Sitting in a portakabin at the National Diving Centre last October, someone raised the idea that the British Freedive Association’s National Championships should really take place in British waters. Add to this the fact that we needed to select a team capable of diving in the murky green off Vancouver and I was moved to stick up my hand and volunteer to organise it in saltFree’s home lake in Chepstow. It seemed like a mighty fine idea.
Hundreds of pounds, miles of duck tape, several pulled shoulder muscles and a couple of boyfriends later.. We were suddenly at the Prize Giving Ceremony. How did we get there? Now my brain has stopped fizzing from all the plans, I thought it might help others to put something down (and remind me of what I need to do for next year).
After agreeing to host the Championships, the first thing was to make sure some people entered. This was made substantially easier by the BFA agreeing to use the event to select the British Team. Anyone interested in going to Vancouver would have to come in the top four in their species at this competition. No discussion. This seemed a much clearer and more sensible selection method than the committee meetings, votes and "give him a place, he’s a good egg" attititude of previous years – and it helped my entry list.
Next thing to do was to tell people about it. SaltFree had recently acquired a website so a day or two’s work was in order to add the competition details. At this stage, much of the information was vague.
We knew where we could do the constant weight dives, we knew of a man with a hog roast who could come along for the party and we had chosen a date. That was about it. The Static would be at "a pool nearby". The prizes were "exciting – watch this space" and goodness only knew who the competitors would be.
Setting ing the entry fee was almost entirely random. At this point I had no idea how much the pool would cost, how many we would need on the scuba team, and as for how much rope we would need – well, how long is a piece of string? I consulted Howard as to how much he charged in recent years. I made a list of all the people I thought would enter and came up with a figure of around 30 divers to break even.
The next step was to ask a few people how much they would pay and somehow came up with the figure of £45. As it happened, we ended up with 28 entries and broke even almost exactly. Thank God for T shirt sales is all I can say!
In the first week of January, having spent the whole Christmas holiday making lists and panicking, I had my first full on meeting with the National Diving Centre. From that day on, they were nothing but helpful, to the max. These guys spent hours poring over my drawings of the perfect dive platform and over the course of a couple of months had built it. By late March, we had a luxury 12m square raft carrying not only our "performing rope" (as they call it, as if we were some kind of seal) but also 3 sets of warm up lines, a reference rope for the scuba team, a full deco trapeze, a heavy duty fin ladder and a picnic table. Special thanks are due to Stuart, Kieron, Mike "The Ferryman" and the boys for endless hours of work and their continued support for our mad little sport.
From January on, there was an endless list of things to organise. By this time I was on my second boyfriend since starting the planning and, to stop the middle of the night panics and scribbled bits of paper around the house, he made me go out and buy a white board. Items listed on the board included: Doctor, Insurance, Tags, Ropes, Lifejackets, Judges, Rules and Prizes. One by one they gradually got wiped off – and replaced by other needs.
Rachel Broadley of the Diving Diseases Research Centre in Plymouth agreed to come as official Doc. It was great to have someone who really knew the right stuff. We managed to provide her with an oxygen kit by running an oxygen administration course. Everyone paid to take part, we took no money for teaching it and Shaun sold us a second-hand kit for £300. Sorted.
Tags were made by a plasterer friend. I have no idea what they were made out of but they looked right and did not self destruct on contact with water. A sign writer friend made me 100 tiny vinyl versions of the logo to go on the tags, and huge ones for our monofins. After a middle-of-the-night cold sweat over how on earth to send tags down the line, and experiments with bits of string, curtain rings and all manner of contraptions – it appeared that the only way was to go out there and buy a load of heavy duty carabiners. Despite calling in the bargain prices of my father’s fishing boat suppliers, 30 of these still turned out to be one of the most expensive single purchases for the comp.
Rope and a boom were definitely needed. An 80-year-old engineer who mends every fishing boat in Cornwall was challenged with creating the boom. A few dirty pencil drawings in his oily workshop, a re-mastering of Pythagoras’ theorem and much explanation as to what on earth it was to be used for later, qnd a perfect piece of craftmanship arrived on the doorstep. Not only did the boom do the job in hand, but it dismantled easily enough to fit in my car. We were getting there.
The rope itself took some discussion. We decided it had to be at least 14ml so people could get a good grip on it. Originally I wanted a smooth, plaited rope so lanyards would slide along it easily. This really was going to break the bank, so after some discussions and offering a fair few people "money for old rope" we settled on 14ml, twisted lobster pot rope. Even better, this rope did not absorb water and would not stretch, and was bright yellow so easy for the scuba divers to see in the green. Stretching it out and marking the depths took two of us a full weekend but luckily the sun shone throughout.
