Free divers take breath away

Breathtaking: Jeremy Walton competes in the pool discipline at the Deja Blue free diving competition. - PHOTO: JOAKIM HJELM/WWW.JOAKIMHJELM.COM

Free divers from around the world produced literally breathtaking performances at the annual Deja Blue competition in the Cayman Islands last week.

Performing feats that seem to defy the laws of physics and human biology, free divers hit depths in excess of 70 meters on a single breath at the competition.

The eventual winner, China’s Jessea Lu, held her breath for a staggering seven minutes in one discipline at the event, dubbed the “Ironman of free diving.”

Competitors accumulate points in a series of disciplines, ranging from a basic breath hold face down in a swimming pool to diving to target depths and swimming underwater lengths of the Camana Bay pool.

The Cayman Islands was well represented. Kurt Randolph, a Cayman resident originally from Ohio, and Mark Tilley, a Cayman resident from the U.K., placed second and third, respectively, in the men’s competition.

Tom Gilmore of the U.S. was the overall men’s winner.

Men’s winner Tom Gilmore ascends from a dive. - PHOTOS: JOAKIM HJELM/WWW.JOAKIMHJELM.COM
Men’s winner Tom Gilmore ascends from a dive. – PHOTOS: JOAKIM HJELM/WWW.JOAKIMHJELM.COM

Randolph’s dive of 75 meters was the deepest overall in the competition.
In all, 19 athletes from six countries competed in the weeklong competition, which saw 13 national records broken across the various disciplines.

As the first Cayman Islands citizen to compete in the competition, Appleby lawyer Jeremy Walton can count himself among the record breakers.

Competing in the pool disciplines, he set the first national record in the dynamic apnea event – essentially swimming lengths of a pool underwater – at 103 meters, just over four laps of the pool.

He said he was pleased to have set some “modest national records,” and hopes the sport can grow in Cayman and that his records will be broken soon.

“I would love more people to come and compete so that by this time next year we have a Cayman team taking part and people can come and take those records away and put their names in the record books.”

He said lots of people snorkel and spear fish recreationally in the Cayman Islands and he believes the discipline of free diving has room to grow.

Cayman resident Mark Tilley finished third in the men’s competition, hitting 73 meters in one event.
Cayman resident Mark Tilley finished third in the men’s competition, hitting
73 meters in one event.

“A lot of people do it recreationally, but with a little bit of technical training … your horizons expand dramatically,” said Mr. Walton.

Students of free diving learn basic breathing and relaxation techniques that help them resist the urge to breathe and get results that seem to defy science.

For some it is a test of endurance, for others it is a form of relaxation.

“I think the best way to describe it [is] as equivalent to underwater yoga – mastering control of your body and mind in order to operate in an alien environment,” Mr. Walton said.

“Like yoga, it’s physically demanding and requires your mind to be well-attuned to your body’s signals, but it’s also a mental game and ultimately a blissful experience, especially in the ‘sink phase’ of diving when you’re just drifting down to your target depth.”

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