Past Masters : Brett Revisited

"When I first started training I lived on Cayman Brac and was inspired by Pipin. I would work a full day at work as a diving instructor then go home and spend at least two hours training, after that all I wanted to do was to sleep!"-Brett LeMaster-

On the road to the Blue Hole, I found myself stopping in Albuquerque, at the Scuba Adventures dive shop, to get some extra weight. It was the first time since California that I was to dive my 5mm suit. Panama had spoiled me with its 85F waters. I was back to the cold temps!

Wayne, a scuba instructor who teaches at Scuba Adventures, helped me to figure out what I needed for this particular occasion. The Blue Hole in Santa Rosa, New Mexico is one of the most unique geological phenomenons in the Southwestern U.S.A. Its crystal clear blue, bell shaped pool delivers up to 3,000 gallons of water per minute at a constant 64 degree (F) temperature. It is thermally heated by underground springs. The Blue Hole is 81 feet deep, 60 feet in diameter at the surface, and widens to 130 feet in diameter at the bottom. Wayne told me that his students do their bopen water training dives there. Due to the small amount of weight I asked him to give me, he was curious to know what kind of diving I was going to do. When I told him I was heading to the Blue Hole to go freediving, his face lit up and he said: "I used to work with a guy who trained there, you might have heard of him. His name is Brett LeMaster. He worked with us for a while and then moved to the Caymans…"

Of course I had heard of him! Inspired by the whole conversation and after an incredible training session in the crystal clear water of the Blue Hole I decided to contact Brett for an interview. I had practiced in the same water of a world record holder! I felt somehow we had something in common.

Brett, Tell me what got you into freediving?

"Back in 1995, I watched a video of one of the world champions doing some warm up dives to 100+ ft and just thought it was so cool and graceful, almost like a dance. Later I was amazed at how much closer to the marine life I could get and the difference in their behavior. On scuba we have such a presence in the water with all the gear and noises. Fish are just like us. When they know they are being watched they sometimes behave differently. Freediving, they respond to us as if we were any other marine mammal."

Did you really start training at the Blue Hole in New Mexico?

"I wouldn’t say I did much training there, but it was the place I first tried to go really deep. At the time I was working part time for The Scuba Company in Albuquerque, which sends their students there to do the open water dive for scuba certification. Looking at the Blue Hole, I thought if I could hold my breath for 3 minutes I could go to the bottom and back. What I didn’t think about is there is quite a difference between holding your breath setting still and holding your breath while swimming. Also, I did not think too much about the physics of a freedive. The Blue Hole is 81 feet deep, and I was wearing a 1/4inch wet suit and 14lbs. of lead! Once I reached 30ft and the suit began to compress it was a little unnerving. I was falling like a stone, all I could think was to equalize! The return trip was a bit more difficult than I had expected due to the small scuba fins I was wearing. Needless to say it was a learning experience. I did of course survive and wasn’t too shaken up. Later on, I would return to New Mexico before the world record, while on vacation from the Cayman Islands.

This is the most frequent question I would get on the dive boat:" So what do you do for vacation if you are living here?" the answer was go to New Mexico put on a suit, sit in traffic, and dive at The Blue Hole!"

When you first started training, was it more for fun or did you already have some objectives for breaking records?

"It is always for the fun and I was constantly drawn to the deep. It was just in me to want to go deeper and to see how far I could go, and finally be able to answer that question: "What is my limit?" One day I dipped below 150 feet. I knew I could go deeper. But it was beginning to get risky for the people I had there to support me. They are my good friends and would have done anything I asked of them, but I just didn’t want to put them at risk because of my passion. In freediving, risk to the freediver is relatively small compared to the risk that the scuba diver takes to wait down there at the bottom of your training line, waiting for you to show up."

What kind of gear were you diving with at the time?

"At the time when I started training for the record it was difficult to get good fins and masks because I was living on an island 12 miles long and 1 mile wide. Everything had to be shipped and duty paid. Halfway through training for the national record I was given some carbon fiber fins and things began to click. I found diving without a mask made equalization easier."

Did you have a mentor or where you more of a lone ranger?

