As competitive freedivers, we’ve all been there, obsessing over a number that we’re trying to reach, and none more appealing than a national record. I mean, the pinnacle of any sport is being able to say that you’re the best in your country, isn’t it? Need we go any further as as to why it’s so appealing?
Well let me just back up for a second, and bring you up to speed on the sport of freediving, and why National Records aren’t always necessarily as deserving of the attention and glory they receive. You see, in this sport, there are eight disciplines in which a diver can compete in, three that are known as the “depth disciplines”. These are the most highly contested and recognized. Depth freediving, in the simplest terms possible, is diving as deep as you can while following a line on the descent, retrieving a tag at the bottom of the line, and making the ascent back to the surface. The three depth disciplines are as follows:
Constant Weight (CWT)
The diver descends and ascends with the use of fins and/or with the use of their arms. Divers are only allowed to use the rope to stop their descent, turn around, and begin their ascent to the surface. CWT is the most widely practiced and known discipline.
Constant Weight Without Fins (CNF)
The diver descends and ascends using only their own muscle strength, without the use of propulsion equipment and without pulling on the rope. CNF is the most difficult discipline, because the diver is unaided, thus requiring the most strength.
Free Immersion (FIM)
In this discipline, the diver uses the rope to pull themselves to the desired depth, as well as using it for the return trip to the surface. William Trubridge recently broke the World Record in this discipline twice at the Vertical Blue Competition.
Being that the sport of freediving isn’t as well established or practiced as other mainstream sports, there are occasions where national records are a lot easier to come by. In fact there are quite a few countries that have at least one or two “low lying” fruits to pick from, especially in countries where freediving is relatively new and maybe not all disciplines are hotly contested. So this begs the question; is it better to break a relatively easier national record in one discipline, or make an even better dive in a more contested and difficult discipline, but come up short on setting a new record? Let me provide a personal account of my own experiences.
I currently compete in only the depth disciplines for the United Kingdom. So for me, none of the records in these disciplines were easy to break. In fact, if I wanted a chance to break any record, I had to work extremely hard in all areas, and rightfully so. I only recently broke my first record, which was in the CNF category, diving to a depth of 74m. Even though I came close to records in the other categories, to the outside world, unless I actually break them it seems like they’re inconsequential, a failure of sorts. This is also apparent for other divers like my good friend Adam Stern of Australia. In the most recent Vertical Blue competition in the Bahamas, he went on to become only the second diver from Australia to break 100m in CWT, but it seems his 88m FIM “National Record” garners more attention, for obvious reasons. But I could make the argument, that his 100+ meter diver in CWT was more impressive.
There are many other examples of great dives being made in competition, but they are often overshadowed by shallower National Records made in other disciplines during the same competition. And not to take anything away from these records, but this happens far too often and I think it’s about time the freediving community moved on from celebrating National Records to the extent they do and focus more on celebrating better quality dives.
As the sport progresses, National Records will be made less frequently with the eventuality that the best dives will come to be recognized and celebrated. Likewise, there was a time when world records were broken every year. However, this is not the case anymore as WR's have naturally become harder to break and occur way less frequently. But this also brings about another important question: if a diver is not continuously breaking records, is he or she still a good diver? In my opinion, this mentality has encouraged athletes to hold back on their performances, so that they can continue to break records on a fairly regular basis, focusing more on making headlines rather than becoming the best they can be like a true athlete should. In that same breath, this singular focus on breaking records has discouraged other freedivers from competing, and encouraged current freedivers to seek breaking the records with the least resistance.
No one questions Usain Bolt just because he’s not breaking the world record every year, or Michael Phelps for the same reason. But these athletes continuously perform at an extremely high level, winning medals in the process and producing great results. If we are to continue to grow our sport, then it'd be wise to shift our attention slightly and have a more realistic attitude towards freediving performances.
Dean Chaouche is a British competitive freediver and instructor. He currently lives and trains in the Bahamas, and has become one of the sports rising stars. Keep up with Dean by following him on Instagram @deanfreediver
Photography by Daan Verhoeven