Top Gun

Mild-mannered dentist by day, lethal spear-gun creator by night.
Daryl Wong is surrounded by his guns. photo: Joss

Monday through Friday, Daryl Wong is a toothbrush-wielding, cavity-fighting kind of guy, a dentist by trade with a Kahala office, who, in his spare time, just happens to make some of the most highly sought-after, custom-made spearguns in the world.

Free-dive spearfishing, as the sport is formally known, is rooted in a pretty primal, uncomplicated equation–a man plus a sharp stick and a fish equals, if all goes according to plan, dinner. These days, not much has changed, except the "sticks" are now made of such high-tech materials as carbon fiber or titanium and are capable of killing a 150-pound tuna (which Wong did last year off the coast of Costa Rica).

Wong got into making guns in 1992, a natural extension of his love for the sport and his habit of tinkering with things. He’s become one of a small handful of well-known custom gun makers throughout the world. Each gun is made by hand, which partially explains the cost: between $400 and $1,200.

To understand how it all works, think of a speargun as a giant rubber-band gun, albeit a very powerful one. There’s the gun itself, and a thin, stainless-steel shaft with a sharp barb on the end that’s propelled by two to five bands (the more bands you have, the more power). Wong has dozens of different styles, which can be customized for particular regions or types of fishing; he can make a gun specifically tailored to the conditions near Southern California, or a gun that’s better suited for, say, Florida. The production process is painstaking–he makes them in batches, usually 10 at a time, turning out roughly 175 to 300 guns per year; he estimates there are 2,500 of his creations out there.

At a favorite diving spot in Kailua, Wong swims with a friendly turtle that lives in the area, while holding his catch, an ono. photo: Daryl Wong

What sets Wong apart from the rest are his hybrid guns, which combine materials (teak, carbon-fiber or titanium) found in European-style pipeguns (made of all metal) and American wood guns. Of this group, his Ono gun has become an industry standard for blue-water (open-water) diving, because it’s particularly well suited for spearing larger fish, such as marlin or tuna. And unlike other speargun makers, who buy parts wholesale from large manufacturers, Wong makes every piece himself. His first company, Daryl Wong Spearguns, handles assembly, while his second company, Aimrite Hawai’i, which is headed up by his business partner, Rick Bettua, makes all the parts. It’s pretty big time for a small-time operation, but allows Wong, a laid-back perfectionist, if ever there was such a thing, to control every aspect of his business and ensure that every gun is capable of bringing home the big one.

But don’t look for Wong to increase production anytime soon–he’s perfectly content with his two-man operation. "Rick and my philosophy is that we’ll continue doing this as long as it’s fun," he says. "I find that I enjoy it more and more, because I get to meet a lot of people. That’s what makes it fun–meeting people from all over the world. And just to see someone using our product is really nice."