The Bonaire DeepSea Challenge 2016 turned out to be a late summer gift for Ashley Futral Chapman. The athletic beauty from North Carolina seemed to have found an inner peace-of-mind and physical flow there, that not only allowed her to generate another pair of national records for the United States, but to win the competition outright. Which also means she continues to improve upon all of her very own freediving performances, as she is the only American woman to hold every single depth record (self-propelled), and to have held them all handily for the past four years. As impressive as setting a total of four national records is (just this summer alone), the ever humble Mrs. Chapman, and her husband Ren, were kind enough to sit down and share with us their perspectives on achieving goals, training, motherhood and marriage.

Mother daughter duo at the 2016 Carib Cup
Mother daughter duo at the 2016 Carib Cup

DeeperBlue.com: How did your performance in Roatan, earlier this summer, feel to you?  What was your frame of mind – were you thinking or were you more automated?

Ashley Futral Chapman: Going into the Carib cup comp in May I was expecting to earn national records across the board.  Although I hadn’t trained depth for FIM or CWT I was sure I could push the records a little.  CNF was supposed to be the bread winner but I ran out of time for this record since there were complications with the other two disciplines as a direct result of the lack of depth training.  I turned early three times cumulatively attempting both the 83m CWT and 83m FIM dives in Roatan.  Basically I spent the sink phase during each dive focusing on equalization and trying to relax.  Same old thing everyone does during sink phase.  However, there is one thing I noticed about my dives during training.  In an attempt to really work on the mental aspect of the sport and become a calmer, more attuned diver I lost my edge!  I lost that something that allows me to throw down during a dive and touch the plate.  So, I started talking a little junk to myself before my successful record dives.  I told myself to get over it and just touch the plate.  I didn’t baby myself or try to become one with the sea.  I got pumped up and touched the plate, twice.

DB: Just out of curiosity how many strong kicks in your Constant Weight (CWT) descent?

AFC: For curiosities sake, 10 strong kicks (although they’re pretty relaxed throughout both cycles), a couple more, grouper call, a couple more then sink.

An athlete and her coach (photo courtesy of Den_GC)
An athlete and her coach (photo courtesy of Den_GC)

DB: How did this summer’s first two National Records in Roatan feel in comparison to the last time you set three NR’s you set in Long Island in 2012? Is it more fun for you to have a head-to-head competitor where you skills are evenly matched and your “experience” in life is more equated?

AFC: Everything I accomplished in Roatan was hard earned!  There is no free lunch for me at this stage in my life.  Before, and when I say “before” I mean pre-Ani, training, relaxation, eating, everything essential to a diving routine is uninterrupted, unadulterated, and easy!  Now, everything is complicated.  We spent this season training with Ani along side of us most days which means all attention goes to her until someone carves out 30 minutes of their time for me to fit in a quick warm up, breath up and dive.  There is not a lot of time to get into the proper mental state for diving.  Out of the water is the same.  Nutrition revolves around making sure she gets hers, then putting her down for nap time, then I dedicate any time I find for myself during her nap time, to catching-up on the internet and trying to keep our business running.
The thing is, although I became somewhat partially depressed during this training season, (because things were not coming as easily as they had in the past) I am more proud of where I’ve come this year on many levels than I was of any of my world records.  This year has been (and still is) an opportunity for growth beyond gaining depth.  Personal, familial and spiritual growth are at the very top of my priority list.  If these are achieved, depth comes!

Chapman in the water (photo courtesy Igor Liberti)
Chapman in the water (photo courtesy Igor Liberti)

As for the competition, it is still stiff out there, even without Alena breathing down my neck. I had to choke out a 2m FIM jump on the last day of the Carib Cup, after two days of ear lock up issues, just to secure a shared first place. With the other girls focusing on depth and leaving me in the dust, the pressure is certainly on. I loved competing against Alena, and I reached out to her during training for Caribbean Cup because she has something else I need now. Instead of pushing me to depth with her awesome performances we are sharing notes on getting back into competitive diving, getting back down to depth and managing our families. She offered me great encouragement by indulging her own struggles in training. It would be great to dive alongside her again. This time, with our kids by our sides.

#girlswhofreedive (photo by Alex St. Jean)
#girlswhofreedive (photo by Alex St. Jean)

DB: Ren, how do you train, coach, parent, live on a boat, spend nearly every waking second together and not kill each other?

