Freediving has always been a no-brainer for me, but I fell into the competition side by accident. In retrospect the seeds were all there. I joined a swim team at age 6, kept it up for over a decade until I burnt out in college, got into spearfishing because I love the water and seafood, then got back into real training because I discovered that I enjoyed hunting deeper than the other monkeys.
Pretty soon I'm hooked on the beautiful blue empty of bigger, deeper dives, and I'm chasing the US National Record for Constant No Fins--that is, swimming 23 or so stories down and up, with no special equipment, in a single breath.
Back when I looked at the record of 71 meters and thought, 'I could do that,' I knew that such a goal would require a certain infrastructure: Safety divers, official judges, the right ocean conditions, you know, the things you find at freediving competition.
At the very least, I'd have to leave the comfortable waters of southern California. And, I'd need to train specifically for it. Probably, at least a few months.
That was 4 years ago.
It came together for me this August in Roatan, Honduras, at the back to back Carribean Cup and CMAS Outdoor World Championship competitions--nearly 9 solid days of competitive diving, preceded in my case by many months of specific training in Los Angeles and 3 weeks of deep training there in Roatan.
I had the support of my wife back home, wonderful teammates/housemates, the two international freediving federations (AIDA and CMAS), and a surprising number of other divers and instructors who turn up at these things. The competitions had ups and downs--numerous national and world records interspersed with a slaughter of red cards (athlete disqualifications) due largely to unexpected currents, but no serious accidents or injuries.
I walked with my first national record as well as a new personal best in the no fins division. All my fellow Team USA house mates either set national records or new personal bests, and other PFI instructors who crushed national records included Jessea Lu and Tayla Davidoff (for China and South Africa respectively).
SOME PHOTOS FROM ROATAN:
What else besides breath-holds would you expect a house full of freedivers to do for post dinner entertainment? Here we're playing with a pulse oximeter and that's me on the floor surrounded by housemates Daniel Koval (new CMAS national record in CWT), Aleks Kocev, Rebekah Phillips, Jessea Lu (new CMAS records in all categories), and Elijah Aasand. The reality of high level freediving competition is that we need something to keep from obsessing over our dives, and we have to rest instead of train, so, cooking and dining becomes the distraction. Team USA house meals are legendary, as are our naps. Photo: Sean Ruggeri.
Post dive on the platform. I'm not sure who had the bigger smile, me or Rebekah Phillips who was there as an offical judge. She's a PFI instructor based in Monterey, California. Image courtesy of Aleks Kocev.
Pictured are Team USA divers who make Hawaii their home: Daniel Koval, Kristin Kuba, Enchante Gallardo, and Elijah Aasand. The Kona coast on the Big Island of Hawaii is one of the best places in North America for training so it's not surprising that PFI runs camps and instructor classes there, and that many of the top US divers hail from the area. Photo: Andrew Khvetkevych.
Me and Daniel Koval giving each other the stare down when goofing off during a fun dive during a rest day. Negative emotion is bad for freediving so even at high levels of the sport there is an incredible team aspect even among rivals. Dan and I are tied for 'Most Ridiculous Short Shorts Swimming Attire.' Barely visible in the background is some of the local coral. Roatan is incidentally gorgeous underwater, with some of the world's most healthy coral reefs. Photo: Kristin Kuba.
5M deco hang on pure oxygen after 72M no fins dive. Nowadays, most competitions make oxygen available to divers after a deep dive to help reduce any chance of DCS and to help flush metabolic waste that builds up over the course of the dive. I always like to swim a short surface warm-down immediately after my competition dives and again after the O2. It's always really weird for me to breathe underwater and I don't really like it! Image courtesy Aleks Kocev.
That's me, beginning a 72M Constant No Fins dive which broke the US National Record. In the background are all the safeties, judges, and in water spectators. At this early point in the dive I'm focused on generating a lot of power without sacrificing efficiency, as well as getting into the mental zone which is ironically sort of a disconnection from any of the baggage of the dive. This season I made it a point to steer my thought process away from records and all competitive aspects and just focus on the task at hand, to always to find beauty and peace in each and every dive, no matter the depth. Four days before this dive I had blacked at the surface on a 74M dive, which 3 days before that I had finished quite cleanly in my training. On the dive which ended in BO I'm told the current was running quite strong although I was too focused to notice. Nearly every CNF dive that day ended in a BO or penalty, even among all the current and former world record holders in attendance, so I guess I was in good company. That particular 74M dive was, from a mental and technical standpoint, actually my best dive of the competition. Image courtesy Aleks Kocev.