Entries did not exactly pour in. At first it was exciting as the real keenies sent in the forms but then it quietened down until nearer the closing date. I rushed home from work every day to rip them open and see just what depth everyone thought they could do in cold water. It became clear rapidly that we would need a good scuba team.
Luckily, we already had one. Laura Harris set up the SaltFree Angels scuba support team last summer and has been working on them ever since. Another recruitment drive ensued and in the weeks before the competition, the scuba divers almost outnumbered the freedivers as they learnt the essential skills of perfect buoyancy control, concentration on their depth and time and deployment of an FHOF (ascent system) in a hurry.
Prizes were also quick to arrive. Big thanks to Deeper Blue who supplied the bulk of them in the form of vouchers for the shop. Special Fins got in touch with a Special Prize – a monofin for the Deepest Man and Woman.. and even better. for the organiser too. Thanks
Jyri! Tanya and Paul Streeter were persuaded to take the winners out to dinner – and will be held to that in Vancouver (the food wasn’t good enough in Cyprus) and Howard of Freediver also sent some clothes and rash vests.
The pool took a bit of negotiating but we knew it was perfect the first time we saw it. Lovely and warm, shallow all the way along and situated in the grounds of the beautiful St Pierre Marriott Hotel in Chepstow. They left us much to our own devices and apart from the odd screaming child in the corner, it worked like a dream.
Finally we hit the closing date and knew what we were up against. 28 divers from all over the UK with a maximum depth inscription of 65m all the way up to 15m. This was time to draw a big breath, stop panicking and get on with it. My evenings were spent laminating neck passes, directions, signage, cards for the judges to use, lists of top times, logos to slap up around the place and anything I could get my hands on.
I got through more than 200 laminator envelopes and miles of string.
As we got nearer, the stupid questions started coming in. Lots of people did not have lanyards, did I have any to sell? This really was a daft thing to say yes to. Making one lanyard involved visiting about 5 shops – one for a wriststrap, one for some washing line, one for duct tape, one for the alumnium rings and a particular sailing shop that was only open about two hours a day and never had any in stock – for the quick release clip on the wrist I now know is called a "snap shackle".
Decent lanyards were hard work to make and expensive – so I was very pleased when those that had ordered one were happy to pay the £25 they cost to put together. Next year I will buy the bits in bulk!
The weekend before was an official training weekend. People had signed up on their entry form if they wished to attend. Bearing in mind that this form had been completed several months before, I emailed and called everyone I could get hold of to make sure they were still coming. Even after this, we arrived on the day with a full team of Scuba Angels and tanks of expensive gas mixes ready to cover 15 freedivers to depths up to 65m. About 8 showed up. The 65m guy was one of those missing. This was as about as close as I got to losing it… but at least I got it out of the way before the competition proper. I am still working out appropriate revenge for the time wasters.
Training days went more smoothly than we could have hoped. Everyone got in some good dives, even those who had not dived in the cold green before and things were looking great for the day itself. Official photographer, Liv Phillip, turned up and took some great photos. She promised to be back for the main event, this time armed with a digital camera and a printer so divers could part with some cash for instant gratification and a photo to take home. The scuba Angels were running slickly, the freedivers were behaving, using lanyards, helping each other and having a good time and the National Diving Centre were still pleased to have us there. Even the money to pay everyone was in the newly set up bank account. phew!
After that the whole thing is really history. Registration threw up some weird questions on the AIDA Rules, as ever, but the judges sorted that out sharpish. Not enough people ate hog roast to keep the pig man happy but that wasn’t my problem, everyone was exactly where they were meant to be on time, and in most cases a good ten minutes before throughout the whole weekend and we only had one samba in open water. Most importantly, the sun shone throughout and the visability was superb.
We selected a top team for Vancouver and despite many protests in advance that I would never be able to afford to go and simply could not even think about it, I somehow found myself unable to resist when so many of "my" saltFree regulars made the team. So we are all off to Canada to show the rest of the world what we can do – and the credit card is melting.
And of course, the best hangover from the whole event is the fact thatall that stuff I worried all night about (except the boyfriend) is still around. We have a world class training location, every rope we could wish for and a super slick team of scubies to watch us on our way. Come and dive with saltFree – you will be amazed at how far British freediving has come in the past year, even if I say so myself.
Full results of the competition are on our website www.saltfreedivers.com and there are simply hundreds of photos in the Deeper Blue galleries – so go and search them out. Big thanks to www.nationaldivingcentre.com for all their help.