CAFA Western Regional

The Canadian Assocation of Freediving and Apnea (CAFA) held its 7th Western Regional freediving competition on May 2-4th, 2003. The buzz preceeding the competition focused on Mandy-Rae Cruickshank’s intention to set world records in the competition and a new safety system for constant weight.

CAFA had asked Doug Peterson, an AIDA USA international judge, to officiate the competition with Kirk Krack, also an AIDA judge. This meant that any world records achieved in the competition would be ratified by AIDA once the video and drug tests were accepted.

Mandy-Rae Cruickshank was to make an attempt on Nathalie Desreac’s 150m dynamic apnea record. This record had not been touched for years—not since 1998. As the date approached, and time for Mandy to achieve her training targets ran out, I could detect a drop in enthusiasm for this record attempt, replaced with a newfound interest in the no-fins constant weight discipline, for which there is no official AIDA record on the books. When the announced performances were in, Mandy was set to attempt –41m without fins, a salute to Yasemin Dalkilic’s –40m F.R.E.E. world record.

Kirk Krack, CAFA president and the competition organizer, made a presentation several weeks earlier about the options for constant weight safety he was considering for the Regionals. AIDA declared on April 1st that lanyards would be mandatory at all AIDA sanctioned competitions. Kirk devised a triple-redundant system built around the lanyard-diver connection that incorporated a cabled bottom video linked to a surface monitor to make sure competitors reach their tags and made a safe ascent; and a pair of safety scuba divers stationed at -30m with sufficient gas to inflate lift bags designed fasten to the line to either catch a diver blacking out above them or to lift the whole line to the surface if there was a problem below them.  To top it all off, the other end of the competition line was attached to a counterweight with 60kg, ready to be released in order to bring up the line at a moment’s notice. With the deepest announced depth at -45m, it seemed like the perfect occasion to use the appartus without worrying about the kind of depths the best Canadian freedivers usually announce. 

Friday: Dynamic Apnea

Friday’s dynamic apnea was held at the Vancouver Aquatic Centre. Mandy announced 75m, and when she made the turn at 100m, her longblade carbon fins gently swishing back and forth, she pulled up early and easily at 110m, well short of the wall at which she had originally hoped to turn. She quickly smiled and shrugged it off. A lot more confident about her no-fins constant weight attempt, Mandy seemed in good spirits despite the failed attempt.

But there was more excitement. Brent Pascall decided to do his dynamic without fins, as did Tom Lightfoot and Eric Fattah. Brent’s long arms propelled him at one metre per second and he reached the 100m wall and pulled up and began his recovery. Suddenly, Kirk Krack, one of the judges, told a safety diver to grab his chin. Immediately, Brent looked up, confused. They claimed he was not in control of his airway and it was slipping under the water. Nevertheless, 100m is the farthest distance ever reached in no-fins by a Canadian freediver, clean or not, since Greg Fee set the record last fall at 80m.  Jade Leutenegger, originally a freediver from the new club in Toronto, broke Mandy’s old record for no-fins dynamic with a new mark of 56m in her first ever competition. A new competitor, Goh Iromoto, breathed up with his hands clasped together like a Shaolin monk and made a solid 100m with air to spare.

Saturday: Constant Weight

The day we were all waiting for came on Saturday. Vancouver freedivers have a special affection for constant weight. It is our best discipline and we have favourable conditions to practice it in, as long as you don’t mind the cold.

Brent Pascall, getting used to his new monofin, had the deepest announced depth at –45m.  Eric Fattah, Mandy Cruickshank and Tom Lightfoot, Canada’s deepest freedivers, had all left their fins on shore. And Eric was planning to dive in 12 degrees Celsius water (5C at depth) without his wet suit. If he were wearing anything less we would have to declare nude constant weight as the newest AIDA category!

I swam my way out to the competition line once official start was declared and I could see that Doug Peterson and Kirk Krack were trying to get the warm-up lines, counter weight, camera cable, and depth line all set up. As Brent Pascall entered his 2 minute countdown, the judges suddenly called “HOLD” and delayed him another 2 minutes. Luckily, this didn’t faze or ruin Brent’s breathe-up; he made his depth and finished the dive clean.

Tom Lightfoot was next and things disintegrated on the surface. A current was moving the line quite rapidly from the boat that was attending the competition. As Kirk later explained, somehow the tether to the boat or the pressure of the counter weight was transferred onto the metal frame holding all five lines apart, snapping the bolts that held it all together.

But this was not the “system failure” that ended the constant weight event. Tom Lightfoot later revealed that when he reached the bottom plate on his –43m no-fins dive, he realized that the cable providing the video feed to the surface monitor had gotten wrapped around the descent line, causing his lanyard carabiner to catch. He said he gave it a yank, ready at any time to unclip and save himself. Thankfully, it sprung free and he made his way to the surface, encouraged by the safety divers at –30m.

When Tom surfaced, with a new Canadian no-fins constant weight record, the competition zone was in disarray. One of the warm-up line had broken completely free of the frame—I was left holding it out of the water. For Kirk, the main danger was the video cable entaglement. He called the event off when he could plainly see that it was an unacceptable danger to the next divers, including Mandy, who was ready to go for her –41m no fins world record.

It was the right decision. The current had strengthened, the lines were collapsing on themselves or drifting apart and everything was so disrupted that the priority was to make sure the scuba buddy team at –30m surfaced safely. 

The Vancouver freediving community is still evaluating what went wrong. Many ideas were raised, including delays in the preparations by volunteers at the competition, the lack of sufficient system testing, current, and making too many changes all at once. The upcoming Nationals will be an important test to CAFA’s resourcefulness, because CAFA plans to use a gigantic flat barge to stage the constant weight event. This will bring up new variations on the safety system that must be tested. Hopfeully, there will be sufficient time and resources to troubleshoot it, in the weeks that remain.

Sunday: Static Apnea

Static apnea was the most exciting from the competitors’ point of view. Goh Iromoto, buoyed by his success in dynamic, made 5’03, putting him third overall. Jade Leutenegger, on fire in her first competition, pulled up clean at 4’27, only thirty-eight seconds behind Mandy, who pulled up at 5’05.   Peter Satitpunwaycha, aka Longfins in the DeeperBlue forums, who flew in from the Silicon Valley to compete in his first competiton, overventilated and found out the hard out how quickly the lights can go out. Afterwards, in the pub, seeing his blackout on the big screen, Peter was in good spirits and philosophical about the learning experience. We hope to see him back in Vancouver next time.

The longer statics belonged to a veteran and a relative newcomer. Eric Fattah conquered some old demons in static apnea with a clean 6’05, breaking the existing Canadian record by 5 seconds. A scant fourteen minutes later, however, Luc Gosselin, one of Canada’s three entries in Cyprus, slipped past Fattah, and came up smiling at 6’42, a mark that reflects an new and emerging confidence in the pool for Canadian freedivers. Expect more from Gosselin in Cyprus and at future competitions and for other Canadians to follow his lead into seven and eight minute static country.

Competition results are posted on www.freedivecanada.com