Sunday, 12 July 2009

90m variable weight video

I got a guy I know to help edit the 90m video. This was interesting, because while we were watching the footage and then getting the dive into sequence, the guy was nearly having a series of heartattacks from sheer excitement. When the film was ready, he could not sit still to watch it, but had to pace around the room. I was kind of realizing then that what I have been doing in Crete is fairly extreme, at least to the normal person. I get so used to it, I don't feel like it is anything very special, after all I was down there and it did not feel extreme to me, at the time. The dive was easy and I was busy being annoyed that I am still not equalizing as well as I feel I should. Also, there are guys all around me there happily popping to those depths without the help of sleds, so I really don't feel like I am diving all that deep.

The whole thing would of course not look anything like as dramatic as it does if it wasn't for Stavros' new safety tool: the depth sounder. You can hear the guys shouting out the depth, which, although I did not have a camera with me all the way down, gives an impression of time passing and makes it quite exciting, I think.

Here it is:


P.S: I did not kiss everybody, in case you were wondering, although it was nice to be allowed to do so by the head judge.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Gossip & pictures from the Meditteranean Freediving Meeting

As promised, all the boring news of x-meters done by champion freedivers is now done, and I am ready to come to the real stories. As soon as the last diver was back on shore on Saturday, beers were cracked open as the party season began more or less right away. That evening, we all gathered at the all to familiar Lotos Bar, where things turned out quite mellow, since we managed to hide from the evil Raki-wielding safety divers by going to sit next to the beach.

Still, although there was no singing and dancing going on, before we knew it, it was three in the morning and somehow we were on our way to the nightclub Fortuna. There we encountered said safety team, who, since they couldn’t find us, had drunk all the Raki themselves and were in an amazing state of intoxication. This was a bit interesting, since Stavros was planning to do a no limits record attempt to 140m the next day, and had gone to bed early. Now his crew did not look like they would be good for much. In fact Andy, chief safety diver, said to me: “Aaannna. You wille come tomorrowe, you makee the safeety for Stavros, yes? I thinke is maybe better. I wille be on the boat, makee the countedown, withe beer in my hand, yes!!” Somehow, this did not inspire me with confidence. I had planned to stay reasonably sober, but more beers just kept appearing and before I knew it, the sun was rising and it was six o’clock. Back in bed, I slept for all of two hours, before waking up in search of a breaksfast of orange juice, more orange juice, and then some orange juice. Plus coffee.

More slightly ill looking feedivers appeared throughout the morning, but Stavros' safety crew stayed in a coma for most of the day, making any record attempts quite impossible. I went back to Lissos (a secluded beach an hour’s hike away, which we visited on a day off earlier) with the Danish team, since the guys had been planning to make a rock running video for days. For this, they picked up some enormous stones off the beach, walking them along the bottom of the sea to the designated location.

There, they went on to loose their speedos, to then run along the ocean floor with said huge rocks on their shoulder, naked, looking all manly in a stone age cave man kind of way, or maybe like the ancient Greeks? Anyway, if you must know, this is the secret to why all the Danish guys are doing 200m dynamics. There were some plans to involve Maria and myself in this endevour, in the manner of dragging a (naked, of course) woman/mermaid along behind them by the hair, to round of the cave man image. Needless to say, Maria and I stayed safely on the beach, well away from such indecent proceedings. That evening after the banquet and official closing ceremony, all freedivers were treated to the video of said Danish training methods at the Lotos Bar. It was greeted with much hilarity and Jakob and Jesper, the protagonists of the movie, are deliberating whether it is wise to release said film on youtube, or if this would give access to the 200m secret to too broad a range of freedivers, therby possibly sabotaging the Danish chances at the worlds.

