2012 Free diving World Championship Returns to France
Have you ever thought about what it takes to get on with free diving? Experts say that one should be unquestionably courageous, remarkably fit, and maybe crazy before lining up for the decisive plunge. Since when the sport got really competitive, records have continued to tumble, as more enthusiastic and brave free divers from all over the world hit the water.
As extreme sports go, free diving ranks near the top of the list as one of the riskiest, putting the Free diving World Championship at the limits of competitive risk-taking. More than 130 divers from 31 different countries participated in the 2011 championship that took place in the Messinian Bay in Greece, swimming straight down for hundreds of feet while holding their breath. The Championship, which is organized by AIDA (an international organization for breath-hold diving), is the biggest competition that has ever been held for this water sport. During the week-long event, they divers will test themselves as well as competing against each other to find out which one of them can swim to the deepest level on just one breath of air without losing muscle control, blacking out, or drowning.
Recreational free diving is becoming one of the fastest-growing water sports; however, competitive free diving is relatively new compared to other water sports. The first world championship was held in 1996, with records being broken every year. Divers have consistently gone further and further than medical science believed humans could go underwater. Of course, it is as much a psychological test as a physical one. Herbert Nitsch, a diver from Austria, defied all odds and went on to make a successful dive of over 700 feet in 2007 and set a new absolute depth world record.
While no one has ever died at any organized free diving events, there have been enough fatalities outside of competition to rank free diving as the second-most-dangerous adventure sport, BASE-jumping being the most dangerous. Competitive free divers insist that those deaths were a result of carelessness on the part of divers attempting to dive along alone without safety precautions such as monitors and rescue divers, or using machines to assist their dives. William Trubridge, a world-record diver from New Zealand who is the current world champion of the sport, says that he considers free diving to be a safe sport due to the massive amounts of control and regulation that are put into place in the organized events. Trubridge and other free divers hope that through publicized events such as the world championships that they will be able to change the image of free diving as an extremely high-risk sport and bring it into the mainstream of water sport competitions.
The 2011 world championship event took place in Kalamata, Greece, which is a hub for free diving. The competition starts the evening prior to the start of the diving itself, when divers submit their proposed depths for the following day’s dive secretly to a judges panel. The proposed depths are important because in order for a dive to qualify in the competition, the diver has to make it at least as far down as their proposed depth without flubbing, so if they pick a depth that’s beyond their limits they’ll end up disqualified. On the other hand, if they pick a depth that’s shallower than their competitors’ proposals, their only chance of winning the competition is if the other divers do not make their dives successfully. This sounds like a bit of poker, playing with others’ as much as you are playing yourself, guesstimating the mark the other divers would be vying for.
In order for a dive to qualify in the competition, the diver has to all meet all kinds of technical requirements both during the dive and they resurface. These requirements are put in place both for both safety reasons and to keep the competition fair. The most important requirement is completing the dive and the ascent back up to the surface without blacking out, which is an immediate disqualifier. Right before a diver begins, a metal plate that is covered with dozens of tags is connected to a rope and then sunk to whatever depth was proposed by the diver the previous night. After a countdown by an event official, the diver submerges, following the rope down to the plate, where he has to grab one of the tags and then return to the surface. Rescue divers are in place at a depth of about 60 feet, prepared to assist the divers if they have a blackout. Moreover, Divers who successfully resurface have to pass the “surface protocol,” which consists of quite a few tests designed to measure their motor skills and coherence. Passing the tests validates the dive and makes the diver eligible to win the competition.
The free diving competition is divided into several categories, the first day’s event being “CNF,” which stands for “constant weight no fins.” In CNF, divers have to swim downward using only their lungs, their bodies, and if they choose, an optional weight. CNF is considered by divers to be the purest form of free diving. William Trubridge became the CNF champion after breaking the world record by making a successful 331-foot dive in 2010. Trubridge broke fourteen world records between the years 2007 and 2010, most of which were his own. At the 2011 championships he signed up for a 305-foot dive, which wouldn’t break his own record, but was still the deepest attempt for the 2011 event.
The first diver to take the plunge at the 2011 championship was Wendy Timmermans from the Netherlands. After more than 2 minutes underwater, Timmermans set a national record by making a171 foot dive. Shortly after Timmermans, it’s Trubridge’s turn to try to hold on to his title. Almost two minutes after he began his descent, the event official monitoring the sonar announces that Trubridge has reached his goal of 305 feet. By the time Trubridge reached the surface, he had been under water for almost four full minutes, and at the end of the competition he won the gold medal in the CNF and the free immersion categories, making him the reigning world champion for another year.
AIDA International recently announced that The Nice University Club, located near Nice, France, will be hosting the 2012 Free diving World Championships. This seems like a fitting location for this year’s event, as it is the same location where the first World Championships took place in 1996, as well as the place where the founders of AIDA first decided to create the organization 20 years ago in 1992.