Vertical Blue 2016
As many of you will know by now, it doesn’t take much to get me excited about freediving. Back in 2014, for example, I spent an entire week researching the exact oxygen carrying capacity of myoglobin. You might think that a high baseline level of excitement about such obscure and often mundane facets of life might be quite disabling, and you’d be right. Another time I got so excited about a spreadsheet comparing CNF freefall speeds under different swim-phase conditions that I had to be sedated. Form an orderly queue ladies…
There’s one period of every year, though, usually around April, when I find myself knocking on the door of Dr Otter’s riverbank surgery with even more frenzy than usual; a strange prickling heat in my bones and shivers running up – or more often down - my spine… that’s right, she tells me… it’s Vertical Blue Fever.
First described as “The Wimbledon of Freediving” in 2013 by New York Times writer Adam Skolnik, the world’s premier freediving competition, now in its 8th year, never fails to live up to its increasingly impressive reputation. For many years now Vertical Blue has set the standard for Freediving competitions worldwide, evolving organisational, judging, safety and publicity systems that are second to none. Vertical Blue is famous, not just for attracting the best athletes in the world, but also for garnering international attention from major international sponsors, including the likes of Suunto, Masimo and Steinlager. Hosting competitors from 5 continents and attracting an exciting array of elite athletes from as far afield as China, India and Columbia, as well as some of the biggest and best-known names in the sport, Vertical Blue 2016 looks set to be no different.
In many respects, Dean’s Blue hole on Long Island in the Bahamas, plunging 202m (663ft) into clear blue water, just a few steps off the beach, is the key to this competition’s success. Protected on three sides by land, near-perfect conditions for freediving are pretty much guaranteed all year round. Inside the hole there’s no current, ideal for those long freefalls and surface conditions barely ever get worse than “a bit ripply”. The only problem for the uninitiated, in fact, is the darkness – below 80m or so it’s completely and utterly black.
For competition founder, multiple world record holder and director of Vertical Blue, William Trubridge, however, even the darkness is beautiful. Interviewed in 2014 before his historic CNF world record attempt at 102m he had this to say:
"The appeal of free diving is how different it is to any other sport. The fact we're completely immersed in liquid; a single breath, the weightlessness, the absence of sounds, the dullness of the colours...everything is subtracted."
Trubridge by now is synonymous with the prestige of Vertical Blue and embodies the atmosphere of the competition itself, quiet, friendly and at the same time fiercely competitive.
They might look pretty zen, but make no mistake about it, all these guys mean business. With the top flight getting increasingly crowded, and small gains in depth being the order of the day, elite athletes guard their secrets closely, plan carefully and execute with ruthless precision. There’s even room for a bit of psychological warfare as divers try to second-guess their opponents and announce the deepest dive of the day.
2016, more than most, looks set to be a stonker. For the men, there’s the now traditional tussle between Trubridge and Russian Alexey Molchanov which could easily deliver a world record or two and for the women an exciting match on the cards between Marianna Krupnitskaya of Russia, Germany’s Anna von Boetticher and the Japanese team including Tomoko Fukuda and Misuzu Okamoto who are out in force again. Podium places could realistically go anywhere this year as a host of up-and-coming youngsters and grizzled veterans alike crowd their way into the top flight.
Vertical Blue 2016 is live from 22nd April to 7th May. Watch this space for updates as the drama unfolds. We’ll be with you every step of the way.