This evening, I did not manage to hide from the Raki as well as the previous night. The evil perpetrator was not one of the safety team, though, but Johan, which was an attack that definetely came from an unexpected direction! Somehow, when I had booked my flights while sitting safely in the bookshop, it had seemed like a good plan to leave on the first plane out of Chania on Monday morning, meaning that my transfer was leaving at four. The only other freediver who had sufferd such a lapse of brainpower when booking flights was Johan himself, so it was the two of us in a taxi. I told him straight away that if he insisted on giving me Raki, it would be entirely up to him to get me onto my plane, a responsibility he accepted quite happily, making me drink a shot in the process. Alkohol consumption in general was rather higher than the night before, with good spirits all around. Unfortunately, I did not manage to stay quite sober enough to observe the gossip potential around me. Sorry! I promise to do better next time.

Four minutes to four saw me running to the hotel, where Johan, clearly better orgnised than me, was already loading his bags in the taxi. Me, I still had to do some packing. This is not how I usually behave when going to airports. I am normally very well on top of such things. It was the Raki, honest. Whith Johan’s help, I managed to get into the car and we went off on our two hour ride across the mountains. Without his company, this would have been quite disorienting, if not a bit depressing, but we passed the time nicely, with a mix of sleeping (mostly me, I’m afraid, watched over by Johan) and enjoying the last of the whole freediving experience. By the time we reached Chania, I was fairly comatose and may very well just have passed out in a corner at the airport for a few days, but Johan was good to his promise and took care of getting us and all bags onto the right flight.

Now I am back in Berlin, feeling more or less recovered from the two day party, thinking about actually doing some work. Or maybe not yet, but soon. Very soon.

Meanwhile, there is one more thing I would like to share with you: I have compiled a list of the top ten excuses for not making a dive. As you know, freedivers are never short on explanations for things not working out quite as they might have wished. Feel free to comment and add to the list. Here goes, from last to first place:

10: The waves were too big
9: I got seasick
8: I made a mistake: I ate before the dive
7: I made a mistake: I did not eat before the dive (choose freely between 7 & 8 as it applies)
6: It’s the photographer’s fault, he got too close and distracted me (me, after missing my depth)
5: I was forced by the organizer to dive in the afternoon. My noseclip only stays on in the morning (me, loosing air from my noseclip)
4: Jakob forced us to walk all the way Lissos on our day off, so we got tired (the Danish team)
3: A sense of guilt weighed so heavily on me, I couldn’t focus (Jakob, having made the Danish team walk to Lissos on their day off)
2: I was suffering from testicular freezing (Will Winram, having ripped a big hole in his wetsuit bottoms)
1 – the absolute winner -: I WAS TOO DEEP ( Johan, having blacked out at the surface after his 101m dive)

In general, we have found that it is best to have your excuse handy before you even get in the water, and the most successful excuses are those that blame outside circumstances or third parties, such as photographers. Fred Buyle makes a perfect victim. Anyway, we apreciate further additions to the list, and will vote on the best pool excuses in Aarhus.

Danish team with the conveyor-belt coach

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Action at the Mediterranean Freediving Meeting

happy freedivers from Denmark:

As usual, I woke up early this morning with the familiar rush of nerves, suddenly quite glad that I didn’t give in to any of the announcement devils that were hopping around in my head yesterday afternoon. After the oatmeal-banana-honey breakfast that has served me well on recent deep dives, I headed down to the beach to let Michélè distract me and keep me company. There I encountered a new rule for the surface protocol, written on the information board – as if we don’t have enough rules to remember already – that said: “ALL athletes are required to kiss the in-water judge after their dive. No exceptions. Rebels will be punished” This had everyone asking who the in-water judge was going to be, and some serious faces on the male competitors, as they were preparing themselves to kiss judge Kimmo or Alexis. Michélè has been very busy during this meeting, managing the onshore organization, checking athletes are present at the mandatory 60min before official top, and do not disappear on their own to the toilet any more after that. In fact, she send Rob King, also known in the freediving world as Robert the King, to go with Jakob one time, where he checked the bathroom for oxygen tanks that might be hidden in the trash, or any other forbidden items, such as bars of chocolate. