PFD Cayman 2004: Game Day 21st March

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In Association with Performance FreeDiving

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Mandy did it, Martin did not.

           Mandy blew the doors out, and with the greatest of ease. My day began early, running around the island with Kirk Krack in a rented van on logistical missions of infinite complexity and criticality. Mandy began hers with gentle stretching, along with some inspirational DVD and music content.

           Martin was up early, editing video on his laptop for transmission to the PFD website.

           Shortly after 11:00 AM, Kirk Krack sat with AIDA judges Bill Stromberg and Nicolas Laporte for the mandatory review of event plans, safety and rescue deployments, and AIDA regulations. The meeting lasted about 30 minutes.

            Soon after that, it was time to go to the dock, board the two dive boats and head for blue water. 

            The mood was relaxed, the athletes and crew focussed. There had been some concern that the high winds and rough seas experienced several times during the train-up weeks would complicate matters, but the ocean was more or less calm and only the gentlest of offshore breezes blew out of  the northeast.

           There were some clouds, some rather dark and menacing ones on the horizons and more than a few obscuring the sun overhead. Martin didn’t like the overcast. “ I prefer clear skies”, he remarked. “ I like the sun to warm me while I breathe up on the surface.”

           This event marks a sharp improvement over previous Performance Freediving record attempts with respect to budgets and resources. Nonetheless, there are no prima donnas on this team. The athletes pitch in with everybody else, carrying gear down to the dock, loading the boat, setting up the dive rig. There still is a bit of the Big-Blue-Meets-Animal-House flavor in the lodgings, but never mind. We’ve all been here before.

           The bottom plate was set to 100 meters and Martin began his warm-up dives, 3-  to 4- minute descents designed to sharpen his physiological dive reflex. Today was the first time I’d seen Martin Stepanek using a monofin. When he rolled over after his 7-minute breathe-up and started down, I thought that his undulations had something of an angry snap to them, something more aggressive than I’d ever seen in his diving before that. I didn’t think much of it, supposing it reflected his university days as a finswimming racer.

He disappeared beyond the 30-meter visibility limit.

           A couple of minutes later, when Kirk dived down and took up his position as safety freediver at 20 meters, I, too,  descended to get a fish-eye view of the final stage of what I presumed would be an historic finish to an historic dive.

            My first glimpse of Martin told me it was not to be. The first thing I saw was his hands, pulling him up, free immersion style. Something was wrong. Kirk was ascending with him, and when he laid hands on I knew Martin was in trouble. So did judge Bill Stromberg, who instantly became a safety diver and rocketed down to assist.

           On the surface, Martin was very, very drained but did not black out or samba. He had made a considered judgement, at about 30 meters,  that he could not complete the dive in constant ballast mode and switched to his theretofore untaxed arms to pull up to the surface.  He had his tag, but the dive, of course, was disqualified.

         With deep scuba divers on station at depth, the show had to go on. The bottom plate was reeled up to 78 meters for Mandy, and she began her warmups.

           Mandy is a true pro. Everything she does is done matter-of-factly, cooly, and with grace and elan. Wearing fluid goggles and using a monofin, she obliterated Tanya Streeter’s long-standing 70m /230 feet record by a full 8 meters. Unprecedented. And she made it seem effortless. Nobody who witnessed her performance could doubt that there are many more meters in this athelete, and the buzz immediately began. Two more attempts under AIDA regs, max 3 meter increments. She could leave Cayman with an 84 meter constant ballast record, in a regiond considered Man Country only a couply of years ago.

           Finally, the descent line and rig were reset and George “Doc” Lopez easily carved out a place for himself in the record books with a 30-meter U.S. record free immersion dive.

           Tomorrow, Monday, will be a day off for the Performance Freediving Team and entourage. Doesn’t mean we’ll be sitting about fanning ourselves under palm trees, though. Something will happen, and it will not be ordinary.

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Paul Kotik has been a Staff Writer and Freediving Editor for DeeperBlue.com. He lives in Florida, USA with his family.

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