115M VW for Pascal Berger, New Swiss National Record
Congratulations to Pascal Berger for his new Swiss National Record in the variable weight (VW) discipline, with a dive to 115M. The new national record was set in Dahab, Egypt. Pascal runs the Dahab Freedivers school in Egypt with Miguel Lozano and Stephen Keenan.
We spoke with Pascal not too long after his dive, and asked him to tell us more about his preparations and state of mind going into this national record attempt.
In 2014, I was having big troubles with equalization: I could only go beyond 80m one dive out of five, and the rest of the time my soft palate was getting stuck. So in 2015 I decided to focus my training only on VWT dives, which are a great tool to work on equalization.
It was working well, and I was slowly understanding and fixing the issues with my mouthfill, but in terms of logistics it was difficult, because it meant a lot of bottom weight to pull back up after my dive. After a deep dive, we should avoid any intense physical effort, to minimise the risk of decompression sickness, and for me this is especially important because I have been diagnosed with a foramen ovale, which makes me particularly susceptible to decompression accidents. I didn't want to ask my dive buddy to pull up the weight either, because that would mean he could not do any deep dive himself during the session.
I was a product designer before becoming a freediver, so I went into geek-mode and started thinking of ideas for a new, more easily manageable VWT system. I designed, set up and tested about 15 different prototypes. After many failures where I almost killed, drowned or tore off the arm of myself and my other guinea pig dive buddies, I finally managed to come up with the perfect solution. It is a very easy system using the sand that we find so easily accessible everywhere in Dahab. It fills up a simple bag, that we hold on to during the dive, and which empties automatically at the bottom, making it very easy to pull up at the end of the session. I am actually now in the process of patenting this system and will commercialise it soon, so stay tuned!
With this system, the VWT dive is done head down, which is what I wanted, as my goal was to work on equalization in a configuration as close as possible to my future body position in constant weight dives. The system worked like a charm and after tweaking the bag itself and my body position, I managed to optimise the descent speed, up to 2m/s below 30m. My equalization worked perfectly on almost every dive, so I stacked up the training sessions, diving repeatedly to the bottom of the Blue Hole for about one month.
Then I needed to move outside of the Blue Hole if I wanted to continue going deeper - actually the real reason is that the whole of Dahab freediving community kicked me out, saying I would end up filling up the Blue Hole if I continued dumping so much sand down there with my stupid shopping bags, haha! So I gathered what I needed to pursue my progression - a counterweight system and a full safety team (Teo Forsberg and Kalindi Wijsmuller) - and moved my training sessions to Hells Bells, a gorgeous location 200m away from the Blue Hole, with the amazing wild desert scenery in the background. From that point I started going deeper, step by step, giving myself time for adaptation to pressure, meaning I didn't suffer any lung squeeze at all. Everything went perfectly smoothly, I only had to spend a bit of time working on relaxation and mouthfill management to go beyond the 105-110m mark but then it was fine.
Overall, my progression went extremely well, with a majority of very easy dives, and only a few difficult ones. After my last training dive to -121m I reached the point where I felt ready and mentally confident about a national record attempt. So I went for it, organised everything and announced -115m.
Ever wonder what's going on in the head of a freediver while attempting a new national record? In Pascal's own words:
Friday morning, today I am doing my record attempt. The sea is a bit rough because of the strong wind but I am used to it at this time of the year. A little bit of stress last night but this morning I feel serene, it's just another day, just another dive. I do my two warm-up dives, and start my five-minute breathe-up.
I hear Kalindi's voice giving me the countdown: "5-4-3-2-1...". I take my last breath, a few extra packs, she pulls the release of the bag and off I go! I use the first few metres to correct my hand placement, body position and relaxation. I start to accelerate already and hear my three depth alarms, signalling me to take my mouthfill, finishing at 40m. Then, keeping a constant pressure with my cheeks for equalization, I focus on relaxation, scanning my body, and enjoying the speed, to the hypnotising soundtrack of my lanyard sliding along the rope. My fourth alarm tells me I've just passed the 90 meters and am entering the zone where I cannot afford any equalization mistakes. I focus once again on relaxing and within the blink of an eye, I'm there. -115m in 65 seconds. Lucky that I already have no hair left on my head, because that was pretty damn fast!!!
I was half-hoping a beautiful mermaid would be waiting for me down there to give me a salty french kiss, but no, so I simply turn and start my ascent. I count my kicks, focus on the sound of my monofin blade - woosh, woosh. Narcosis is light and pleasant. My legs start burning, I give a few more kicks then start pulling on the rope. I hear the "grouper call" of Teo, waiting for me at -35m, yet a few meters away. There he is... I close my eyes again and slow down for the last part of the dive, making my pulls softer, taking advantage of my positive buoyancy.
I break the surface, hear Kalindi's voice walking me through my hook breaths and the steps of the protocol. I wait looking at official AIDA judges Brian and Catherine Crossland until they show me the white card with a smile, giving me some time to dream about the huge pint of beer I will treat myself to later on.
A big thank you to Pascal for recounting his preparations and his dive to us here at Freedive-Earth. Congrats again! New National Record for Switzerland - 115M in Variable Weight!
Photo by Nanna Kreutzman, check out her website.