Worlds 2004: from behind the lines – Day 4

The Sound of Waves

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Greg Hamilton awoke at three am to the sound of waves slapping broadside against the barge. Swish, thwack! A wind had risen and the tarp and the tents billowed out in anticipation of the day ahead. If the barge were not firmly anchored to the ocean bottom, then surely Greg would have found himself in foreign waters by sunrise. In the dark and under the Canadian stars – all our constellations are shapes of animals, famous hockey players and beer bottles, eh? – he grumped at the elements and buried his head in his thick sleeping bag and tried to give his buzzing mind a rest from the details of the day to come.

And what a day it was! It started ominously with clouds and light drizzle. But, as you will soon see, sports fans, this was all part of the plan. The last three days of rain made for much better visibility underwater. The warm sun came out mid-morning and shone through wisps of fog and cloud curling around the shores of Howe Sound and the Coastal Mountain Range and quickly brought cheer and spirit to all the volunteers who had yet another long day ahead on the barge and in the water.

Despite the first-time deployment of this particular competition line set-up with live feed video and expensive HMI lights, results were good. The zero-time countdown started without delay and all competitors went through without any major incidents.  For the first time in any freediving competition – thanks to a network of industry partners – spectators, media and some volunteers on the barge were able to watch competitors complete their dives in real time on a fifty-inch plasma screen. Yehia Safwat, all the way from his freediving stronghold in Egypt, commented that be able to watch things on a monitor would be something to emulate in future competitions to attract media attention and spectator interest. Before each diver went down, Jennifer Toepke, veteran competition announcer also on loan from the Red Sea, gave dive details for the benefit of the viewers, while Kirk Krack added details to explain what viewers were seeing. Play-by-play commentary and simultaneous dives are only a short step away if freediving is ready for it.

Seeing the action has had quite the impact on several volunteers who have not previously experienced any aspect of freediving. Kelly Dunlap, who just moved to Vancouver the week of the World Championships, said that she had formed her impression of freediving by reading the archives and forums on Deeperblue.net. But to be on the barge and see the smiles on the faces of competitors from around the world when they complete a personal best or describe the feeling of being underwater has inspired her to try freediving. “At last I can combine my passion for rubber and water into one,” she said with tongue in cheek. She has already made arrangements for an introductory lesson on condition that a shiny black wetsuit be part of the package.

Today I helped on competition line “B”, announcing official times and acting as a back-up safety freediver with Julien Nathan and Tyler Zetterstrom (tylerz on DB). We witnessed Sam Still’s solid 68 metre dive with his unnerving nose-breathing recovery and Kaz Ichikawa stick his tongue out at Tyler underwater just before completing a successful 60 metre dive (I was very happy that he managed to put his blackout behind him, even though he says he will have to shave his crazy blond hair to remind his club members that even he, as president, has to abide by club rules that use monetary and other penalties to discourage blackouts). Jessica Apedaile from Canada won the best smile after diving award for the day (with Hannah Stacey a close second). Jessica looked pleased as punch, and she said, as many other divers did in the unexpected sunshine, “I could have gone WAY deeper!”

Tonight, after volunteers girded themselves for one more day of exhaustion and excitement, I attended an impromptu dinner party thrown by Kaz, where today’s competitors indulged in beer, good food, and more stories. Hubert Maier dismayed the host by talking about making Vancouver his swan song competition. Retirement! Mr. 14.6 Litre-lungs!  “Yeah, right,” said Kaz, “just like Michael Jordan. You’ll be back.” Deepest Bear made an appearance with his UK entourage, sporting a custom monofin handmade by Guidone himself. And Kaz also announced the engagement of the Dolphine Yuma Higuchi (Japanese women’s alternate) to another one of his 40-member freediving club. Many congratulations to those two!

Afterwards, many of us went down to listen to Dr. Kim McCoy’s lecture on the physics of no limits world record attempts, how difficult it is to accurately measure any given depth and what can go wrong during a big event like a no limits world record attempts. He peppered his talk with such gems, one-liners, like, “You all will implode.” Sadly, I had to leave before the end of the talk to write this article and schedule the volunteers for tomorrow.

Tomorrow’s forecast is for sun and warm weather with a high reaching 30 Celsius by Thursday, just in time for static and dynamic in UBC’s outdoor pool.  

On behalf of the organizers, I just have to say that the plan worked. The rain served to trick everyone into believing that Vancouver was as cold, wet and dark as all the naysayers had said it would (except for the Greeks and Germans who arrived a week early and enjoy beautiful hot conditions). So everyone announced slightly more conservative depths, making the job of the scuba divers, safety freedivers, and volunteers just a little easier, which in turn meant that Greg Hamilton eventually caught a few winks on the barge during the competition, lulled to sleep by that most agreeable sound of clapping hands and cheers ringing out over our local waters.

Tonight he’s back on the barge under the stars for one more night. Sleep well, Greg!

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Peter Scott freedives in British Columbia, Canada. After competing in the World Championships for Canada in 2001, he has continued his exploration of the ocean through writing, art, photography, freediving, swimming, surfing, windsurfing, and travel. Visit his website at www.holdyourbreath.ca.

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