The United States Apnea Association (USAA) has completed its first National Championships of Freediving. The competition was conducted over three days in Los Angeles, CA, USA. The competition slated competitors to challenge their abilities in breath-hold diving for maximum time, distance and depth.
The competition opened on Saturday, July 10, 2004 at Loyola Marymount University Pool. Conditions were ideal. Competitors competed in Dynamic Apnea with Fins. This tests the athlete’s ability to swim underwater as far as they can with fins while holding their breath. Some of the athletes chose to make the attempt without fins. This is an alternative category of competition. Competitors must surface from their swim and respond with no loss of coordination or motor control.
Two US National Records were broken during the competition. Jessica Wilson broke the existing Dynamic Apnea without Fins Record for Women with a successful result of 63 meters. Moran Morton followed up, breaking Jessica’s new record with a result of 66 meters in no fins dynamic.
Michael Antinori topped the men with a successful performance of 104 meters, while Annabel Briseno topped the women with a performance on 101 meters.
Day two of the competition was slated for Static Apnea. Competitors test their ability to hold their breath for time. This occurs in the shallow end of the pool with the competitors floating at the surface. Loyola Marymount University Pool was again the setting for the event. The facility provided ideal conditions for competition.
Competitors have forty-five minutes to warm up and prepare for their performances. When the time comes to compete, the athletes receive a two-minute count down. They must begin their attempt within ten seconds of reaching zero on their count down or they receive penalty points. Competitors hold their breath for as long as they can, while still being able to surface without any loss of motor control or coordination. Safety is checked as the competitor progresses through their hold via signals from the athlete to a safety supervisor that is next to the competitor in the water.
Jessica Wilson won the women’s event with a time of five minutes and nineteen seconds. Kevin Busscher won the men’s event with an impressive time of six minutes and one second.
Day three had the athletes slated to compete in Constant Weight. The athletes would attempt to dive to a declared depth on a single breath of air. Declared depth were reported by the athletes prior to the competition.
This portion of the competition is the most logistically intense. The event occurred at Catalina Island off the coast of Southern California. Two vessels provided the platform for the competition. The King Neptune was used as the competitors’ boat, while the Second Stage provided the platform for the safety scuba support and evacuation boat. This portion of the competition would not be possible if it were not for the services of the safety scuba divers. Divers from the Cambrian Foundation provided the support for the event. One team used scuba while the other team used PRISM Topaz Rebreathers to help facilitate the mission of ensuring the athletes’ safety.
The competition was using a counter balance system for the down line that the athletes would use for their dives. The athlete wears a safety lanyard that connects them to the down line. The down line has a large disk on the bottom making it impossible for the athlete to become separated from the down line. The safety divers have the ability to raise the entire competition line should an athlete be delayed in their return to the surface. The system is designed to also allow for the entire competition line to be raise to the surface by releasing the weight opposite the competition line connected through the counter balance system. This weight pulls the opposite end of the competition line through a set of pulleys lifting the competition line and athlete to the surface should anything go wrong.
Annabel Briseno completed her dive to 52 meters successfully. At that point there was a problem with the counterbalance system. By the time it was corrected, the safety scuba divers were out of position to properly provide assistance. The safety scuba divers are on a very strict schedule for their dives to ensure their safety and ability to provide assistance. If delays occur for a period of time that causes them to ascend shallower than is appropriate for the competition to continue, the competition must be stopped. Grant Graves, President of the USAA stated, "Unfortunately, we had a problem with the counterbalance system that created a safety issue. We were able to fix it, but the delay caused by fixing it presented a safety problem for the safety scuba divers and thus for the competitors. There was no choice but to cancel the remainder of the constant weight competition. When the decision is safety related, it is an easy call. Safety always wins, period."
Annabel Briseno and Kevin Busscher are the 2004 US National Freediving Champions. The US Freediving Team is selected based on performance at the US Nationals.
All who participated enjoyed the competition. Michael Antinori said, "I left the USAA Nationals with the feeling that this was one of those rare moments in which I am absolutely certain I am exactly where I am supposed to be doing exactly what I was meant to be doing. I feel honored to have been part of the first USAA Nationals. There was not a single person that did not appear to be enjoying him or herself and participating in a shared excitement about the event, not a single person. I can’t think of many events I’ve participated in where the positivity seemed so unanimous."
Full results and performances are listed on the website at http://usaa.freedivers.com