Iwagumi 150x150 Luis Navarro InterviewRecently, I had the chance to interview Luis Navarro about his role in the Iron Aquascaper competition. Luis has many achievements under his belt including a first place win and best in show at the 2002 AGA International Aquascaping Compeition. Luis also gives a nice presentation on aquascaping basics. My local club was lucky enough to have him out for the presentation. I was also able to sneak in a few general aquascaping questions to help those at home with their aquascaping.

TankGeek.com: Did you have an idea of a layout you wanted to use before you arrived at the competition?

Luis: Not really.  I wasn’t supposed to compete.  I was notified 3 hours before the contest began.  The hard-scape materials were in the meeting room, so everybody was able to see the materials before the competition.

TankGeek.Com: Was there a quality in the rocks or wood that pulled you in a certain direction as you designed your scape?

Luis: Definitely. The driftwood I got was very nice, but it was buoyant so I choose not to use it.  I know myself, and I would need more than an hour to make it “work” the way I like it.  On the other hand, I was very familiar with the rocks I was provided, and was able to improvise.

TankGeek.com: You typically don’t have time limits when designing an aquascape.  Did you find that the time constraint of the competition added to the difficulty?

Luis: Most definitely.  Time is any aquascaper’s best friend.  It is hard to rush and come up with something decent in such a short period of time.  I like to prepare things ahead of time when it comes to aquascaping.  That way I can focus on the planting itself, rather than making everything work as fast as I can.

TankGeek.com: Was there a point during the competition that something went wrong that you thought may have spelled certain doom?

Luis: Making the decision to not use the driftwood.  Other than that, it was business as usual — three times faster, of course.

TankGeek.com: During the competition did you have any time to glance over at Frank’s tank?  Was it unsettling to see his scape coming together as fast as yours?

Luis: Not really.  Time was short so I couldn’t afford to sneak a peek. I was able to see it as soon as I was done, but not before.  However, I did look at his plant tray when I was looking for more Eleocharis Montevidensis.  But that was about it.

TankGeek.com: Time is called and you have to walk away from your work.  Did you notice anything that you wish you would have done differently before hearing other peoples’ critique of your work?

Luis: I was able to finish a few minutes before time was up.  With what was available, I was happy.  Although, I could have done a more meticulous planting job and level the foreground line to balance the layout more.

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Luis Navarro's Tank.

TankGeek.com: On that same note, what was the first thing you noticed about Frank’s scape that you thought might sway the crowd to vote for it?

Luis: The driftwood.  To me, it is a lot easier to create something more pleasing since not everybody likes rocks.

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Frank Wazeter's Tank.

TankGeek.com: If you could have brought one item, besides a warehouse full of aquascaping materials to the competition, what item would that have been?

Luis: More than an item — my son.  I would have liked for him to be there with me.  Jeff and Mike of ADG had everything ready; nothing was missing.

TankGeek.com: I find that most aquarists start with an aquarium and design their aquascape from there.  When you decide to setup a tank, what is your starting point?  Is it tank, décor, fish, plants, or perhaps something else entirely?

step 4 150x150 Luis Navarro InterviewLuis: It is hard to say.  I do look at aqua-journals trying to understand the balance and harmony created by Mr. Amano’s work.  However, I also get inspired by reading about the Amazon, or the Congo basin.  At the end, what defines the layout is the hard scape materials; nothing else. What you do with them is really what makes the difference on my work or anybody else’s.

TankGeek.com: What tips can you give to home aquarist who wants a nice display at home, and is not interested in entering a competition?

Luis: Keep it simple.  The more complex the work, the harder it is to balance it.  Most importantly — enjoy it!  After all, you are the one looking at it every day.  So enjoy it and learn from your mistakes so you get better every day.

TankGeek.com: What are your favorite fish/inverts to use in your tanks to help control algae?

Luis: I like to use otocinclus catfish and Amano shrimps every now and then. I like to try new fish or invertebrates, but at the end, I always use those two.

TankGeek.com: Where are you looking to take your hobby from here?

Luis: I’d like to be part of something in a way that I can share my experience and knowledge to help others.  But also be able to learn as much as I possibly can.

TankGeek.com Last question, is there any organization or person in particular that you’d like to give a shout out too?

Luis: Yes, but there are too many to name just a few!

Tankgeek.com would like to thank Luis for taking the time to answer our questions.  We look forward to working with you in the future.  I’ll leave you with a photograph of one of Mr. Navarro’s work.

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229 Luis Navarro Interview

2002 1st place large aquarium and best in show. Picture taken from www.mynatureaquariums.com with written consent from Luis Navarro.