Ren Chapman: Ashley and I have a great relationship and it’s obvious considering all that you mentioned. Out of all these roles you just mentioned the hardest role for me is that of being “the coach”. I have to be extremely tactful (something that doesn’t come naturally for me) in my approach to “suggesting” what she should do. And in no way am I allowed to criticize her lack of training. Now this doesn’t mean I can’t let her know what I see once we’re in the water, because when she is there and doing what she does she is all business and the critiques are welcome. But pre-ocean coaching is hard and we are finding it is actually where the biggest gains are made. What I have figured out, is in order for her to train properly that we discuss (together) what she needs to work on, and then I have to become the primary caregiver to Ani, to give her the time to do it. Makes sense right?

Born to be a mama...
Born to be a mama…

DB: How has your daughter, Ani, changed your freediving (I don’t simply mean the interference of training, I mean as a mother do you approach things differently?)

AFC: Tons of people ask me if freediving is easier now because they all assume that women have super powers after childbirth because of the extra blood volume gained during pregnancy.  Well, they levels drop back to pre-pregnancy levels so, despite myself, no super powers physically.  And no, absolutely no way is freediving easier now than before Ani.  Every biological urge is telling me, ‘Freediving is a terrible idea!  Ani is NOT ok on the surface!  Something bad is happening to her right now while you’re trying to dive.  Go back up now!’  Anyway, despite these misgivings I decide to put everything in a compartment, put one person in total charge of Ani’s safety while I’m down…then go for it.

Ashley and her greatest accomplishment, Ani (photo courtesy of Ren Chapman)
Ashley and her proudest accomplishment, Ani (photo courtesy of Ren Chapman)

RC: The focus has changed from trying to be the best freediver to being a mother, period. Diving is secondary as it should be. Training suffers for lack of time and her approach to the diving is less important. This doesn’t mean that she doesn’t work on the diving because it seems to always be on her mind. She trains, just not like she should if she wanted to be the absolute best. I know that this frustrates her but at the end of the day she would never regret the position that being a parent has put her, in and neither would I. Ashley was meant for this role.

When I first met Ashley the thing that attracted me to her was her fun, out-going personality. She was super friendly and had a bomb handshake. She was on her way to Africa to serve in the Peace Corp so she was clearly adventurous as well. I thought “Hmm, she would make a great mother”. I think that instinct took over for me so I married her and I was right! She has made an amazing partner and an even more amazing mother. Besides that she is damn good looking.

Sirens of the sea, Ashley & Ani (photo courtesy of Ren Chapman)
Sirens of the sea, Ashley & Ani (photo courtesy of Ren Chapman)

DB: What nutritional or dietary changes (additions or subtractions) have you made in recent years? any super food secrets? or is it all ice-cream all the time?

AFC: You had to mention ice cream huh?  To a woman typing answers on a sweltering hot computer, in a sweltering hot boat, on a sweltering hot day in Key West, uuggh!  The only way to fix this issue is go for ice cream when Ani wakes from her nap.  I digress, my diet has only changed a little since my 2012 freediving season.  This year I focused on being mostly but not strictly vegetarian.  I used to shun meat while training since we weren’t available to catch or kill our own.  However, I started listening to my body more and eating just a little meat here and there when I felt the strong craving for it.  It’s evident that when left to our own logic as opposed to intuition, people make a complete mess of food and their eating habits.  To avoid this, I listened to my body.  Another thing I tried for the first time ever was portion control!  Man does that work!  I ate only what I needed to become full (and only after making sure I was hydrated).  By doing this I had more energy before, during and after my dives.  Recovery was never a problem.

Once I made the mistake, during training, to overeat the night before a big dive.  To boot I had meat. Yep, that caused major issues in the form of a blackout.  Too much digestion going on, and digestion I wasn’t used to accounting for.  When you get to your maximum potential, every thing you put into your body matters.  I learned a lot from Davide Carrera, the raw food king and Miguel Lozano, who also has indulgence issues but has done a great job getting into peak condition this year.  His information in particular was relative to my experiences.

So, in the words of Michael Pollan, “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” Words to live by!

Ashley prepares for a CNF dive
Ashley prepares for a CNF dive

DB: Who do you admire in the field (either male or female or both) and why?

