Crazy Dane, Crazy Venezuelan
The first attempt of El Reto en el Abismo was constant weight without fins, originally dubbed "Crazy Cuban". Both freedivers would make their attempts on the same day, starting with a -60 metre dive. By this time, the main event was in full swing, crowds had gathered and the pressure was on to make it a success.
Carlos and the event organizers were up to the task.
"Carlos is a true ambassador," says Perry Gladstone, a new AIDA judge from Toronto, Canada, on site for the record attempts, "and his gracious manner, which was apparent from my first arrival in Venezuela, seems to have transcended the man and permeated the entire freediving community."
One of the most consistent freedivers in the world, Carlos has never missed his depth or time at an international competition, including his close second to Martin Stepanek at the 2003 Sony Freediver Open Classic, where he dove to -85 metres in constant weight.
"Carlos has an incredible ability to focus his concentration in spite of the almost constant chaos around him," says Gladstone, "I can’t help but think that a dedicated coach would be beneficial in reducing distractions. There is no question in my mind that this was a major contributing factor to his unsuccessful first attempt on the no-fins record, in which he experienced his first ever blackout."
The weather conditions were less than ideal on the day of the attempt, and although Carlos had enjoyed an excellent training dive to –64 metres prior to his first attempt, he was distracted by the logistics of the operation and suffered a blackout on the dive.
Carlos’ blackout was a psychological setback and admits that he underestimated the difficulty of the initial –60 metre attempt.
"It took all my concentration to chase away the negative images in my mind after the blackout," he says, "Any record attempt requires your full attention. I should have left the details to my team as much as possible."
For Stig, the physical challenge of the dive was less of a factor than the difficulties presented by lung squeeze and equalizing problems during the attempt.
"Just four days before my record I dove to –60 metres and had quite a lung squeeze. I spit blood for some time and was short of breath afterwards."
Stig did not have enough time for a gradual progression in his training, diving to -30 metres on the first day, -40 metres on the second, and, because of a cancelled training day, jumped straight to -60m the last training day and suffered a lung squeeze. His dive was also complicated with his first ever use of Liquivision Fluid Goggles, which worked well, except that his nose clip came loose halfway down and, not yet used to the magnification of the lenses, Stig misjudged the distance to the bottom plate. Since he does not wear a weight belt and swims all the way down to the bottom to counter his buoyancy, he was forced to swim with only one arm; the other on his runaway nose clip.
Before the no-fins attempts, Stig was laid back about the challenge: "No-fins will be fun – I don’t really care who ‘wins’. It is not a competition between us, more like a small joke between friends."
On September 28, 2003, their small joke turned out to be a shared -61 metre world record, which finally ended the controversy around AIDA’s no-fins category. Topi Lintukangas of Finland had recorded a mark of –60 metres under the auspices of FREE in 2002. Several AIDA freedivers had announced world record attempts well below this mark, seemingly looking for a easy world record. Carlos and Stig’s -61 metre record means that this AIDA category is now also recognized by the freediving community at large.
One casualty of the double world record was Stig’s static apnea attempt. His lung squeeze during training scuttled any plans to make a real attempt on the static apnea world record of 8:06 held by Martin Stepanek since 2001.
"The reason why I did attempt static the last two days was because of a media-hotel-sponsor thing," Stig says. There are still so many things I want to work on in my static and I’m by no means in a hurry. I feel quite confident that I know what to work on so I am looking forward to future attempts with a big smile."
With the friendship record secured, all that was left was for Stig and the rest of the Venezuelan freediving scene to cheer Carlos Coste on for his -101 metre free immersion attempt.
An Historic Event
Neither freediver has much to say about Carlos Coste’s free immersion world record—except that it was all good. After one training dive to -90 metres, Carlos was ready for the attempt, which he made on his first try. He had made a -97 metre prerequisite earlier in the summer and was confidence leading up to the attempt. Even when Herbert Nitsch made -100 metres in Austria, Carlos wasn’t fazed: "I feel very strong in this category."
On October 4th, everything went as planned and Carlos surfaced after four minutes and three seconds with the world record in hand.
"As the in-water judge only inches from his face," says AIDA judge Perry Gladstone, "I can say with certainty that Carlos was 100 percent on his arrival at the surface."
While taking the free immersion record back from Herbert Nitsch was sweet for Carlos, he is most excited about the double record in constant without fins.
"It was a clear success that resulted in a double world record (AIDA) for the first time, which seems to be a historic event in the history of freediving."
Stig agrees: " It was great to share the record with a good friend: I think this sends a wonderful message to the competitive freediving world. Also, it was a big moment to watch Carlos surface after breaking the 100 metre barrier."
More than anything, Carlos seems relieved that the whole event turned out well despite the last minute changes.
"When we originally planned this event, the idea was that I would attempt three records: constant weight, free immersion and variable weight, and Stig would try static and constant without fins. I never imagined attempting constant weight without fins. Problems with sponsorship, training delays and other difficulties led us to change the program, and in the end, it was an original event and a success."
This kind of collaboration is good news for freediving. While the mainstream media seems to crave danger and bitter rivalries, some top freedivers have countered that with camaraderie and a fun-seeking attitude. For instance, rivals Herbert Nitsch and Martin Stepanek formed a team and trained together in Cyprus, agreeing on -93 metres for their world record attempt (even though only Stepanek succeeded). Annabel Briseno and Mandy-Rae Cruickshank cheer each other on in public forums and remain good friends despite contesting the same records. Back in 2001, Erez Beatus and Trevor Hutton set the unassisted FREE world record at –46 metres in the exact same dive time of 1:40—how’s that for a collaboration? Now Coste and Severinsen have raised the bar for AIDA athletes.
The success of the Challenge in the Abyss goes far in building a future for freediving based on community, respect, friendship and a celebration of the sport. Perry Gladstone left Venezuela with the inspiration of a freediving community.
"Both athletes have an overt commitment to excellence that is both admirable and,
from a distance, imposing. Up close, however, one finds both Stig and Carlos are not only very approachable but inviting and anxious to share their passion for freediving and the ocean environment.
"I had a fantastic time, was treated like family and had the best seat in the house for three incredible world records."
The future is bright for freediving. Bring on El Reto en el Abismo II.