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PFD Cayman 2004: March 27 Update

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A daily routine of doing impossible things takes its toll after a few weeks. So it was with the Performance Freediving Team today, March 27, 2004, the last day of the Cayman record event.

There were no winners. Three athletes, three unsuccessful record attempts.

One ought not, perhaps, be terriby surprised when someone fails to perform a very nearly impossible task, but in this case there is the very recent history of the same athletes succeeding at the same dives in training.

Martin Stepanek had, in fact, made a 102 meter  Constant Ballast dive in training the week before the event. Mandy has passed the women’s Static Apnea world record many times in training, and Doc Lopez reached 32 meters Free Immersion, too.

But today, with the AIDA judges present and all authentication, safety, rescue and documentary protocols in place, each of the three PFD athletes came up short.

And today was the last day. Game Over, as they say in the arcade.


The Performance Freediving Cayman 2004 world record event is all over but the toasting, which goes on in various spots around the island as I write this. That’s it. The prizes gained (pending final certification by AIDA) are the absolute Free Immersion world record ( 102m ) by Martin Stepanek, the women’s Constant Ballast world record (78m) by Mandy Rae Cruickshank, and the U.S. National Free Immersion record,  George “Doc” Lopez, 30m.  Left on the table: the elusive 100m Constant ballast milestone, and the women’s Static Apnea record.

Those who have followed these events may well speculate  about the ending of the event not with a bang, but with a whimper. The Team’s review and analysis always begin  immediately after each performance, as soon as the athlete has caught his or her breath. My take on it is simple: fatigue. Deep, dark, in-the-bones fatigue. Nearly a month of  hard end-stage training, media preening, logistical struggles, and the wearying, relentless orchestration of the legion of bodies and spirits wore everybody out. The athletes passed their peaks, and the trainer and crew theirs. Make no mistake about it, these people were even today functioning at world-class levels, but that extra, extraordinary energy that propels a person to the maximum and a little beyond was no more.

The thing that troubled me going into Martin’s dive was just that everything seemed about the same as it had been the day of his previous, failed attempt on 100m Constant Ballast. It was deja vu all over again, and I noted this to myself, considering, tentatively, the possibility that this event may end without the 100m dive in the bag. It was almost like a replay, from the morning wake-up calls right up to my first glimpse of his ascent from my safety position, pulling up the rope hand-over-hand, just like last time. I should have known going in, I thought. There was no change in the man. It was just like before, so the outcome could not be any better. In fact, I’d say the outcome was a little worse. After Kirk and I assisted him to the surface, Martin looked totally drained, more so than I’d ever seen him before. It was a little unnerving. He had the tag, but the muscle groups he’d used to get down there and back up to about 30m simply ran out of gas, so he fell back on his relative fresh arms and thus DQ’d his Constant Ballast dive.

He just did not have it in him today.

Doc’s difficulty took me by surprise. Doc Lopez is one tough man, a real dynamo. He didn’t seem even a tiny bit worn down by his month in PFD boot camp. I supported the small of Doc’s back and tried to keep the waves off his face when he rolled over for the last minute of his breathe up, and I felt like I was touching a winner. He looked  strong and focussed and was all power and ease. Nonetheless, what appears to have been a simple technical mistake in air management cost him the record. He apparently swallowed the air he’d stored in his mouth for his last equalization, and so when he passed his failure point at around 27m and was unable to bring up any air from his lungs, he was unable to equalize and unable to continue to the bottom plate. Doc was mad as hell when he surfaced, and I would have been, too. Doc is an ex-boxer, and he let that surface float have it. I blame it on event fatigue.

Mandy Rae. It seemed to me that her second warm-up static was about 15 seconds shorter than what I thought the plan called for. I remember glancing at Moran Morton, a Cayman resident and PFD alumna, and shaking my head.  Not a good sign. Mandy  did her seven-minute breathe-up and rolled over for her attempt. I sensed she was struggling with something about 4 minutes into it, and glanced over at another observer, himself an experienced competitor. He silently mouthed “ Five Thirty “ and I nodded. This was not going to be a record breath hold.  It wasn’t. Mandy ended it at 5:38 (unofficial) cleanly and was chatting calmly with Kirk a few seconds after coming up. She knew it wasn’t in her to set a record, so she did a respectable, but not world-class dive.

The Event End party thrown by the Cobalt Coast Resort for Team, Crew and Camp Followers was subdued, but not unhappy. All things considered, two world records is not too shabby. Martin’s 102 m Free Immersion dive is mind-boggling, and Mandy Rae did not just surpass the women’s Constant Ballast record with her 78m dive, rather, she smashed it to bits. Superb, outstanding achievements, both. Doc Lopez, a newbie but a natural-born freediver with extraordinary focus and guts, has staked out new territory in American sport with his foray into the Free Immersion discipline.

And, in any event, the event is over. It is a fantastic, uplifting and inspiring experience, but it is also very hard, and none, I think, could fail to be relieved it is finally done.

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