Without doubt the oldest freediving discipline in the world, and the only truly ‘team’ event in freediving, CMAS%23" class="alinks-link" title="what is freediving Skandalopetra CMAS discipline">Skandalopetra has its origins in the culture and history of ancient Greece when fisherman, sponge harvesters and warriors used this technique to increase their breath-hold time and depth whilst working. In modern times Skandalopetra has seen something of a revival in competitive freediving under the governance of CMAS, who officiate and ratify competitions and records in this historic activity.
petra in Greek) usually marble or granite, as additional ballast during the descent and are then hoisted to the surface by a team-mate. The stone is flat and smooth, with curved edges for streamlining and a hole through the middle to attach a rope to the surface, and to the diver themselves for safety. During the descent the diver uses the stone as a helm or ‘steering wheel’ to control their direction in the water, or as a brake to slow their descent for equalisation.
In competitive Skandalopetra the emphasis is on purity and historic accuracy - no mask, wetsuit or fins are allowed, though in modern times concession has been made for a nose clip and fluid-goggles to allow for easier equalisation. Because of their special shape and hydrodynamic design, great pride and care is taken of Skandalopetra stones, which are specially made for the purpose, but in theory, of course, any stone will do, as long as a rope can be attached to it.
Remember, though: Whatever you’re doing, Never, ever freedive alone.
The History of Skandalopetra
Skadalopetra (in Greek, Σκανταλοπετρα) has been used by freedivers in the mediterranean for thousands of years in fishing, and in the harvesting of sponges, shells and other useful or valuable produce, as well as in warfare.
In competitive freediving, there is broad agreement that Skandalopetra has its origins with the Greek fisherman Chatzistathis (Haggi Statti in Italian) who, in 1913 recovered the anchor of an Italian Naval ship from the depth of 76m using this technique. Famously, Statti weighed less than 60kg, had two perforated eardrums, smoked almost continually and could hold his breath for less than a minute on dry land. Nevertheless he found the anchor after only a few exploratory dives and tied a rope to it, returning to the surface by pulling on the line he’d attached to a float, remaining submerged for just 3 minutes.
It was another 56 years before Bob Croft, using much more advanced equipment, exceeded this achievement. For his work, Statti asked for about $10 in cash, and permission to use dynamite for fishing. What a shame.
Skandalopetra: Technical Considerations
Skandalopetra is a team sport. The diver is assisted by a team-mate on the surface who pays out the rope to them during the dive, and feels for the diver’s signal to ascend. When this comes, the surface assistant pulls the diver up under their own power - no mechanical pulley or winch system is allowed.
Dives begin from a boat or platform, with the athlete often performing a ‘frog-jump’ into the water.
© Eva Fröstl via Will Winram
Modern competitions are judged on a combination of depth and time. Usually the depth is set beforehand (commonly 20 or 30m but sometimes as deep as 50m) and the winning pair is the one that gets closest to the desired depth in the quickest time. Depth is recorded by an official gauge attached to the diver’s wrist, since no markings on the rope are allowed. World records for depth are also ratified by CMAS, however.
Because of the emphasis on time, a quick descent is essential. This requires precise co-ordination between the diver and the kolauzeris (partner) on the surface. A heavy Skandalopetra and good streamlining on the part of the diver make for a rapid descent but require more skill in equalisation, and judging of the current depth so as not to overshoot. During the ascent the diver stands on the Skandalopetra and is hoisted to the surface by the kolauzeris. This clearly requires training, strength and cardiovascular fitness on their part!
Specialist Equipment for Skandalopetra
The emphasis in Skandalopetra diving is on purity, and so the equipment required - and allowed in competition - is minimal. The modern rules developed by CMAS allow for nose clip and fluid goggles, as well as gloves for the surface team-member, but otherwise no mask, wetsuit or fins are allowed. The Skandalopetra itself is a stone of granite or marble weighing somewhere between 6 and 14kg. Other weights are allowed, but are not commonly used. The diver is attached to the skandalopetra by a lanyard, which ensures that even in the event they become separated from the stone, they remain attached to the line, and therefore to the boat or platform at the surface.
CMAS Skandalopetra World Records
Women Karol Meyer - Brazil 61.5m
Men Andreas Güldner - Germany 112m