Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Getting Deep with Orca Brand Ambassador William Trubridge


If you only know one name in competitive freediving, it’s probably William Trubridge.

Setting his first world record in 2007, his career has gone from high to high – or rather, depth to depth.  Born in England but raised in New Zealand, William today makes his home in the Bahamas, where he can train regularly in Dean’s Blue Hole. He was kind enough to give us an hour of his time to talk about his relationship with Orca wetsuits: how he came to be involved with them, where they’ve been together, and how he uses his particular expertise to help Orca make their top-of-the-line freediving wetsuits even better.

Early in his freediving career, in 2004, William recalls watching Jamaican freediver David Lee set a new world freediving record – reaching a depth of 65 meters (213 feet) in the unassisted constant ballast category.

William Trubridge in his Orca Zen Competition Freediving Wetsuit
William Trubridge in his Orca Zen Competition Freediving Wetsuit

“He was wearing an Orca tri suit,” William said. “An Apex, I think.” Though engineered for a different sport, they were the best in the business, and William wanted to dive in their suits. A relative unknown himself at the time, William wrote to Orca, also from New Zealand, about a possible sponsorship.

They agreed and sent him a couple of triathlon suits. Within a couple of years, however, William and Orca would become much more prominent in the freediving world – William by setting, then breaking, one world apnea record after another – and Orca by beginning to design sport-specific dedicated freediving wetsuits.

A few years after beginning their partnership, Orca began developing the Pure wetsuit first, then the Breathe, and their current top suit, the Zen.

Over the years, William has brought his expertise to Orca’s development process, giving feedback on what works and what doesn’t. When given a new prototype to try out, he evaluates everything from the paneling, thickness, and flexibility to the compression and drag. Orca thoughtfully designs each aspect of the suit to meet the specific needs of athletes based on the demands of their particular water sport.

For freediving, compression is essential, as William explains that keeping it tight around the lungs enhances the dive reflex. Drag, too, is critical, both in terms of surface drag and form drag. Surface drag is just what it sounds like – the little imperfections of skin or wetsuit material that give water a chance to resist, and it’s mitigated by the use of silicone-coated neoprene, which creates a smooth, slick surface for the water to glide across. Form drag has a greater effect on streamlining and is caused by the inevitable lumpiness and bumpiness of the human body.

Here, compression comes into play again, squeezing circumferentially to smooth all extremities into hydrodynamic cylinders. A suit’s flexibility is another way it supports and enhances the freediver’s abilities. William explained how Orca suits use more flexible neoprene panels under the arms and between the legs to eliminate resistance on the recovery part of each stroke. All of these features combine in a way that helps the diver “get off the surface” and into the depths below.

William Trubridge in his Orca Zen Competition Freediving Wetsuit
William Trubridge in his Orca Zen Competition Freediving Wetsuit

These days, he’s using the Orca Zen, a 1.5 mm suit lined with nylon on the inside and Smoothskin on the outside. The cut is like their previous suits, so it fits like an old friend for William. His favorite feature of this generation of Orca freediving suit is the graphic design of how it looks underwater. “It’s the most stylish on the market.” He keeps one fresh for competition, but after that, he uses them for training, and even though the Mantra is Orca’s “durable” suit, William’s Zens stand up to 2-3 hours of training a day for months on end.

He couldn’t think of anything when we asked him where he’d like to see Orca’s suits improve or expand. “They’re doing it already, and if I thought of anything, I’d suggest it.” So we turned the conversation to the most interesting place he’d ever taken his Orca wetsuit. What came next was a tale of another kind of freediving record, this one of length rather than depth.

In 2019, Willam crossed the Cook Strait and did it underwater. Not all in a single go, but as a series of 934 freedives over nine hours. At its narrowest, the Cook Strait is a 23-kilometer (14-mile) strip of water that separates the North and South Islands of New Zealand. Lined on both sides by cliffs, the Strait is considered to have some of the roughest waters in the world.

So why would he attempt this dangerous feat? Was it simply for the glory, just another frontier to conquer?

William Trubridge in his Orca Zen Competition Freediving Wetsuit
William Trubridge in his Orca Zen Competition Freediving Wetsuit

It turns out that William braved the crossing to raise awareness of the plight of one of the world’s smallest species of dolphins and to pressure the New Zealand government to enact stricter fishing laws to protect them.  The Hector’s and its subspecies, the Maui dolphin, are both endemic to New Zealand and critically endangered.  

Overfishing, infectious disease, and loss of genetic diversity have left fewer than 15,000 Hector’s dolphins and possibly fewer than 50 Maui dolphins in the wild. In their honor, William used a dolphin kick and a monofin to traverse the treacherous seas of the Strait just as the cetaceans would.

William was working on yet another freediving first at our interview, involving his favorite training spot, Dean’s Blue Hole.  It is an ideal place to practice depth diving; most dives there are straight down and back up.  But the Blue Hole isn’t a straightforward cylinder—ten to twenty meters (32-65 feet) below the surface, the sides of the hole flare out at a 30-degree slope, another 50-60 meters out, and 30 or so meters (98 feet) down before once again shearing vertically to the sea floor. William’s goal was to swim down that slope to the inner edge of the hole and back to the surface on a single breath. He and his Orca Zen wetsuit successfully made the dive that very week.

William’s relationship with Orca has been faithful ever since they sent a couple of tri suits to a promising young athlete in the early aughts. And as if the continuing devotion of a world champion freediver wasn’t enough, he offered a final, eighteen-fold endorsement. Looking back over his meteoric career, William observed, “Every world record I’ve ever set has been in an Orca.”

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Erin Durbin-Sherer
Erin Durbin-Sherer
Erin began diving in 2012 as preparation for a trip to Hawaii and before the year was out she'd left her old life behind to work in the dive industry full-time. When she's not out exploring the deep and collecting c-cards, you might find her making art or working on her master's thesis in cultural anthropology at San Diego State University. Erin is an Associate Editor with