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9 Common Mistakes Freediving Athletes Make In Depth Competitions

As a freediver, competing in a freediving competition can be a seriously exciting (and seriously nerve-wracking) time, especially if it is your first competition. It can be confusing to remember all of the rules that are required to receive a white card, and on top of that, performance anxiety and knowing that you have an audience can make the thought of competitions very daunting.

There are certain mistakes athletes make that happen quite often during freediving competitions, whether they are experienced or first-time competitors. These mistakes result in a yellow or red card and can ruin what might have been a clean dive. This article focuses on common mistakes athletes make in depth competitions, which can help you avoid a yellow or red card in your future competitions.  Whilst we focus on AIDA competitions these can apply to all competitions depending on the rules.

Surface Protocol Mistakes

Performing surface protocol in the wrong order

There is a very clear order on how surface protocol (SP) should be performed.

  1. Remove facial equipment.
  2. Give the OK sign to the judge.
  3. Say “I’m OK” or “I am OK” in English.

If you say “I’m OK” after removing your facial equipment, but before giving the OK sign, you will be given a red card and disqualified for failure to perform surface protocol (DQSP). The same will happen if you say “I am OK” in a different language, or not giving a clear OK sign, or performing steps 2 and 3 with your nose clip still on. The order in which you remove mask/goggles and/or noseclip does not matter, but the actions you take after removing your facial equipment does. It may help to have your coach telling you the order in which to perform SP as soon as you surface, which is allowed.

Failing to perform surface protocol within 15 seconds

Some athletes are in such a rush to complete surface protocol that they may stumble over it, earning them a red card for DQSP. But there are also athletes who come up hypoxic, and have to take their time to do proper recovery breathing, and overestimate the time allowed in order to perform SP. 15 seconds may seem like a long time, but if your “I’m OK” does not come out before 15 seconds flashes on the judge’s stopwatch, it becomes a DQSP.

Face-swiping or unusual movement during surface protocol

If you need to wipe your eyes or scratch your face, do so after SP is completed, which is after you have given the verbal “I am OK.” If you remove your facial equipment, then repeatedly swipe at your eyes with your hands before giving the OK sign, or while you are saying “I’m OK,” you will receive a red card for DQSP.

Dipping airways

As soon as you surface, your airways may not dip back into the water until the judge has given a card. Cards are given a minimum of 30 seconds after the athlete has surfaced, so even if you have finished your SP, you still need to keep your airways out of the water. Some common mistakes in this category include an athlete dipping their face back in the water to wash out their nose, or celebrating too quickly, losing their grip, and falling back into the water. Even if the athlete is reaching for something at or below the surface, like their tag for example, and their nose or mouth touches the water before the judge has given a card, the athlete will receive a red card that disqualifies them for airways. If your tag is located inside of your wetsuit or in a hard-to-reach place, it is best to ask the judge to look at the tag on your person instead, rather than taking the risk of dipping your airways.

Supportive touch

A supportive touch is not allowed during an athlete’s performance (unless it is for repositioning or safety checks during static performances), whether it is the athlete touching someone else or someone touching the athlete. This means that when you surface and are performing SP, your coach cannot hold you up, or put a hand on your back, otherwise, it is a disqualification and a red card. It has happened that an athlete has surfaced and a coach wants to pat the athlete’s shoulder or put an arm around the athlete. Unfortunately, this calls for a red card, and any touching should be avoided until after the judge gives the card. It is common that after athlete surfaces, the coach raises their hands up above the water to show that they are not giving a supportive touch.

Performance Mistakes

Double start

As soon as the official top is called (the start time when an athlete needs to begin a competition performance), you may not surface if your face is already in the water. For example, if you are breathing from a snorkel and the official top is called, you may not surface to take your last breath, otherwise, it is a double start. If you want to take your last breath above water, make sure to have your face out of the water before official top begins.

Coach diving after official TOP

From the moment of the official top, the coach must stay at the surface. Unless the coach is an official extra safety diver for the competition, they are not allowed to dive while the athlete is underwater, unless it is to assist the organization in helping the athlete if they are in trouble.

Grabbing/pulling multiple times in the 2m zone from the bottom plate

This can be a mistake depending on the judge. The 2m zone that is striped like a candy cane above the bottom plate is the area in which CWT/CNF athletes are allowed to grab/pull in order to grab the tag and turn. The rules do not specify how many grabs or pulls are allowed in this zone, therefore one judge may not disqualify or penalize you for grabbing/pulling a couple of times, but another judge may allow only one grab/pull. It is best to clarify this beforehand with the judges, or stick to only one grab/pull.

Grabbing/pulling outside of the 2m zone

Whether it is on the descent at the surface, during the freefall, or right before reaching the surface, touching the rope with a closed hand counts as a grab, which you will receive a penalty for, or if it is considered a pull, disqualification. In CNF and CWT, make sure to keep your hands away from the rope upon descent, take care not to grab the rope during freefall, and avoid unconsciously using the rope to pull yourself to the surface on the ascent.

Kristina Zvaritch
Kristina Zvaritch
Kris is an AIDA/Molchanovs Freediving Instructor, freelance copywriter, and one of the founders of SaltyMind Freediving on the little island of Xiao Liuqiu, Taiwan. She has written 100+ articles centered around freediving for and co-authored the Molchanovs Wave 4 - Competitive Freediving manual. When Kris isn't writing or teaching freediving, you can find her floating on a wave at the beach or struggling to learn Mandarin on land.