These words, by a true legend of the sport, sum up why so many people, from so many different walks of life, pursue the activity that is freediving. What is freediving many ask? Not a simple answer; the definition is: Diving without the aid of any artificial breathing apparatus - as deep, as far or simply as long as you can on a single breath of air. But it is, in fact, much, much more than that. Some go as far as saying it is a spiritual experience. I can relate to that as it is unlike any other activity I have ever participated in. Some call it an extreme sport; a claim that many have difficulty going along with, primarily because what happens physiologically is the polar opposite of what defines an extreme sport.
Freediving is by no means a new activity. Yes, it is gaining more attention these days thanks to the world of information we now live in, but it is an activity that has been pursued for literally thousands of years. Cave paintings have been discovered depicting people thought to be diving to the depths to gather food; the Ama (Sea Women) of Japan have been passing down the art of gathering pearls, seaweed, shellfish and the like on breath-hold for around 2,000 years; Mediterranean sponge divers have been carrying out their work on breath-hold for centuries; and the list goes on.
Modern-day divers depicted in the media these days, however, practice it as a sport or recreational pastime. Through roughly the last century, the limitations have been challenged on a regular basis. In 1949 a dive to 30 m, as a bet, was considered suicide by scientists of the day, but the diver survived. Then the limit was set at 50 m, a depth doctors agreed would lead to the collapse of the thoracic cavity. In 1961 however, a diver, one Enzo Mairoca, again returned from that depth unharmed. Scientists and doctors were perplexed and became silent.
Over the past 50 years, the pioneers of the sport have repeatedly broken through barriers believed to be the maximum depths attainable, with the mythical 100 m depth surpassed in 1976 by Jacques Mayol. In this period, interesting rivalries have played out among a very colourful array of competitors and the depths being plumbed by the modern-day 'gladiators' of the sport are nothing short of astounding. The current records in various disciplines are all deeper than 100 m and the static breath-hold record, without breathing pure oxygen, is an unbelievable 11:54!
Disciplines on offer
These days, organised competitions, usually in idyllic locations with calm seas, deep, warm water and amazing visibility are regular occurrences. There are a number of disciplines with professionals choosing one or more to specialise in;
STA – Static
Measured time with face immersed in water
DYN - Dynamic With Fins
Measured distance in a swimming pool, with fins
DNF - Dynamic Without Fins
Measured distance in a swimming pool, without fins
CWT - Constant Weight: Measured depth, descending and ascending using fins as propulsion, without changing the weight, with only one touch of the guide rope at the end of the descent
CNF - Constant Weight Without Fins: Measured depth, descending and ascending without fins, using only arms and legs as propulsion, without pulling on the guide rope.
FIM - Free Immersion: Measured depth, descending and ascending by pulling along the guide rope only.
VWT - Variable Weight: Measured depth, descending with the aid of a weight and ascending using arms and/or legs, pulling along the guide rope allowed.
NLT – No Limits: Measured depth, descending with the aid of a weight and ascending using any method of choice.
SA Freediving National Championships
As mentioned, these competitions usually take place in picture-perfect locations far from South Africa. That is until now. On the weekend of 13-15 June 2015, and for the first time in many years, the SA Freediving National Championships will be taking place in Port Elizabeth, organised by Eastern Province Apnea Federation. Far from 'ideal' conditions some may say, but then who can argue when the passion shown by our growing freediving fraternity is so strong. On that weekend, some of the South African freediving community will be testing their mettle against each other in the pursuit that they have grown to love, in the cold, toothy, blue-green waters of The Friendly City.
Since the sport is in its relative infancy in South Africa, and sea conditions can be somewhat fickle, organisers have wisely combined both sea and pool disciplines, to ensure it succeeds, no matter the weather. Disciplines to be contested will be CWT, CNF, DYN, DNF and STA.
The competitor list includes a broad spectrum from enthusiastic, relative newcomers from around the country, including land-based Gautengers, to the current deepest diver in South African waters, Gletwyn Rubidge.