Home Planet Blue In Deep at the AIDA Freediving Team World Championships

In Deep at the AIDA Freediving Team World Championships

From the 1-12th December 2006, Makadi Bay played host to the Fifth AIDA Freediving Team World Championships.  Teams came from 28 countries as far a field as Venezuela, Australia, Norway, and for the first time at such an event, Eritrea. For days in the build-up to the competition, athletes and coaches could be seen pouring out of minibuses loaded with monofins, freedive suits, stopwatches, ropes, computers and strange food parcels!

Everyone stayed at the beautiful Fort Arabesque hotel with easy access to deep water and perfect facilities for such a competition.  The event was put together by Yehia Safwat of Bubbles for Tourism Services, together with AIDA International, the international agency that recognises freedive records, competitions and education. Athletes took part in the three major competitive disciplines of freediving: Constant Weight, Static Apnea and Dynamic Apnea.

For the first few days, the teams settled in and started training to adjust to the new environment.  Athletes from Great Britain, USA, Canada, Germany, Australia and Austria got together to train in deep water with the help of The Crab Dive Centre at Fort Arabesque Hotel. Other teams trained with dive centres in Hurghada, and some even just took out a pedalo from the beach with their training lines!

After a day’s delay following organisational problems, the Constant Weight Competition dives kicked off and the competition began.  In Makadi Bay itself, a short distance from shore, a 60m barge and three dive boats formed the platform for the dives. In this discipline, freedivers dive as far down as they can on one breath, using only their body strength and fins or monofin for propulsion.

Athletes announce in advance how far they intend to dive and a camera and depth plate is lowered to that depth with a tag for them to bring back from the bottom.  The deepest depth announced was well over 100m. With the help of Paul Vinten who lent out his depth finder and some GPS equipment, the teams helped the organiser find the right spot to moor the barge.  The depth was needed - Herbert Nitsch, an airline pilot from Austria, reached this 111m in Constant Weight, a new World Record that was filmed live and broadcast on Nile Sports.  

Other notable performances in Constant Weight included a 70m dive from Annelie Pompe, a young Swedish freediver who lives in Dahab.  Martin Stepanek of the Czech Republic dived to 100m with a bad cough, and numerous freedivers achieved personal bests and National Records in near-perfect conditions.

Safety for this part of the event was ensured by a team of scuba divers using trimix for the deeper depths. Each competitor was met on the last part of their ascent by safety freedivers organised by Japanese freediver Kazuaki Ichikawa.  All volunteers, these experts worked hard for days on end to watch over the freedivers and guarantee their security.  Thankfully there were only a few minor incidents, mostly small blackouts at the surface, which were dealt with quickly and efficiently. Boats for the platform and zodiac shuttles to bring divers out to compete were organised by Aquarius. A group of students from Cairo University known as “YoYo’s Angels” made sure that the athletes were in the right place at the right time. Over the week, this team got better and better at their role and were thanked by the judges on the final night for the commitment and willingness to learn.

The event was filmed live using a series of cameras held along the length of the line.  The bottom camera was remotely operated but scuba divers held cameras around the middle of the dive depth and on the surface. The underwater film team was co-ordinated by British cameraman Dan Burton and Stefan Christandel of Austria looked after things on the surface. Frederic Buyle, a former freedive world record holder, took thousands of fantastic still photographs. Some of this footage was broadcast live on Nile Sports.

After three days at sea, events moved to the small, heated pool at Fort Arabesque for the Static Apnea Competition.  Freedivers competed to see how long they could hold their breath.  All week, the athletes had been training for this event with rubber suited figures visible from dawn to dusk, lying face down in the pool watched over by their buddies. The Judges had a hard day as there were more than 100 athletes to watch.  Young Elisabeth Kristofferson from Norway amazed everyone (including herself!) with a new National Record of 6 minutes 15 seconds.  Jessica Wilson took the USA Record, previously held by her mother Annabel Briseno, with a hold of 6 minutes 27 seconds.  

For the men, Timo Kinnunen of Finland came out the winner with a breath hold of 7 minutes and 43 seconds.  Olivia Philip set a new British female record of 5 minutes 24 seconds and Deron Verbeck took the men’s US Record with 7 minutes 22. Later in the week at a separate event, Herbert Nitsch took the World Record with a hold of 9 minutes 4 seconds.

The final event was Dynamic Apnea and after much discussion and last minute hunts for a 50m pool, this finally took part at the Desert Rose Hotel in Hurghada.  Athletes left by bus at 6.30am for this final day that would decide the winners.  Dynamic Apnea is a test of how far an athlete can swim underwater, with fins, horizontally on a single breath.  The pool was a chilly 16C which meant that many athletes who had previously only trained wearing swim wear, had to don a wetsuit and weights at the last minute, so no-one expected huge performances.  Nevertheless there were plenty of impressive achievements.  

Alexey Molchanov from Russia swam the furthest of all the men, an incredible 207m.  The men’s team from Denmark showed that this is their strength, all achieving over 170m.  For the women, Natalia Molchanova, Alexey’s mother, achieved 169m.  Elisabeth Kristofferson helped Norway move up the points list with 154m.

Each team consists of three athletes who compete in all three events. The final scores are added together to find the winning teams. Points are deducted for rule violations such as pulling on the line during a Constant Weight dive, not bringing up the tag from the bottom or not reaching the performance announced in the pool disciplines.  To demonstrate that they are still mentally and physically in control at the end of their performance, every athlete must turn to the judge, remove their mask, give an OK signal and tell the judge they are OK within 15 seconds of surfacing.  Any blackout or loss of control on surfacing results in disqualification from the event and a zero score. Most athletes had therefore kept a level of conservatism to their performance to help guarantee the points for their team.
At the Closing Ceremony, everyone took time to thank the many volunteers who had helped make this competition happen, despite numerous technical glitches, organisational errors and delays.  These included the five AIDA Judges, headed by Dimitris Vassilakis of Greece and Grant Graves of the USA who worked day and night to make sure no-one went home without an opportunity to show the world what they could achieve. Kirk Krack, who organised the last such event in Vancouver, Canada two years ago also ended up being crucial to this event.  Without having to be asked, he took time out from coaching his own team to make sure this one ran safely and smoothly.  

After dinner and thank-you speeches, the winners were announced.  First place for the men went to Denmark, and for women to Russia.  The Czech men and Swedish women came second. Third place went to the French men and Canadian women. The party then went on long into the night with exotic dancers, live music from Daoud and DJs.  

Next year, AIDA Individual Freedive World Championships will be held over two locations.  In these competitions, the best athletes of the world take each other on one-by-one rather than trying to score points for the whole country.  In July 07, experts in Dynamic Apnea, Dynamic Apnea without Fins and Static Apnea will meet at a pool event in Maribor, Slovenia.  The depth event will include Constant Weight and Constant Weight without Fins and is planned for November 07, in Sharm El Sheikh.


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Sam Kirby is the Regional Manager for PADI International Ltd with responsibility for Egypt, Eastern Europe, Wales and Scotland. A former Instructor
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