In mid-June, Valentine Thomas did what all of us wish we could: She quit her desk job to pursue her passion. In her case, that means spearfishing on remote shores around the world. Weeks after quitting her lucrative job at a hedge fund in the UK, the 28-year-old French-Canadian was in Zanzibar fishing and filming a promotional pilot video for a potential television series.
“I started traveling and fishing more, and the more you do that the less you want to be in front of a computer,” she says. “You meet a lot of mean people in the financial sector and I realized I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life talking to people I didn’t like.”
Thomas started spearfishing five years ago with some friends during a trip to Ascension Island in the South Atlantic. She'd just learned to freedive—a foundational part of spearfishing—and she bagged a 26-pound black jack on her first dive, with her first shot. (The fish was only about 7 ounces lighter than the world record for a speared black jack, she says.) She was hooked. "I started blue water hunting—far from the shore, big depths, big guns, big fish," she says.
Thomas started spearfishing more seriously throughout the Mediterranean and South Africa and began posting photos of herself to Instagram—often wearing a wetsuit or bikini, spear gun in one hand, fresh catch in the other. Her account blew up this summer, and she now has just under 40,000 followers. Her fans christened her the “Spearfishing Huntress.”
Thomas’s rapid rise to Internet fame isn’t hard to understand: She is a tall, leggy brunette. Without the fish, she’d look more like a model than a diver. But her newfound fame hasn’t been entirely positive. In addition to love letters and marriage proposals, Thomas has received hate mail accusing her of animal cruelty or suggesting that her boyfriend, who sometimes appears in her photos, is the one catching all the fish.
“People say the followers are because I’m wearing a bathing suit and fishing. Well yeah, I’m at the beach so I’m wearing a bathing suit,” laughs Thomas, who has been featured on BuzzFeed and the Daily Mail. “The journalists always pick the bikini pictures. But when you look at my Instagram there are mostly wetsuit pictures. I don’t fish in a bikini, it’s too cold.”
The Internet’s chauvinism doesn’t seem to faze her in the slightest. In a sport dominated by men, Thomas holds the world record for spearing the largest Atlantic Jackfish. She has also managed to take accusations of animal cruelty and turn them into a conversation about sustainable eating.
“To see spearfishing as a cruel sport is being a hypocrite,” she says. “The fish that you get at a grocery shop are much worse. They’ve been caught in an enormous commercial net that has destroyed habitats and killed a lot of turtles and sharks and dolphins. I’m practicing one of the kindest ways to eat.” Thomas eats everything she catches, or donates it to the local communities where she fishes.
So what’s next for the young huntress now that she has the spotlight?
“I’ve always had a dream to make a TV show out of this,” says Thomas. “A lot of production companies have reached out to me, and I’m going to work on a show with 44 Blue Productions out of L.A.” She’ll also work with talent agency William Morris Endeavor Entertainment, which represents actors like Tina Fey and Ben Affleck.
Making a television series seems the next logical step for the Spearfishing Huntress. Imagine Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown but with more underwater wildlife, POV spear-hunting shots, and sharks.
“I’ve encountered sharks quite often,” Thomas says. “They are a common part of the sport. You’re in the water and you’re holding a bleeding fish, so the sharks are going to be checking you out. We call them the taxmen, because sometimes when you shoot a fish they are going to grab a bite.”
But the lifestyle is about more than just spearing fish for Thomas. The opportunity to see the world and learn about other ways of life is just as appealing to her as the sport itself. “It’s about traveling, it’s about the culture, it’s about the sea, it’s about eating, it’s about meeting different characters. There are so many aspects of the sport, I thought I should share it with the world.”
The gear perks aren’t bad either. Thomas will be traveling to Ascension Island this month to test a new spear gun and wetsuit. “Being one of the rare girls in the sport, I’ve got quite a lot of sponsorship offers in the past years. I’m getting gear from all over the world.”
Ultimately, Thomas wants to inspire others “to get in the water and discover the ocean as much as you can.” She hopes that her television program will become a voice for ocean conservation and sustainable eating, but also an example for those who want to ditch the cubical for the coral reef.
“I want to encourage young people to go outside,” she says. “There are a lot of cool sports to do out there."