From Kona to Almost the One

Planning for my trip to the Sony Freediver Open Classic in Limassol, Cyprus started back in late Oct 2002 right after the Pacific Cup here in Kona. The Cyprus competition was the major international competition of the year after the 2003 World championships in Turkey were cancelled. I have watched other professional athletes in freediving such as Tanya Streeter, my fellow American Team member, make a living from promoting the sport with sponsors and TV and I thought that finding the finances to get me to the competition could not be that difficult. I was very wrong. I started working on getting sponsorship and found out very quickly that getting sponsors is an extremely tough job.  I applied for a grant from the Outrigger Kahanamoku Foundation and after much waiting and pleading I received some financial help.  I approached Picasso America and asked if they would help me out and be my wetsuit sponsor. He kindly referred me to Sterling Kaya at Hana Pa’a Hawaii saying he was his rep for Hawaii. After many emails he sent me a size chart for a custom suit and agreed to supply me a great suit, which would prove invaluable.  

After many phone calls and many more emails I ended up raising a little over $4000.00 to cover my expenses all from local business and particular thanks to Fair Wind where I work. Now I could afford to make the trip to Cyprus. I didn’t expect the US dollar to be so worthless there; the exchange rate did not work in my favor so I was on a serious budget.

I started training the first day after my arrival to acclimatize to the water temperature and ocean conditions. The water was much colder than I was used to, but the suit kept me warm. I was much more buoyant than I had trained with so I had to wear more weight. I had a couple of good days of training then a day of not feeling well so I decided to take a couple of days off and wait for official training on the competition barge.

The first day of official training went great, I was warm and comfortable in the water and my entire warm up dives went great. On my target dive I reached a depth of 210ft and surfaced clean and controlled.

The next day May 26th, my birthday, I was a bit nervous before my dive. I wanted to dive to at least 210ft again to be confident that I could do it, and then I’d pull back a bit and attempt 206ft in competition to become the deepest male American in an international competition. Previous World record holder Brett LeMaster held that distinction from last year at the Pacific Cup at 203ft. My dive went without a hitch and upon surfacing checked my gauge, it read 230ft my new personal record and pretty good birthday present to myself. Now I had to make up my mind on what I was going to attempt for the competition, I decided on 213ft. I felt confidant I could make it all I had to do is prove it.

Competition day came, I had never been so nervous. I had woken up at about 4:00am and waited until it was time to catch the shuttle boat out to the barge. I went to the competition solo, so I had no coach or teammates to help me with warming up and taking me through the competition. I asked a fellow freediver to help me in the competition zone. I did my warm ups by myself with no problem, but it was good to have someone there in the competition zone. I made my way into the competition zone and was overwhelmed by safety divers strapping on the official depth gauge and safety lanyard, I was also getting kicked by the safety divers from the other competition line. I focused on the task at hand and got myself into a mental zone. I had been shivering up until this point because the water temperature had dropped drastically, now that was gone. The months of training had kicked in and I was on autopilot.

The two-minute count down began and things went quiet. The count down reached ten seconds and I started packing in my last breath until I was so full I thought I’d burst. I went into my dive and things went great. I reached the bottom with no trouble and started for the surface. I was telling myself on the way back to the surface “this was the easy part” the next thing I new the safety diver was in my face. I surfaced took two full recovery breaths, removed my mask, signaled OK to the judges. I saw the judges pull out all white cards; I was cleared to leave the area. I did it, the deepest American in an international competition.

With the first section successfully completed I now had to focus on the static apnea competition. My training in static had been going very well had been doing a comfortable seven minutes each time. Then I started to fall off after my constant ballast dive. I was so excited about the dive I was having a hard time focusing on the static competition ahead. I had a couple of bad days leading up to the static competition and had only done a static of six minutes the day before the competition. Now I was getting nervous about the static competition and couldn’t sleep well.  

My official start time was at 4:48 pm so I’d have to wait around all day. By the time I was allowed into the water I started to focus, but the nerves were still there. I still didn’t have a coach to take me through warm ups and competition and because I don’t wear a mask for static’s I can’t time myself. I had to ask three different people to help me. My first warm up didn’t go very well because the girl helping me didn’t understand what I wanted to do.

Then my roommate, one of the UK team came to help. He took me all the way through the rest of the static competition. As I laid in the competition zone breathing up I was hoping I wouldn’t hear my name being announced over the loud speaker for fear it would raise my heart rate, so I started breathing loud enough to muffle the sound, it worked.

Now came the count down, I was ready. I rolled over and got into the zone. I do a self-taught meditation and was feeling great. I started getting my signals from the safety diver at 4 minutes and 30 seconds and would get them thirty seconds apart until 5 minutes and 30 seconds and from there every fifteen seconds until I came up. I reached 6 minutes and 45 seconds and thought to myself “hold on for a few more seconds”. I surfaced at 6 minutes and 51 seconds; I had broken my own US National record by 2 seconds.

That evening was the awards ceremony; I thought my only chance at winning anything was the fact that I had been picked up on a dream team of Bill Stromberg of Sweden and Herbert Nitsch of Austria. As they announced the team winners, which were “Team Babylonia” from Monaco I told Lee Donnelly “there goes my chances of winning something here”. He looked at me and said, “I’ve seen the numbers” which I didn’t understand.

Howard Jones of Freediver Magazine, who hosted the event, started announcing the men’s individual competition. He said “this guy came from half way around the world to compete”. I was still asking Lee what he was talking about when Howard said “and the 3rd place winner at the Sony FreeDiver Open Classic is Deron Verbeck” I stood there in shock for a moment then Lee said, “you just won third place”. The crowd went crazy and I just threw up my arms and started screaming. Up on stage I accepted my new Suunto Titanium Stinger watch and held it up for everyone to see. There was a swarm of media around me and it was overwhelming. The rest of the night I was in shock, I thought I might have made it into the top ten but 3rd ? The party that night was rockin’ and I didn’t get to sleep until 10:00am the next morning. I walked around the hotel for a couple of days in a daze until it was time to come home to Kona. 

The Sony FreeDiver Open Classic was an incredible experience and I will be riding the high for some time. The organizers did an excellent job making things run smoothly and my hat goes off to them. I also want to give my congratulations to all the other competitors who came to the event and gave it their best go. I’m sure everyone learned a valuable lesson, it’s not winning, it’s taking part that matters. I will keep training and competing for as long as I can and do the best I can to promote this sport that I love so much called freediving.  

Check out the Photos

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Official Website

In addition to the coverage here, why not visit the Official Competition Website

Partners

Why not visit Apnea Magazine for Italian, or SportalSub.net for Spanish translations of our coverage?