The Bears Guide to Big Competitions

Well things are getting exciting now as the SONY Freediver Classic approaches in Cyprus.  My bag is packed, my PA is madly making Team Shirts for my bunch of superstars to wear around the place and everyone we train with is getting somewhat overexcited. 

The main difference between this competition and the big ones in the past, is that pretty much anyone can enter.  You don’t have to be on a national team, you don’t even have to be on a team such as Team Deepest Bear (who will have you for breakfast!) so lots of you will be competing at an international level for the first time and I thought you might like a little advice.

Now I am not exactly prone to nerves. I am after all the Deepest of my species so do not have a huge amount to worry about.  However out in Hawaii I reckon I picked up some good tips for getting through the whole thing not just with some good diving behind you but an enjoyable time too. It doesn’t have to be all stress and nerves, far from it, but unless you are smally, furry and over confident, be ready for some. Follow my advice and you will keep the nerves to a minimum.  Most importantly of all, learn from the example of Team Monaco, Team France and Team Deepest Bear – have fun! 

My first suggestion is that you get all the info you can beforehand. Give yourself a thorough briefing.  I met a small Japanese girl out in Hawaii who had her whole competition schedule written on her hand, I do hope it was in waterproof ink! Now you might not want to go that far but it is certainly a good idea to know where you have to be and when.  This starts as soon as you arrive in Cyprus. Have a list somewhere: which hotel are you staying in, what time is registration, what do you need to bring with you to it. Carry your little timetable around all week so you know when you are training, when you are competing and most important of all – what time the party starts. You can get all this information from the official competition website (but don’t go there yet!).

Once you have signed in, had your medical cleared and waved your flag madly at the opening ceremony… get some sleep! Chances are you have had a long journey, a touch of jet lag and a great deal of overexcitement and training starts early Sunday morning.

The key thing on training day is to be organised and not to believe for a second that this is a chance to train.  By now you should know what depth you are going to subscribe, this is your opportunity to get familiar with that Cypriot water and sunshine, make sure you have enough lead on your belt to get your ass down and back up again and wake your ears up after the air journey has got them all gunky.  You will have a limited time slot, on a particular rope, at a designated time with a selected bunch of fellow athletes.  You should be training with people from your own country of origin so hopefully you will know someone or other in your training group.  If you don’t like the ones you do know, make some new friends at the party the night before.

As for the actual dives you do in training, keep it simple and plan it beforehand.  You are not going to have the time or energy to do more than 3 or 4 dives so if you know where you are going before you start that helps.  If you want to do a specific depth and are lucky enough to have someone who finds the whole thing a little easier than you in your training group, you might want to ask them to tie a tag or wait for you at your chosen depth so you don’t have to disrupt your stroke to check your computer.   In Hawaii I frequently waited for hours at set depths so my PA could dive down to meet me. Luckily I have that breath hold capacity. Remember that a buddy waiting for you down there might not have so long.

When you surface from your training dives, bear in mind (no pun intended) that this is a competitive situation (there is a clue in the title to this article). Hence breaking the surface and triumphantly yelling “I DID 50 METRES!!!!!” whilst punching the air is maybe not such a good move.  Believe it or not there are a few freedive idiots who will be trying to compete with you rather than competing with themselves and might take note of that and push themselves a bit harder to get deeper than you.  Likewise it is also not advised to publicise your planned subscription depth. Chances are all those people who have told you theirs are lying through their teeth trying to get yours out of you.  You know what you can do, telling anyone else is not going to help.  If people do tell you theirs, ignore it.  You can only do what you can do, so thinking “oh god I must beat that bloody bear!” is not going to help you.   I’d bet my left paw they are lying to you anyway.

Dynamic is the first part of the competition and not everyone will take part but if you are, my only real advice is GO FOR IT!! You should all have had a chance to practise as you can do this in a pool. If like Team Deepest Bear you normally train in a 20 or 30m pool, you will find that the 50m pool laid on for the competition makes life a lot easier.  Somehow my brain still says – one length, two lengths, three lengths, four – regardless of the length of the pool. Subscribe low if you get nervous and that way you get to go first.  You can go over your subscription distance in dynamic if you want without any penalties and everyone does.  If you can get your buddy or safety diver to give you some GO GIRL type signals underwater that might help.  When you surface from your swim, pull yourself together before you worry about where the judge is.  Use that 20 seconds to regather your wits and hang on to the float to get your jelly legs back before you rip off your mask and wink at the judge.

Woo hoo… now we are getting somewhere.  We’ve left the pool behind for a while and are out on the barge in the sun ready for our Constant Weight dives.  You’ve been up since dawn stretching. You have had a good half hour of roaring and yawning, yogic fire breathing or whatever takes you fancy.  And now in the hour or so before your dive you are either “en discutant avec les copains” (Team France and Monaco) or hidden away somewhere with a walkman on pretending you are a beautiful mermaid in a pop video (my PA, she’ll kill me for telling you!).  Whatever your plan is for that time, make sure your safety diver knows it as they will have to come and find you when it’s time for your warm up.  It’s worth being a bit rude and selfish about this.  If you don’t want them to talk to you, tell ‘em so.  If you do want them to give you a massage, get you some water, carry your fin to the water, spit in your mask and keep the media away while you prepare – tell them that too! Be a DIVA  not just a diver, this is your moment, use it.

