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HomeFreedivingInterview: Michael Bates, Organizer Of The Australian Depth National Freediving Championship 2016

Interview: Michael Bates, Organizer Of The Australian Depth National Freediving Championship 2016

The Australian Depth National Freediving Championship 2016 will take place in Tulamben from 13th to 16th November. spoke to the organizer, Michael Bates, about this year’s event.

DB: You organized last year’s competition. What was your personal highlight?

Michael Bates: There are a lot. Like every freediving competition I’ve been to, it was a fantastic atmosphere. Personally, though, I would have to say that my highlight would have to be that I did a personal best on every dive which was ended up being enough to win overall.

DB: How many entrants have you got so far? How many spaces are there?

MB: We have space for 20 athletes. We have 12 people fully registered, and a couple more who have expressed interest.

DB: Any pro athletes we should keep an eye on especially around world record attempts?

MB: Ant Judge is one to watch – he is a seasoned veteran of freediving competitions and holds the current Australian record in Free Immersion and I get the feeling he isn’t done with Australian records. The women’s competition is going to be one to watch too – last year Amber Bourke beat Emily Shaw for the overall by only one point. They’re both back this year and are dedicating a lot of time to pre-competition training.

DB: Why Tulamben?

MB: Most of the coastline around Australia has a wide continental shelf, so, finding plenty of depth without going a long way offshore is difficult. The nearest places where it is easy to run competitions of this nature is Bali or a (cold and murky) lake in New Zealand. The choice is simple really! We chose Tulamben specifically because of Apnea Bali – they are extremely professional and have all of the expertise and equipment needed to run an excellent competition.

DB: Is the comp open to all nationalities? How does entry work?

MB: The competition is open to all nationalities, but, we limit it to AFA members. This limitation is because it is the Australian Championship, and since we have to limit numbers, we have to cater to our members. But, in only two editions, we have had Australians, New Zealanders, Indonesians, French, and Ukrainians compete. In fact, last year, there were Australian, Indonesian, and Ukrainian national records set!

DB: How do you promote FreeDiving back in Australia?

MB: We primarily focus on providing support to clubs and training groups. For example, there has been a lot of problems lately with pools banning any kind of apnea, and we’ve been working very hard to ensure our members have access to training facilities. We also do things like organizing competitions. We have a big focus on safety practices too, and ensuring our sport is practiced safely.

Our membership continues to grow which, I think, reflects both the fact that freediving is becoming more popular, but also because we are also working hard to promote and improve the sport at all levels.

DB: What advice would you give to a first-time competitor?

MB: I probably have two pieces of advice. Most importantly, have lots of fun. The second is to be deliberately conservative (which helps with the first). Freediving competitions have a lot of procedures that don’t have analogs in most mainstream sports, and first-time competitors can find it daunting. If you dive conservatively it takes the pressure of performance off. It means you can focus on enjoying yourself, you can get those procedures right, and the white cards will naturally follow. That will give you confidence next time to give yourself start pushing yourself a bit more.

DB:Why should people do competitions?

MB: Personally, there are probably two reasons why I do competitions. The first is because of the people and I have a lot of fun meeting new and old friends. In my experience, freedivers are amongst the nicest and most diverse people on the planet.

Secondly, it’s the personal challenge. Freediving is unique because it requires you to be mentally prepared to push your body physically, but, in order to achieve that you need to be as relaxed as possible. Unlike other sports, adrenaline is your enemy. The pressure of having to commence your dive in a 30-second window (decided by the competition organizer) does put pressure on you and accentuates this dichotomy. It is the mental and physical challenge that draws me to competitions.

DB: What makes this competition so special?

MB: I’m going to sound like a broken record here, but, it’s the people. It’s not just that though – the water in Bali is beautiful, and the backdrop of Mt Agung makes it a spectacular location. And, I love Indonesian cuisine!

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Yvette Bezuidenhout
Yvette Bezuidenhout
Past life: scuba instructor. English teacher/ freediver. Author of Wayan and the Turtle King, a children's book on the effects of plastic on the marine environment.