AFC: Since freediving is still such a fringe sport and your biggest competition is likely also your roommate, training buddy, or even best friend, everyone leaves a mark. There is something admirable to take home from everyone’s experiences. That being said, if I had to choose one person this training season to admire it would be Davide Carrera from Italy.  He spent months training with us in Roatan, Honduras and was a huge light in an otherwise, sometimes dark space. I had major issues during training coping with the complexities of freediving, family and the insistence of my own ego. Davide was an awesome inspiration. He watched me cry, then related to me. He watched me fail, then related to me. He dove with us every morning and attended church beside us every Sunday. We talked about the deeper issues which do not include Ani. The deeper issues were my constant coming to grips with my ego, trying to be selfless and figure out if I can freedive without success. If I can continue to dive with pleasure and gratitude during failures and even if every other freediver surpasses my in depth. I’m not sure I want to answer that question out loud but I do know that Davide inspired me to answer some more personal assaults that have been marinating for a while. Craig Groeschel says it best, “We impress each other with our accomplishments but bond over our weaknesses.”

Ashley gets terrific support from Davide Carrera
Ashley gets terrific support from Davide Carrera (photo courtesy of Mark Tilley)

DB: Why do you freedive? What does the ocean give you?

AFC: This is such a hard question to answer. I have always claimed that I am not in whimsical love with the ocean as other divers seem to be. My fellow athletes gush on about the ocean and how she heals and how they can’t stand to be away from her and they love the depth, blah, blah, blah, while I listen and wonder how I have them all fooled?  I feel like such a hack sometimes compared to the others who’s mother is the ocean, having birthed them herself! That being said, I can’t recall many divers as intimately dependent on the ocean as my family and I am. We live and sail around on our boat, make water to drink, eat, make a living and recreate on the ocean. Because of all of this I think the ocean, to me, is like a less idealized version of “mother”. The ocean is more like a real, pragmatic Mom to us.  She provides for us and fills us with great wonder, but also has no problem when it comes to smacking us around and reminding us who is boss from time to time.  The interdependence we have and the character building lessons we learn, constantly, remind me to appreciate wholly our relationship in the ocean. It is much deeper than a flippant declaration of ‘love’.

I expect freediving has much the same affect on me as sailing does.  It’s always a love-hate. The elation I feel after an awesome dive is only significant when compared to the frustrations of my failures. The contrast is addictive.

Ashley celebrates a white card in Bonaire (photo courtesy of Den_GC)
Ashley celebrates a white card in Bonaire (photo courtesy of Den_GC)

RC: In my opinion what we have on the boat that is different from conventional living on land, is that we are capable of spending the majority of our time together as a family. In a conventional situation, I or Ashley would be working to support a mortgage, a car, insurance for all these things, etc but with living on the boat, we are self-contained and don’t need as much to sustain. Our work is on and in the ocean and our sailboat pulls up right next to it and contains almost every luxury a home contains except a 54″ widescreen and a sofa/love seat combo.

DB:How did your 84m constant weight National Record dive at the DeepSea Challenge 2016 competition, feel different from your 83m performance in Roatan?

AFC:  I can honestly say my latest CWT national record dive to 84 meters was one of the most comfortable dives I’ve ever experienced! As I mentioned my focus leading up to the DeepSea Challenge 2016 was depth. I never solely focus on depth and so I’m really interested in trying my hand at it. Taking the advice of Carlos Coste (and of course with help from Ren) I executed a couple of solid weeks worth of negative dives. They worked! My 84m dive was super relaxed, no hypoxia and my equalization is coming together nicely. Thank god for answered prayers because I had some anxiety going into Bonaire …and now it’s gone. I can continue to train my depth equalization with ease since I know I definitively have gas left in the tank.

Ashley on her way to a new 84m record in Bonaire (photo courtesy Den_GC)
Ashley on her way to a new 84m record in Bonaire (photo courtesy Den_GC)

DB: Ashley do you have OTHER freediving goals for this year?

AFC: Going into this season I thought my main goal was to break the CNF world record. This is still on the table but not an immediate, pressing goal anymore. It will happen when my body is ready. Goals for this year, include focusing on depth for the first time in my life!  When you are always training CNF you never get to explore depth.  Physically I know I can handle the bigger dives (90m +) but I need time to get there, work through equalization, etc.  I would love to do that for a while and see what happens.  We aren’t scheduled for another long term training for a while so it might be harder than attacking CNF.  We shall see…

Ashley has scales and gills like a fish (photo courtesy of Igor Liberti)
Ashley has scales and gills like a fish (photo courtesy of Igor Liberti)

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