By Sunday April 30 I had all but given up on attempting to break the U.S. National Free Immersion record of 51 meters/167 feet held by George Lopez of Laguna Beach. In less than a week judges Matt Charlton and Jade Leutenenegger, who were here in Kona, Hawaii visiting my training partner Will Winram, were scheduled to go back to Canada.
We’d tentatively scheduled my attempt for May 2, but I was unsure if I’d be able to get the day off of work. I was also having trouble finding the EMT required by safety protocols, a deep scuba safety diver, a fast evac boat, bottom and surface videographers to comply with USAA (which is our governing body for freediving in the US) protocols and an O2 bottle- another safety requirement. All these things were proving difficult to coordinate for the same day.
In any other place on the planet it would have cost me thousands of dollars. I’d put some calls out to friends who had video equipment that might be available and two stepped up: Rob White of Blue water Hunter and Glennon Gingo, the ex-President of AIDA USA and my team manager for two of the three years I’ve been on the U.S. National team. Rob would shoot the surface video and Glennon would be the deep videographer. Glennon would also act as the deep safety in case of an emergency.
Will and I train with a counterbalance system and we’d employ our own hardware for the record attempt. The issue of work was one of the main challenges. Finally I received a call from a co-worker who agreed to cover for me. So now that work was covered I had to focus on the EMT.
I started making calls to EMT-qualified guys I knew at the fire department, but none of were available. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to me, my girlfriend Mouna was making calls of her own. She was able to contact a local pediatrician, Bob Laird, who was unable to attend himself but advised her to call the Kona Hospital and tipped her off that anyone working the ER that day not be on duty the next day ! I’d spoken with Glennon the day before and he’d told me about a guy named Charles that worked at the hospital, but didn’t have his number. Well, when Mouna called the hospital on Sunday Charles just happened to answer the phone. She asked if he would be interested and he agreed.
EMT secured, now for the boat. I call my friend Brett LeMaster, who works for Dolphin Discoveries, and asked whether he’d be around attempt site at game time. He told me he could make it so.
And now that the evac boat had been taken care of it was just a matter of getting an O2 bottle. I had an idea where to get one, but didn’t know if I’ld be able to rent it. I called Jack’s Diving Locker. The girl that answered the phone told me I’d need a scuba cert card and $25 – both of which I had, so it was off to get the O2 bottle. I made frantic calls to the judges telling them that the attempt was a go and that I’ld be at the bay at 8:00am the next morning. The attempt was on!
I lined up the EMT, deep safety diver, a fast boat, bottom and surface video and an O2 bottle confirmed all within about six hours and the only out of pocket expense was the $25 for the O2.
At 5:30am on Monday May 1 2006 I awoke from a peaceful sleep. I felt good and confident that the dive would go well. I had my usual two tiger’s milk bars and water for breakfast and started packing my gear.
Mouna, Will and I arrived at the bay around 8:15am. Glennon and Charles were already there waiting for us. Soon Rob arrived, and then the judges, Matt and Jade. We were all ready for the day.
The only thing that was not right was the weather conditions. The wind was blowing out of the northwest at about thirty knots causing the entire bay to have about a three foot chop with whitecaps. I was a bit nervous at that point because I tend to get seasick in big chop.
Will and Mouna gathered up the counterbalance and the other gear and headed out into the bay. I stayed on shore, going through my stretching routine and preparing mentally for the dive.
At 10:00am Brett and boat showed up. I was still on shore and he was half an hour early. I wasn’t even in my wet suit yet and I was looking at a 20 minute swim out to the line in bad sea conditions. I got Brett on the phone and asked him how long he would be in the bay: he said until 11:15, so I still had time. I scrambled into my suit and started out to the line.When I got there they were still setting up, so I just went right into my warmups.
Things could not have worked out any better if it had been rehearsed a thousand times. With everything and everybody in place and four minutes until my official start, Brett pulled up next to us in his boat and waited for me to dive. At the official start time I took my final breath and started down. Glennon had already descended to 25 feet and was waiting to follow me down to the bottom, filming the entire way. My descent was very comfortable and easy and I reached the bottom plate with no trouble. I pulled the tag off, clipped it on my belt and headed for the surface. The way back up went without a flaw and I made the surface feeling great. I went through the surfacing protocol of removing my mask, giving an OK signal with my hand and saying “I am OK” all within the allotted fifteen seconds. I then followed that with “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and gosh darn it people like me” – a quote I borrowed from good friend and U.S. National record holder Kevin Busscher.
Brett and his customers cheered while the rest of us exchanged high fives. Glennon was now hanging on the descent line at 15 feet and would be there for a little while as a decompression safety stop. I dove down to him shook his hand and mouthed the words “thank you”. He nodded his head and I swam back to the surface. Rob and I swam back to shore first, leaving the rest of the crew out on the line to do a little diving of their own and break down the counterbalance.
After everyone was ashore I thanked them all and offered dinner at my house: lobsters from a night freedive two days before that Will, Matt, Jade and I had been on. Most of the crew came up to the house and there was plenty of food and drinks for all. Looking back at those twenty four hours, things really couldn’t have gone much smoother except, of course, for the seas. I’m honored and thankful to have friends that came together to allow this record to happen. If it not for them this record would not have been possible.
I now hold the U.S. National record for Free Immersion at 61 meters/ 200 feet. If this record withstands the assault of the many other competent freedivers in the U.S., I’ll attempt to break my own record again in August in Okinawa, Japan.
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