Vertical Blue 2014, Freediving Depth Competition Day 7
Vertical Blue 2014 Final day - Victory for Trubridge and Krupnitskaya after a nailbiting finish for the men. Afterparty brings scenes reminiscent of the fall of Rome.
God bless Steinlager. I take back everything I didn't quite say about them. Turns out it doesn't take much free booze to help a person see things in a different light, especially if the last taste of it they had was so long ago that it's like something from a half-remembered dream. Venezuelan Iru Balic had the honour of closing the competition. She wasn't too happy with her dive bless her heart, but for the athletes waiting on the beach, poised over crates of ice-cold beer, the sight of her head breaking the surface was like a life raft to a drowning man.
It was pretty soon clear who the seasoned drinkers were. Befuddled by the absence of a bottle opener, most divers found themselves reduced to a kind of apelike shambling, a beer clutched tightly in each fist, as if the simple act of searching would cause the cap to spring off by itself. Organiser William Trubridge - clearly not a regular at Earlie's nightclub - was spotted with an expression of genuine puzzlement, gently rubbing two bottles together in a touching parody of man's first attempts to make fire. I can't have been the only one whistling Also Sprach Zarathrustra under my breath.
Like the obelisk descending from the sky, however, Jonny Sunnex and Miles from Long Island - clearly no strangers to a beach party - quickly took control of the situation and before long everybody was wasted and jumping off the cliff. With only a few hours to freshen up (sleep?) and pack their bags before the afterparty at Rowdy Boys Bar and Grill, most athletes retired early from the beach, though the safety team stayed a little longer than most - a decision they were later to regret. The time pressure proved too much for the Polish contingent - Judge Radeck and rising star Mateusz Malina arrived only after all the prizes -including their own- had been given out. Afterwards they tried to come across all manly by saying they'd been "buying booze" but I'm pretty sure they'd actually been doing their hair...oh no wait....
After a touching prize ceremony much...'enhanced' (as indeed was most of the evening thereafter) by chants of "Samo Samo, Marianna" from the Italians - nothing gets past them does it? - Things went rapidly downhill. Shortly after finishing my meal of fried plantain and rice - there was some fish on offer but cannibalism isn't really my style, dear fans - I stepped outside to find that some kind of tribal circle had formed and, in the middle of it the winner of the inaugural "Miguel Lozano Sunshine up your Ass award" (Miguel Lozano) doing 'the worm'.
Those of you who know Miguel will realise that a person of his size and energy creates something of a spectacle even when moving normally. Imagine, therefore, how unnerved I was by the sight of him, arms and legs akimbo, throwing himself enthusiastically at the ground. That said, the dance-off which later ensued between the Spaniard and the (altogether more practiced) Miles from Long Island featuring an array of backflips, hand-stands and what I believe the kids now call "body popping" (not, apparently as painful or explosive as it sounds) was one of the highlights of the evening for me.
Music was provided by DJ Ryushi Shinomia who spun a selection of Deep House and Electro anthems from a console with more buttons than the flight deck of your average Southern Air passenger plane. Deep house...geddit? Everyone was enthralled except, perhaps, Pascal Berger of Switzerland who was heard to complain that they wouldn't let him play any of his "good shit from Berlin." Even perennial wallflower William Trubridge was spotted taking a turn on the dancefloor with wife Brittany. Aww.
Five rum and ginger beers later, everything was starting to get a bit hazy for me thanks to the legendary free-pouring technique of the Rowdy Boys bar staff, but at least I wasn't as drunk as the UK's John Morecroft. I found him at 1am trying to talk to Yaron Hoory about the establishment of the state of Israel as all three of us held tightly on to the floor. Actually, now I come to think about it, I may have started that conversation myself. Morecroft was looking really quite sketchy this morning. None of the safety team were much in evidence either, probably something to do with the Tequila. Oh, and there was some diving too.
For the Women, Krupnitskaya cruised to victory with an impressive 74m FIM - plenty more in the tank for her. Once again, though, I'm forced to voice some concerns about her sanity - she told me she was worried that she'd swallowed a frog. A tense finish for the men left world champion Alexey Molchanov needing an error from defending champion William Trubridge to top the podium. The Kiwi, however remained unflappable and nailed his 117m CWT to take the title.
A turnaround like this is remarkable given the disappointments Trubridge has faced in the competition so far, and the strength of his rival. Speaking afterwards, Molchanov accepted that he'd let the competition slip away from him a little - a smaller announcement in CNF on day 6 might have left him in a position to push his CWT deeper and win the competition. Great show of mental strength from William, Alexey will be back to the No-Fins drawing board this year we imagine.
Kiwi Kate Middleton pulled her way into FIM second place and third place overall despite being about 10kg overweighted, with her fourth national record of the competition. 73m should put her in the top 5 this year and into the top 15 of all time. Pascal Berger (SUI), who was overheard referring to himself as "the younger generation" also pushed his no-fins record deeper to an astonishing 67m. I think he was as surprised as the rest of us. National records, too for Simon Bennet of Croydon, sorry, Chile, and the Japanese sleeper Sayuri Kinoshita who came out of nowhere to win silver overall.
UK National record holder Michael Board wins my award for being the bravest boy of day 7 this time. The 100m diver and Kung-Fu blackbelt who's faced down insurgents in Iraq wasn't exactly grey and trembling with fear before his 56m CNF attempt but was pretty close. There were certainly a few whimpers. He's been working very hard on his leg-kick recently and actually managed to get some propulsion from the back end this time, on his way to nailing the dive, obviously. Well done Michael, you can choose a lolly pop later on.
It's nearly time for me to say goodbye, but I can't do so without mentioning the platform and safety team, including and especially event Medic Tom Ardavany who through diligent research over the last year and a commitment to developing good relationships with the athletes has contributed an immeasurable amount to raising the bar for safety at Vertical Blue and in the sport of freediving as a whole. Also to platform coordinator Steve Keenan whose lilting voice and general all-round competence has been a constant re-assurance to athletes throughout the competition. The organisers might not be able to remember your name, but I do!
The safety team as a group have been slick, confident and in control across all 7 days of competition and in my humble fish-opinion represent a great example for others to follow. Thanks, too, to organisers and hosts Brittany and William Trubridge for making us feel so welcome, and to all the other members of the team who made VB14 possible. So there we are! It's all over. It's been emotional, I've certainly had fun and I hope that you have too. That's it from Terry Tarpon for now, he's offline and back underground, till the world needs him again. Thanks for tuning in, you've been amazing.
Thanks again Pascal for the awesome pictures, you can follow Pascal on his Facebook here