Warm up, like training, needs to be meticulously planned. You get a set time when you are allowed to be on the warm up lines, usually 45 minutes before your Top or dive time.  Remember you do not have to be in the water all that time but you can if you want. If you are the shivery type you might want to stay on the boat and sunbathe a bit longer.  If you are seasicky like Sam you will probably want to get in the water as soon as you can. Either way, as I think I have said before now, know what you are going to do and stick to it.

So you have done your warm up dives… you have a few minutes left before TOP time.  What now? Chill man chill… big time. Drift off into that zone, focus on the task in hand and nothing else. Put yourself in another place (the mermaid, the pop video) or, if you are French, continue to have a laugh with your mates. Whatever works.  Remember, it is your safety diver’s job to make sure you are physically in the competition zone at the right time so concentrate on the mental side. 

When you get to the line, be prepared to be a little manhandled. You may have already had your safety diver tow you to the line but when you get there chances are someone else will take hold of you. No worries, they are simply attaching an official computer and a FHOF (bracelet like safety device) to your wrists.  You or your safety diver should also make sure your lanyard is fixed correctly to the competition line then just chill once more, breathe while you still can and focus on the count down.  If it’s anything like last time I heard him do it, you will find Peter Sheard’s clear, crisp and now somewhat mid Atlantic accent has a hypnotic affect that will take you neatly off into that watery world below. 

TOP!!!! And don’t panic. Take your last breath calmly and go for it. Neat duck dive, smooth stroke and by now you should be familiar with the depth you are going to. The joy of the lanyard that you probably hated a few weeks ago is that you can shut your eyes and enjoy the journey.  If you take a look and the tag is still far away, keep calm.  Just think “great I can enjoy this finning and gliding a bit longer”. Before you know it you will be there.  Take the tag neatly.  Remember you can only place your hand once on the line so make sure it is the right way up to give yourself a yank back up once you have the tag. If in any doubt then maybe don’t bother touching the line. It’s up to you.  Smile at the camera, turn like a dream and up you come.  You might need to fin like mad to get going but don’t let that bother you. This should all be familiar by now from training and that lovely, floaty, “I’ve made it” feeling will be with you soon.  Your safety diver will meet you and you will smile at him somewhat inanely but keep focussed on the job in hand. Don’t look up, he will make sure it’s safe above you.  When you get to the top, use the float to get yourself back together just like you did in the dynamic.  Once you are with it, remove your mask neatly and smile sweetly at Judge Fred (which my PA says isn’t hard) or maybe there will also be some good looking girl judges…  Remember you mustn’t touch anyone for one minute after surfacing. Pretend you are radioactive or something and NO BEAR HUGS until the time is up.  After that clear the area and snog everyone in sight….. or say patronisingly “Of course I did it, walk in the park, should have subscribed more” if you are of the cooler (male?) variety….

Finally static, and here things get really competitive because the big boys and small bears in line for prizes know who they have to beat and what they might need to do it.  Even those further down the line are going to have some personal goal they are chasing. It does no harm to remind you AGAIN that you can only do what you can do.  There is no point going nuts and pushing yourself past the limit, you will only lose all your points and find yourself looking daft in front of your mates.  Plus someone might get your samba on camera, or the TV crew might film your black out and then not only will you forever be known as “that blue bloke with the wonky face” but your parents might see it and ban you from freediving….   Know what you can do and stick with it.  If you want to do 4 minutes and have done it before, and you still feel great at four minutes then come up then. Not ten seconds later when it’s all gone horribly wrong and they are fishing you out. Static can go wrong much more quickly than you expect, especially in a warm pool on a sunny day when things feel fine and you know an extra few seconds might put you on the podium.  Be disciplined. Personally I watch Team Deepest Bear do static every week in the pool and if they don’t come up within a few seconds of the time we have planned in Cyprus I will beat them all with a big stick!  Unfortunately they won’t let me enter the static competition as my subscription time of 2 hrs 30 minutes would take up too much of the afternoon. I will see if I can get a sneaky unofficial one in and let you know how it goes.

Finally it’s party time.  All that adrenaline, all those months of abstaining from junk food and alcohol… suddenly it’s time for Red Bull and Vodka, chips and cheese, maybe even a crafty cigarette for the stinky smokers amongst you.  Just remember, if you are gonna party, do it in style.  At this stage it really doesn’t matter. You probably didn’t win, you may not have even scored any points, but you can still go down in history. Team Deepest Bear will be the hardest partying Team in Cyprus… now there’s a challenge for Pierre and his mates! If you really get going you might even miss the flight home, stay around and train for next year. I’m sure Axel will give you a job in his dive centre if you ask him nicely enough.

I hope that’s enough advice to get you through.  If you would like me to train with you in Cyprus or indeed pace you during the static competition, just drop me an email and we will arrange something. Freediver keeps saying “there can only be one” but in a competition like this, we are all winners.  We all do our best, we all have a great time in the sun with like minded people and animals and we all get to meet the celebs. Make like the Bear. Dive Fur It. Party like an animal and come and get your photo taken with me somewhere along the way.  I can’t wait.

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