A Process Of Elimination

It’s all coming true, except the part about riches, fame and glory. 

A few years ago, when Martin Stepanek and I brainstormed the  future of freediving we concluded that the sport stood on the cusp of an explosion in performance benchmarks. We figured that growth in the sport would attract competitors from a larger pool of athletes, thus increasing the likelihood of those rare, extreme performers coming into the game.

We reckoned this performance explosion would feed back into growing the sport even more, as major media and masses of spectators and fans were drawn in.

Top freedivers like Martin would be global superstars, and double handfuls of succulent crumbs would fall off their tables into the grubby claws of media remoras – types like me.

Life would be grand.

Well, life is grand, to be sure, but not in all the ways we imagined.  Meanwhile, the Constant Weight record has rocketed from Brett LeMaster’s 81 meters, then, to Martin’s own 103 meters, for now ( as of this writing, 26 October 2004).  I’ll not provoke Martin any more than I have already, so let’s not even mention what’s happened in the Static Apnea discipline.  But where are the clowns and dancers?

Where’s my f**king limousine ?

Sure, the sport has grown. Little baby steps, increments. There’s more media exposure, but mostly of the cheapo sort like webcasting. It’s just not happening until there are more major network cams on site than there are divers.

So why no traction ?  We all know that freediving is awesomely fascinating, right ? We aren’t eccentrics or nutjobs, are we ?  Perhaps that’s a different discussion, but let’s stipulate here, for the sake of argument, that we’re not cuckoo. Why doesn’t the great wide world of couch-lounging fans love our sport and demand more ?

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the way we compete makes for bad, bad television. It is    b o r i n g !  There. Are you listening ?

A freediving event, as presently structured, is achingly uninteresting unless one is a competitor, support person or personally involved in some other direct way

Actually, the most energized person at the event is the organizer.  Let’s face it – there isn’t much to keep a TV viewer’s finger off the clicker. Somebody floats face down in the water, goes away for a little while, then comes back holding a little scrap of paper. Unless there’s juicy samba or blackout, satisfying to our morbid streak, this is about as interesting as watching seamstresses punching in for the afternoon shift.

Let’s continue to avoid the topic of Static Apnea, except to say that the inclusion of  ‘static’ and ‘television’ in the same media concept ought to be enough of a clue.

We’re dropping the ball. Now, hardly a day passes when I don’t channel-surf through some Fear Factor clone with Beautiful Young People doing some kind of apnea stunt. In one case with burning oil on the surface. That’s good media

A while back I offered some suggestions which I thought would sex up our sport and give it mass appeal, especially to television viewers. Sadly, none of my suggestions has been taken up, possibly because they were droolingly silly and obviously tongue-in-cheek. Well, who’s looking silly now ? We are. We’re still not rich and famous.

I’ve decided, therefore, to address the apparent lack of boldness and initiative in the freediving establishment, which, it seems, cannot get its head around the value of a little sparkle, a little pizzazz.

I’ll be serious now.

Let’s make our competitions more confrontational. There’s no gladiatorial element in our sport. We’re too gentle, too New Age Sensitive: “It’s not about competing with other people, it’s about reaching your own potential.” Yeah, yeah, yeah. All well and good – really – but nobody’s going to pay big bucks to watch us getting in touch with our inner dolphins. We need to go mano a mano, womano a womano, or even mano a womano. 

People defeating other people, face to face.

Hear me out. I’m talking about a minor restructuring of competition which will make it approximately 1,000 times more interesting.

Imagine running freediving competitions as elimination tournaments. Run the competitors against each other pairwise, face to face, with the loser eliminated and the winner advancing to the next round.

Even Static Apnea would be a lot more interesting when we watch two rivals head to head in the pool. The entire dynamic of the performance is intensified when the objective is to beat a specific person now, in real time. The strategic and tactical matrix is transformed. Spectators see a dramatic, concrete, highly-visible competitive outcome every few minutes. 

The time interval between rounds should be limited , a brisk pace maintained.  For competitors, anything goes except actual physical contact with another competitor. Talk trash, shoot ‘em the evil eye – whatever rocks their world.

Dynamica Apnea: competitors swim at the same time in adjacent lanes. The winner is the one who covers the greater distance… but will she have anything left for the next round ? Lead or follow ? Slower, or faster ? Hmmmmm…

Constant Weight: two divers head down at the same time. First one to turn loses…unless the other one has LMC or BO.  

It’s a whole other thing when the performance you have to beat is happening before your eyes as you perform. Keeping in mind that if you win your heat, and advance to the next round, you’ll have to do it all again. You’ll want to win each heat with the minimum expenditure of blood and guts, but you will want to win.

Ooooohhh !  A dilemma.  A strategic and tactical conundrum whose resolution may, incidentally, level the playing field for  male and female competitors : men may have higher hematocrit and myoglobin, but we don’t think with our muscles or our red cells. Mostly not. Designing women could smart their way to victory.

Imagine the possibilities. A convincing bluff could lure an opponent into surfacing too soon . . . or lingering overlong and getting the lights turned off.

This is something any spectator can grasp and groove on right away. Even without the surface covered in flaming oil.

“But, but, but…” you sputter… Right. You want to object on safety grounds. Yes, part of the new world will be adaptation of safety infrastructure. It may well be that there will be more sambas and blackouts, but we do know how to deal with these.  There need not be any increase in mortal risk.  It sure will add drama, though.

It would also return our sport to its roots in nature. The way competition events are structured now is so artificial, so abstract, so very removed from our natural habitat: a bunch of divers working a reef, hunting, gathering, good-naturedly competing for depth, time, distance and bragging rights. All day long. Mmmmmmm……

Please, Freediving Establishment. Hear my words. Act, or be acted upon.

Got to go – Fear Factor has a bunch of chicks collecting necklaces underwater, and swimming through underwater hoops…