A crowd of autograph-hungry kids surround young Danish freediver Stig Severinsen on the French Riviera during the 2000 AIDA World Cup in Nice, France. The sun is bright and the hills above the city shimmer on the sea. Suddenly, the members of Team Venezuela pull up in a van. Suppressing a smile, Stig points at them and says, "World Champions!" Wide-eyed, the kids turn and swarm around Carlos Coste, Nestor Aparcedo and Ronald Laurens, crowding in for a glimpse of apnea greatness.
Fast forward to the summer of 2003: Team Venezuela has taken first place at the 2002 AIDA World Cup in Kona and Carlos Coste has already inked his name twice in AIDA’s record books. In August, Stig Severinsen, master of the well-insulated indoor pools of Denmark, has minted his first ever world record in dynamic apnea without fins, covering a brain-busting 166 metres underwater. Excitement is brewing in Caracas, Venezuela, where two world class freedivers will soon celebrate their passion for apnea with a main event like no other.
El Reto en el Abismo / Challenge in the Deep
Early in 2003, and already a close friend, Coste invited Severinsen to Venezuela to share his expertise in static apnea and his passion for underwater hockey and rugby. The visit was a hit with local freedivers and an inspiration for Carlos, who was eager to mount new record attempts. With Stig’s help, he seized the opportunity to organize a more ambitious event, billing it as, "Five world record attempts, underwater video documentaries, spectators, parties, and fun." All that remained was to see whose records would have to be broken.
The summer of 2003 was a hot one. Two former world record holders failed to make their attempts on the deep records: Martin Stepanek pulled out because of a sinus infection and Guillame Nery fell short of –94 metres in training for his constant weight attempt. For a while, it looked like the hunger for world records was taking its toll.
In early September, Herbert Nitsch finally conquered a string of missed attempts and delivered three AIDA world records in the span of three days: -95 metres in constant weight, -100 metres in free immersion, and -50 metres in constant weight without fins.
Carlos reconsidered his original plan. Sponsorship was not as extensive as he had hoped and to attempt three depth records now seemed impractical. Carlos admits that of all the world records he has ever attempted, constant weight is the most challenging—even after his own barrier-breaking –90 metre world record in 2002. "To beat Martin’s –93m would have been difficult, and now Herbert’s –95m is really tough," he said, in explanation of his decision to abort the attempt. Given the more complex logistics of variable weight, he cancelled that as well. Instead, Carlos and Stig decided that they would both make an attempt on constant weight without fins. Whether five records or three, the Challenge in the Deep was shaping up to be a memorable event.
Summer Fish, Winter Fish
"What attracts me about freediving is Simplicity," says Stig Severinsen.
At his northern home of Aarhus, Denmark, where the ocean is a shallow ten metres in depth and is locked in ice during much of the year, Stig Severinsen pursues the ideal simplicity of apnea within a surprisingly complex and busy life. While he works on his Doctorate in Marine Biology, he trains up to four days a week in his pool, nicknamed "Spain" (the site of his world record in dynamic without fins) and makes occasional trips to his friend Peter Peterson’s 50 metre pool in the next town, where Pederson made 200 metre world record in dynamic with a monofin.
Stig founded the Aarhus Freediving Club (AFK) which has about twenty members. Outside of that, he is busy with a variety of projects including speaking engagements at the Danish Sports Psychology Forum where he presented on mental preparation in freediving; a start-up company called Blue Consult, from which he delivers lectures on freediving and other water sports to sport colleges, television projects with www.sponsormatch.dk and Ace & Ace Action Production (which filmed in Ibiza), presentations on underwater hockey and rugby,and most recently, El Reto en el Abismo.
Being confined to his pool most of the year does not afford Stig many opportunities to train in the ocean. This posed some difficulties for his first ever depth record, especially in an unfamiliar location.
"While the jetlag and the hot climate took its toll, as well as the new and different food," he says, "one of my biggest concerns was whether my eardrums would last since I suck at equalizing."
Perhaps a more serious threat of having no time to dive is acclimatization to hydrostatic pressure. Stig was most worried about lung squeeze.
"I am convinced this is one of the main factors limiting new freedivers from going deeper—I include myself in this category."
Carlos Coste on the other hand has the luxury of the a deep and warm tropical ocean all year. He lives in Caracas, Venezuela, and is the top dog of the local freediving scene, which boasts a club of over one hundred members with thirty active freedivers. Twice a week he drives two and a half hours to a small fishing town called Chichiribiche de la Costa, where two permanent descent lines are moored a scant few hundred metres from shore: one at -83m, the other at -105m.
Carlos swims three kilometres a day and follows a program of interval weight training, static and dynamic training and open water deep dives twice a week. Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) and yoga give him the mental preparation for his record attempts. By far his greatest advantage over other freedivers in the past has been his ability to equalize at great depths.
Deep down, Carlos is a dreamer. For him, freediving is being free to relax and dream about the sea and new challenges, records, competitions, and travels. "I don’t really know what makes me dive deep," he says, "yet I am always thinking about future explorations."
Carlos and Stig first met in Nice and then again in Ibiza at the 2001 World Championships, where Carlos first invited Stig to train with him. He shared his equalizing tips and hinted of future plans to "rumper unos records mondiales."
By the time the two met in Hawaii for the Kona World Cup in 2002, their friendship was solid. Stig recalls the enthusiastic post-competition celebration with gusto. "It was the same Team Venezuela, same lovely people, same "Latin" atmosphere—I simply loved it." After the "imbecil" police tried to shut down their singing and guitar playing, the revelers proceeded to the ocean for a midnight skinny dip, while the police tried in vain for forty five minutes to get them out with bullhorns and searchlights.
Aside from their love of a good fiesta, Stig and Carlos also share a profound enjoyment of apnea and of the lifestyle they have enjoyed as freedivers.
"I truly feel that freediving has the potential to develop and educate you as a person in a way that no other sport can do," Stig says. "I think we as freedivers are on the right track. We respect and care about our environment and our people. We are privileged and should be thankful for that."
Next Week: part II: Crazy Dane, Crazy Venezuelan