"In 1997 Pipin came to Cayman Brac for a one day class, then about 1 month later he came to Grand Cayman for a three-day class. I was looking for technique but more than that, I wanted to know about the physiology occurring in the human body while freediving. Some of my questions were answered but I found that the answers often left me with more questions. I would have to say that I learned the most from Kirk Krack. It was with him we began to learn and experiment and we/he developed Performance Freediving. Before PFD came along there wasn’t much out there as far as freediving instruction. I cannot stress how important it is to get the right and safe instruction for freediving. I learned tremendously from myself and what I could really achieve. I would also like to add that the dolphin has been a mentor for technique and they taught me to love freediving for more than just records and glory. "

What was the first competition you attended, and where?

"My first competition was in the Red Sea at the "Red Sea Dive Off" in 1999. I guess I did ok for my first comp, I got third over all in the constant weight. I enjoyed diving in the Red Sea and recommend it to anyone. "

Was your altitude training paying off at sea level for competition?

"Yes, I think living in Angel Fire New Mexico which is 8,500 ft till I was 22 then Albuquerque at over 5,000 ft, caused me to develop large lungs and heart. However, it isn’t all about lung volume."

What led you to challenge the actual constant weight record at the time held by Pelizzari?

"I first really believed that I could do it and my friend and trainer Kirk Krack believed I could do it. Pelizzari was a hero of mine, but he had held the record for over 7 years and not many people believed he could be beat, especially not by someone that had only been freediving for 5 years. It was also a deep desire to be the best at something even if "it was only for a day" as I used to say. One of the best times I remember was standing at the stern of the boat after training in the ocean, knowing that I had just gone deeper than all of my freediving heroes, in fact, deeper than anyone in the world and only me and my dive team knew it. On the way out to the training site, Kirk would always ask, "How many people do you think are doing what you are doing today?"

Your record was really a breakthrough in the history of freediving in the US. In ’99 you took the record from the legendary Pelizzari and put your name in the AIDA records that had been blanketed with Europeans, Cuban and mainly Italians names.

"I know my record is not anything compared to what they are doing now, but I think that it made others believe if I could do it maybe they could. I may be wrong about this but it just seems that after my record there was a renewed interest in record-setting and freediving in general."

How old were you when you achieved the 81 meters in constant weight?

"I was 36 years young. Its all about training and desire!"

Do you think that the press at the time (U.S and worldwide) had good coverage of your accomplishment?

"No, I don’t think it was promoted very well mostly from lack of money. After the record I was left really broke. What press I did receive was really great and I am thankful. "

What are you up to these days in Hawaii?

"I have had many freediving encounters with humpback whales, mantas, pilot whales, sharks and of course dolphins. In fact, I would not trade all the records in the world for the moments I have spent with them out in the blue. I also captain a boat for Dolphin Discoveries that goes out everyday to find dolphins or whales, you know, anything cool. I also teach freediving classes on my own. "

Any "underground" training for future world record breaking that Deeper Blue should know about?

"No, I can no longer justify the amount of time and money it takes to train and do a record. It seems they are getting broken every couple of months! I guess I just don’t have the ego for it."

Last but not least, any mermaid encounters so far in your "deep career"?

"Ah, finally you want to know about women… Ha! I have been very fortunate to have met a few very fine women, but I have yet to be married. In fact, I am beginning to think my soul mate died at birth, ha-ha just kidding! There is a student of mine that likes to go freediving topless and has become known all over the island as the "mermaid". "

Brett insisted on adding a few parting words after the interview, especially on his days in the Cayman islands before the world record…..

"When I first started training I lived on Cayman Brac and was inspired by Pipin. I would work a full day at work as a dive instructor then go home and spend at least two hours training. After that all I wanted to do was to go to sleep.

Boys and girls, if there is a special someone you are involved with that you want to get rid of, this will do it! However, it was easy to focus in the Caymans because there wasn’t much else to do but drink. Now I only train when I need to train for a competition. As far as the training techniques we used they also have changed. Training got more specific and a lot safer than the old days. I still laugh when I hear about these surfers here in Hawaii that dive down to the sea floor and pick up a rock, trying to run as far as they can underwater, to train for big wave riding. It is like the caveman style we use to practice!"

After emailing a few times with Brett and asking multiple questions, I realized that freediving, at a competition level, is extremely demanding not only physically and psychologically but also financially! Sponsorship in this field is nothing easy. As it is slowly developing into a more recognized sport, sponsorship is easier to find. People like Brett LeMaster, and many many others have helped tremendously in getting that recognition. Through hard work and self discipline, but most of all through passion and desire the limits are getting pushed further and further.

For more info on Brett LeMaster and Performance Freediving, go to:

http://www.performancefreediving.com/team.html

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