Introduction to Freediving, what is this Addiction?
Freediving and addiction, we look in to this incredible sport and how addicting it can be.
As the dust settles on Vertical Blue for another year and the Athletes start making their preparations for the pool world championships in Belgrade, here at Freedive-Earth we’ve been wondering what it’s all about. In recent years it’s been easy to paint bleak picture of the competitive Freediving community: We’ve had a death in competition, more than one disappearance and a few near-misses in which the extent of the injuries involved was shocking to everyone who saw them. Images of a “sea of blood” at the Kalamata World Championships speak for themselves.
This is not what Freediving is about. No-one who’s ever experienced a feeling of belonging in the water could think that Freediving has very much to do with struggle. And that’s just the problem. At a time when Freediving is moving ever further into the spotlight we’re about to start getting judged - in the way that skydivers do for example - by people who have no idea what we’re on about. And the question they'll be asking is… do we? One of my favourite videos of all time, and one that in many ways formed the basis of my early education as a freediver, is William Trubridge’s dive through the Arch at the blue hole in Dahab.
It’s a timeless, beautiful video; a few short moments that capture something of the human sprit, and graphically illustrate our potential in an aquatic environment. When we think about Will himself, and the platform from which he speaks about issues like the plight of the Maui’s Dolphin and the accumulation of plastic in the oceans (not to mention his status as the face of Steinlager), we see another side of our sport again. Will is outspoken about his desire to use his status as one of the best freedivers in the world to make the world, and in particular, the ocean, a better place.
Alexey Molchanov on the other hand is a very different fish. His approach is uncomplicated, he likes to have fun in the water, and above everything else, he likes to win. He trains hard, competes fiercely, but refuses to take anything too seriously. His Mother, Natalia, is the same but carries the added dimension of a scientific perspective. As an associate professor of applied sports, high performance Apnea is her lifeblood in more ways than most.
So where do the rest of us fit in? Freediving’s newest (AIDA) world record-holder Mateusz Malina of Poland has a view. In a recent interview with Freedive-Earth he talked about the attrition that can happen for Freedivers who get into the sport having been tempted by the low-hanging fruit of a National record:
“Perhaps in their country, freediving is not so well developed so the records are not so hard to get. So then when someone [else] shows up and he breaks that record, they lose interest because they are in freediving just for records.”
This definitely happens! How much are we all guilty of reaching for that next record, the next personal best, a place higher in the competition than we were last year? How bitter and cheated do we feel when we ‘fail’? Why would we think like this?! Well it’s not all bad is it? One of the most important and valuable things about freediving is the requirement that it places on us to look inside ourselves.
Descending into deep water on a single breath of air is frightening, particularly for those of us around the world who don’t have regular access to warm blue water. A sink-hole or a disused quarry in the Northern hemisphere, even Dean’s Blue hole on a bad day, is a completely different animal to a tropical ocean. And yet we dive into these places, often without fear, and sometimes, even, in the presence of something that seems much, much larger. It takes a lot to get to a place where this is possible, and it would be strange for us to feel no excitement, no curiosity about how far it’s possible to go. And that’s why people die.
Even the greatest of great champions, Austrian Herbert Nitsch found his limit in the end. The idea that Freediving is “getting too dangerous” is a big problem. Not just because it affects the perception of Freedivers in the public eye and works against our efforts to present what we’re doing as something natural, safe and inspiring, but also because, by extension, it affects the mindset of the next generation of Freedivers. The higher the profile of the sport, the more that top athletes are seen to be pushing their limits, the larger the number of newcomers who approach their first session, first course or first competition with the idea that Freediving is about risk, or has something to do with a battle with themselves, or with the ocean.
We’ve all been there. Experienced freedivers know that whenever we fall into these mind-traps, whenever we succumb to ego or get fixated on numbers; blackout, injury and outright failure are the usual result. At its heart, though, competition is about numbers, and the great champions we have seen over the years have all risen to greatness, in part, because of an ability to let go of the numbers, and shift their focus onto something else. Trubridge uses meditation, Alexey and Natalia use “deconcentration of attention”. What that process looks like will be unique for all of us, but the beauty of our sport is that, when we get it right, the numbers speak for themselves. This is why I love competitive freediving.
This is why I will always love it. It brings the ego sharply into focus and offers us the opportunity to go deeper. Balancing this must always be the demands of safety, of ensuring that our bodies and our minds remain in the state of health and fitness necessary to do it all again the next day, and the next if we choose to. In my limited experience, though, as soon as we get it right, the conflict disappears on its own.