Worlds 2004: from the athletes perspective

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Here I am at my first international freediving competition.  As a member of Team Canada, it is the realization of a year long goal.  All the training has paid off and I find myself among some of the best divers in the world and the experience so far has been incredible.

Being the only member of the team from outside of British Columbia, I flew the four and a half hours from Ottawa to Vancouver a week before the competition began.  Since this is the first year the championships have been held outside the Mediterranean, I am certainly one of the lucky ones.  Most of the competitors spent considerably longer on planes and in airports to get here, demonstrating the true competitive spirit of everyone here.  The Kiwis, for example spent the better part of 20 hours in the air to come and experience what Vancouver has to offer.

And what an offer!

Team Canada has been training in the green waters at the base of these majestic Rocky Mountains for some time now, so there is a definite home water advantage.  We watched the other teams trickle into the ocean each day as they arrived from their various countries and observed with interest the adaptive process.

Some countries were a bit surprised by the cold at depth and others were not amused by the eerie darkness that envelops the diver during descent.  Still others found our waters to be a little bit of home away from home or perhaps -gasp- even more inviting.

So, a few days of informal training from various craggy spots along the shoreline and then the official training days began.

Kirk Krack of Performance Freediving, with the teamwork of the Canadian Association of Freediving and Apnea (CAFA) vowed this would be the most media and diver friendly event ever held.  The goal was to raise the bar on how competitions are run and enjoyed.

Day 1 had bleary eyed athletes boarding bright shiny yellow school buses outside the student residence buildings at UBC at 5:30 in the morning in order to take advantage of the tides at Lions Bay; a scenic 45 minute drive from campus.  The buses pulled into the marina and deposited their loads onto the gravel parking lot overlooking the sound.  A scant few hundred meters off shore was the competition barge, our floating arena for the next four days.

Once the competitors and alternates completed their stretches and warm-ups in the shady park next to the marina, we piled onto local dive boats which ran divers, coaches and support crew out to the barge every 15 minutes.  Once moored to the barge, we unloaded onto a massive platform crawling with media and support crew.  Line handlers were madly attaching bottom plates to the ends of warm-up lines while technical divers organized their gas supplies and gear.  The front of the barge was reserved for the competition zone with judges, lights TV screen and more harried support crew trying to get the finishing details on the endless tasks needing to be done.

As teams arrived on the barge, they were assigned one or two warm-up lines and 90 minutes to use them. 

Apparently, we were all on a tight schedule.

It finally began to sink in that I was here at the World Championships!  Seeing all of these divers milling about, sliding into their lubed-up suits and rummaging through gear bags, I couldn’t help but smile.  I think we all felt a little bit of trepidation, but we took a deep breath, let it out, and got to work.

Our team had a full roster today, so we needed to be quick if we all wanted to get our target dives in.  As we slipped into the balmy 19’ water, we slowly glided over to our warm-up lines.  Because of the lack of light at depth, each bottom plate had glow sticks attached to it so as to provide a visual reference at the bottom.  Equivalent to a standard bathroom night light, it is not a lot, but it helps.

As each diver did their target depth, we kept an eye open to see what our friends on the other lines were up to.  The media were perched precariously over the edge of the barge, trying to get as close to the divers as possible without falling in.  Other camera crews donned their scuba tanks and dry suits to join us under the sea, for a different perspective.

Before long, our time was up and we were firmly reminded to make room for the next team coming in.  Satisfied with our performances, we obliged and headed back to shore for a freshwater rinse and some much anticipated food.

The following day was less chaotic on the barge, although mysteriously, more equipment had arrived, including more tanks, HMI underwater lighting, more cables, more everything.  But the divers managed to flow into the few remaining vacant spots like oil into sand.  This day was perhaps more calm, but the weather did leave a little to be desired.  A few of the teams must have heard the forecast and vouched to sleep in today, so we shared the cold and rainy weather with the Mexican team … Brave souls.

A quick look at the streaming video of that day on the website should explain this well enough.

The evening brought on the first Captain’s meeting and three scientific talks hosted by Dr. Blaber, Dr. Fitz-Clarke and Dr. Lepawsky.  The turn-out was impressive, considering the next day saw the first wave of the constant ballast competition.

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