Paul: I’m interacting here with Sam Kirby and newly-crowned SaltFree Mermaid Mandy Buckley.
The United Kingdom has this damnable, insufferable habit of doing things right. And first. And, until they can’t be bothered any longer and move on to some other fantastic thing, best.The SaltFree Mermaid project is a perfect, and classic example of British industry, innovation and élan. We all know that freediving is still in its infancy, still an eccentric sport practiced by a handful of people, and that out there in the vast ocean of humanity there are freediving stars undiscovered. SaltFree, that august society of intrepid souls who dive in water – well, if I were served my martini at that temperature I’d have no complaint – has actually gone and done something about it. This despite being completely mad – that water is cold, I tell you. Why, it’s but a great hole in the ground off somewhere in the wildnerness. Don’t know what it is, exactly, but it is not a tropical ocean.
Sam Kirby, the Duchess of SaltFree, and Mandy have generously given of their time and attention in preparing this global roll-out of the United Kingdom’s new reigning Mermaid. The language difficulties were ever present, but I believe the conversation which follows demonstrates that any obstacle can be overcome with good will and open hearts.
Sam: After several months of ad posting, email applications, phone calls from people desperate not to miss the deadline, pool trials and quite a few virgin plunges into the depths of the NDAC in Chepstow, SaltFree has finally chosen the Mermaid for 2005/2006.
From around 30 initial applicants, Mandy Buckley from Crewe in Cheshire was our final choice, for a variety of reasons. Mandy showed great potential in the pool, with some strong static and dynamic performances, and took to the monofin like the proverbial duck to water. She was also a mean underwater hockey player. Over a couple of meets at Chepstow, Mandy showed us she was just as comfortable in the colder waters of the lake. All of the SaltFree divers involved in the selection agreed that Mandy had the right level of ability, enthusiasm, drive and madness to be the perfect choice. She also had a great name for a female freediver!.
Paul: Indeed. Perfect, another Mandy. Queen Mandy II, perhaps ? Where, then, is our Mermaid at this point in the process ?
Sam: Mandy has almost completed her AIDA two-star Course and will go on to do her three-star Course free of charge with SaltFree. We will also be covering the cost of all the sessions she can join us for at Chepstow and offering her as much coaching as we can all fit in. We hope she will do well at the UK Nationals in 2005. To help her along, she will also be receiving a pair of bifins and a monofin from our sponsors Deeper Blue and a D3 Dive Computer thanks to our friends at SUUNTO. We hope you will wish her well and follow her progress with interest. Now I’ll let Mandy introduce herself…..
Paul: I’m all ears !
Sam: Oh, then what’s.. ?
Mandy Buckley: So, my name is Mandy. The official title is Amanda Jane, but no one ever calls me that! I am 32, although I don’t feel it, or act it! I was born in Glasgow, but have spent the last half of my life living in Cheshire. I guess that means I have duel nationality, Scots & English!
Paul: I thought that the practice of dueling Scots and English had rather died out, but I stand corrected. I love a good duel. Please, go on…
Mandy: I work as a Customer Service Trainer, for Virgin. It’s not the most exciting job in the world, but it pays the bills, the team I work with are fab, and the perks are great.
I am married to Richard, who’s also a diver. We both did it before we met. No kids though and absolutely no intention on having any. My babies are my 2 dogs, my big, stinky lurchers. Dogs are so much better than children; you can leave them in the garden while you go to the pub.
Paul: Extraordinary ! See ? Here in the States, while it is quite common for couples to have done it before they were married, I’ve never yet heard of any who did it before they met. Now, from the pub to other liquid pastimes ?
Mandy: My love of everything aquatic started young. I have had a small obsession with seahorses and mermaids since I was a kid. My mum taught me how to swim when I was 6 months old. I used to spend so much time in the pool, she used to check every now and then for webbed toes. Maybe she should have looked for a mermaid tail!. I used to swim competitively, crawl and fly were my best strokes, so most of my childhood years were spent in the pool. Then, the inevitable happened. I got to my late teens, discovered the pub, and the swimming took a back seat.
Sam: (soto voce) Paul, in England it always comes back to the pub.
Paul: (whispering) What is this ‘pub’ you speak of ?
Mandy: (clearing throat) . . . Since then I have had a go at just about every sport you can do on, or in, or under the water. I’ve tried my hand at surfing, windsurfing, water-skiing & jetskiing.. And I finally found my calling in the form of scuba diving.
Paul: (consulting notes) Windsurfing ? Did somebody say windsurfing ? Wait, isn’t this for Deeper Blue ?
Sam: Yes, Paul for Deeper Blue. Focus.
Mandy: I’ve been diving for about 9 years now. I started off with PADI, crossed over to an SAA club, and worked my way through to instructor. I am a huge fan of British diving -well, I have to be, cause I can’t afford to jet off to somewhere hot all the time!- I love wreck diving, but more for the variety of life, than the chance of hidden treasure. Lately, I’ve been working at some of the more technical stuff, with trimix next on my list of stuff to do. Richard is a trimix diver, but he’s much more into racing motorbikes than diving.
Anyway, it was through doing some deeper scuba stuff that I first really found out about people freediving in Britain. Of course, I’d heard about freediving. Seen The Big Blue, met Tanya Streeter at the dive show, but it wasn’t until I saw some freedivers at Dorothea, that I realised that you didn’t have to live in Grand Cayman to do it.
Paul: Excuse me, I’ll need to put on another layer of clothing just now. I can tell the cold part’s coming.
Mandy: I was a total armchair freedive fan for ages, until I saw Sam’s & Saltfree’s Mermaid Challenge. Since experiencing my first real open water dives I am completely addicted. I was over the moon when I got the good news from Sam that I had been chosen as the Mermaid, although I’m not sure if my confession about having a mermaid outfit in my wardrobe helped or not!
Sam: Almost definitely ! When can we see a photo ?
Mandy: I just want to say a HUGE thanks to Sam, Deeper Blue, and the team at SaltFree for opening up my eyes to a whole new world, and for giving me this fabulous opportunity. Another big thanks goes to all the other mermaids. You guys made the whole thing such fun to be involved in. I hope that I see you all lots on the pontoon at Chepstow -I will need some help eating the chocolate muffins!
Paul: Mmmmmm . . . . . muffins . . . I know how to eat muffins . . . . That is, what? Um, oh well, Mandy, where do you see yourself taking this muffin, that is , this freediving thing ?
Mandy: ( arched eyebrows) I don’t know if I’ll ever be the next Tanya Streeter, but I do know that I’m going to have a whole load of fun trying!
Paul: I’m certain you will ! Sam, what say you ? You and Saltfree have plucked a jewel from the crown. I thank you. Will there be more ?
Sam: The aim of the game was more than just to find one person and offer them a nice prize. From the start, we hoped that this initiative would encourage more women to get into freediving in the UK and we hope that will be the case. Many of the Mermaids we met along the way are continuing their freediving and we hope to welcome them all at SaltFree over the coming months. Whilst we don’t have the funds to pay for everyone, we will offer whatever we can in terms of advice and support. Some other names to watch out for over the next few months or even years in UK Freediving – Hannah Marchant, Laura McCrave, Carol Giles, Cat Burgess, Jennie Pistevos, Grace Capel….. just a few of the many talented ladies who have grown a mermaid tail since May.
Paul: Thank you, Sam, and thank you, Mandy. My prediction – if this system of identifying and promoting talent continues another year or two, Britain will once again rule the waves. You other countries – get with it.