Last year, I went to a freediving club meeting in Bandung, Indonesia, for the first time ever. I was blown away to see how many members turned up. If you live in Europe, you might be oblivious to the rocketing popularity of freediving in Indonesia and SEA in recent years. Mikhael Dominico runs Apnea Culture, a club based in Jakarta. He decided a few years ago to start an annual pool competition. The most recent ID Apnea Competition 2016 saw 28 athletes from 5 countries compete and yielded 7 new national records. Here Mikhael talks about the competition and the state of freediving in Indonesia.
DeeperBlue.com: What was the highlight of the competition for you?
Mikhael Dominico: Apart from the surpassing number of participants, new faces in freediving, new national records, and wonderful prizes from the sponsors, nothing can beat the wonderful feeling of having two fantastic days with your fellow freedivers!
DB: How has the competition grown since the first one? Give us an idea of when you started.
MD: It has grown a lot! In 2014, we started very small with only 4 competing athletes. It made us doubt whether we should do it again the year after or not, but we looked back at our initial goal, which was to promote freediving as a safe sport in Indonesia, and so we did it again in 2015 and we had 14 athletes representing 3 countries: Indonesia, Malaysia, and Great Britain!
This year (2016), I personally hoped to have about 20 athletes, amazingly 28 athletes registered representing 5 countries (Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, New Zealand, and Germany). We saw returning athletes from last year and we had new comers, we also got amazing sponsors: Molchanovs, Sea Gods, Blibli.com, Quiksilver Indonesia, Roxy Indonesia, Neeve Project, Assila, Naked Press Juice, Brica Indonesia, C3 Diver, Apnea Freak, and Pondok Gemes, so it has grown really well!
DB: Where did you start Freediving?
MD: I started freediving in Manchester, UK, with Steve Millard – great instructor! I was doing my graduate program there but seems like I also brought something else back that thankfully I can share and develop here in Indonesia. I was very fortunate to be taught by Steve and join his club – Apneist UK, because there, I met different kind of freedivers: recreational freedivers, competitive athletes, photographers, spearfishers, and even those who were just happy to be around.
DB: Why did you start the ID Apnea competition concept?
MD: Unlike in Europe, freediving in Asia (especially in Indonesia) was still in its early stage. People learn freediving mainly for recreational purposes, which make them think that regular training and improving themselves are not important. Additionally, most freedive centers that are available at that time are located in tourist areas such as Bali and Lombok, so training takes more effort and expensive.
We have lots of freediving communities but not all of them are properly educated yet (limited number of instructors and other reasons). This means that freediving development progresses slowly.
Steve organizes an annual freediving pool competition from which I learned that everyone could have a great time in a competition, not only limited to the athletes. It became my foundation to recreate the good vibe and atmosphere here in Indonesia by organizing ID: Apnea Competition; to promote freediving as a safe and fun sport in Indonesia and an event that people can look forward to participating in.
DB: How many clubs are there in Indonesia? Is it a growing sport?
We have 2 clubs in Jakarta, a few clubs in Bali and Lombok, and at least 1 club in Bandung, Makassar, Manado, and several cities across Indonesia. The sport itself is growing quite rapidly in the past few years. Looking at the number of participants each year, the growth is quite significant, especially with male freedivers. We have more female freedivers these days but only a few are interested with competitive freediving.
DB: How do you think Indonesia compares to the rest of the world in pool and depth disciplines?
MD: I think we have a great chance to catch up! There are plenty of unpolished talents here in Indonesia and I am pretty sure with a little bit of effort, patience, and resilience, we will be able to get there.
DB: There were quite a few black outs at the Jakarta comp. What advice would you give competitors to avoid black outs and red cards?
MD: Yes, and personally it was upsetting. But, it is a learning process for everyone including me. For instructors, we need to put more stress on safe attitude and behavior when we teach our students.
For athletes, safety first! Pushing yourself beyond your limit in a competition is not a good approach (IMHO). Aim for white cards! I personally think that going beyond your limit in a competition is the worst strategy that you can think of because by doing that, you put yourself in danger and you are risking all the effort, struggles, and hard work for nothing.
DB: You’re an instructor and a judge. What’s the hardest part about being a judge?
MD: Giving a red card is always difficult for me and I really hate it, especially because when you were there, you know how hard that person tried and you know that no one joins a competition for red cards. In some cases, you were stuck in a position where with your help (e.g. coach their recovery breathing), red cards can be avoided, but you can’t do that because you are their judge. That particular feeling, I really hate it.
DB: Where is your favorite freediving spot in Indo? Why?
MD: Honestly, I haven’t explored Indonesian water as much as others. There are various interesting spots I would say, Manta points in Penida, Turtle City in Gili, Djinn’s Cave in Gorontalo, but so far I like Gili Islands and Bali because I can do my training sessions and also recreational freediving there.
DB: What is your vision for the future of the competition? And for FD in Indonesia?
MD: More whites, fewer reds! And I hope there will be others who wants to take the baton and organize another freediving competition because I also want to compete! =) I hope that freediving in Indonesia will grow in a healthy way, people become more responsible, do things safely, love and care for the environment, but still have a great and fun time underwater.
DB: Who do you think has the potential of being Indonesia’s next best freediver? Pool and depth?
MD: Some people will get mad if I answer this wrongly. Female, we have a strong contender who couldn’t join the competition this year. She has played in the water since she was little which makes her very comfortable in the element. I’m pretty sure our current national records are within her reach. Male, me? Hahaha.. Stanley Sradaputta and Hendra Iriansya are our current athletes who regularly participate in competitions both depth and pool. Each of them has different strengths, I think Hendra had a very solid performance in Static Apnea this year. Stanley, on the other hand, is mainly targeting depth disciplines.
DB: Do you think freediving competitions worldwide are affordable for people who live and work in South East Asia?
MD: It depends on how you see it. If we only look at the competition fee, some competitions are very affordable. Some organizers create mini competitions for a very cheap entry fee. But, when you start to put other costs that athletes need to pay: travel, accommodation, extra training fee, etc, and also put winning probability or expectation about what prize you can get, then the cost becomes somewhat expensive or more like not-worth-participating-in because the cost becomes too high. Plus, our income in here is not as high as in other parts of the world.
DB: Do you think FD should be an Olympic sport? Why/ why not?
MD: Another dilemma. It would be great if it is because the development of the sport will increase significantly. These days, the general freediving athletes are self-funded, which makes it very hard for each of us financially. We have trained very hard, pay our own trip for a competition, with prizes (not always) that in most cases cannot cover their expenses. So, if freediving is an Olympic sport, the government would want to invest in freedivers. As athletes we have more purpose and goal achieve.
So, it is dreamy good. But, I personally still think that seeing people with bad days – blacking out is not a nice view. We need to find ways to overcome this issue.
DB: Any advice for Indonesians or foreigners living in Indonesia who want to get involved in the sport?
MD: We need you guys to develop our beloved sport in here in many aspects. We have clubs and we have nice people around. You can contact me, there are other freediving centers all around Indonesia so it won’t be difficult actually. Just don’t be afraid to ask!
ID Apnea Competition 2016 Top Performances
- DYN: 160m Stefan Randig DEU
- DNF: 106m Stefan Randig DEU
- STA: 7:05 Stefan Randing DEU
- DYN: 153m Azua Shafii MAS
- DNF: 63m Azua Shafii MAS
- STA: 4:48 Azua Shafii MAS