It all started when Francesco Diversi, who has been with Cressi for a long time, asked me to be his boatman in Mola di Bari. Surely, my friendship with him helped. Next year we'll be opponents in Porto Scuso because he also qualified. One last thing. I'm a member of the Cagliari Asd Sub Cagliari team with Danila and Laura, a beautiful team that does freediving, fin swimming, and hockey».