Adrienne Gilhart Out of the Blue

This talented woman has found a new calling—spearfishing and freediving in the Gulf and waters beyond, and winning tournaments along the way

Adrienne Gilhart with a fresh catch
Adrienne Gilhart with a fresh catch

Can you dive 60 feet underwater and hold your breath for 80 seconds while shooting a prized fish? Adrienne Gilhart can, making it back to the top of the water’s surface with a gorgeous catch and a feeling of accomplishment. Gilhart sought out challenges early on. She jumped in the pool at age two, started swim lessons at three, rode horses at six, learned to scuba dive at ten; she swam competitively for many years, but just two years ago, she discovered a love for spearfishing. Little did she know, this new adventure would lead to winning the women’s division of the 2020 Florida Spearfishing Tournament after shooting a 25-inch hogfish. NI caught up with the adventurer days before she set out to Key West and the Dry Tortugas for some deep-sea challenges.

NI: How did you become interested in freediving and spearfishing?

Gilhart: Two years ago, my boyfriend, Casey Panepinto, and I went to the Florida Keys to go freediving and lobstering. I was 25 feet down in gorgeous, clear water, waiting for Casey to help me get the lobster. He kept signaling me to come up, but because I can hold my breath for a long time, I kept waving him down. That’s when Casey realized how good my breath hold was. The spearfishing started shortly after, when we went out on a friend’s boat. I was going to work on my freediving. When I went down, bull sharks were everywhere. I wasn’t scared, but I didn’t have a gun. We came up and Casey said I needed to have a gun for safety. Someone mentioned that there was a black and white fish 50 feet down if I wanted to shoot it. Back underwater, I saw the fish and I took the shot. That was it. I was hooked.

Gilhart with her prize-winning hogfish, which won her the 2020 women’s free diving hogfish division.
Gilhart with her prize-winning hogfish, which won her the 2020 women’s free diving hogfish division.

Tell us about winning the 2020 Florida Spearfishing Tournament Women’s Free Diving Category.

We were in the Tortugas for my birthday, and hogfish were in my category for the Spearfishing Tournament. This was something I really wanted to accomplish. The tricky part is that hogfish are hard to see, as they camouflage by not moving. On the fourth dive, I finally saw one. Suddenly, I became extremely calm. I thought, This is what I’m supposed to do. I lined it up and took a shot. I stoned the fish. It was like nothing else I’ve ever experienced. Turned out this 25-inch hogfish was the winning entry, and damn, it sure tasted good.

Adrienne Gilhart on a dive
Gilhart on a dive

What’s a perfect day in Naples for you?

I’d wake up early and head to Benchmark Equestrian to ride horses. I’m an amateur, but I help train horses for competitive jumping. On my way home, I’d go to Meridian Café with my pup Joey for a late breakfast. After that, I’d throw on a suit from Old Naples Surf Shop and head out to the boat to catch dinner. If we snag something, we’ll invite friends over to enjoy a freshly speared fish. If we don’t, we’ll stop by Lake Park Diner or Celebration Park, as they’re outside and we can show up in our boat clothes.

Gilhart meeting clients, Photo by MB Koeth
Gilhart meeting clients, Photo by MB Koeth

Any thoughts for folks who might be interested in unusual hobbies?

Yes! Do not back down from the challenge of learning everything you can. It’s important to pursue your passions whether they are related to a career or not, because you’ll have a happier life. Every day is another opportunity to make it count. Never be afraid to ask questions or reach out to people who inspire you. I’ve been lucky to meet incredible people along the way, from my horse trainer and swim coaches to my amazing boyfriend, Casey. Go for it! 

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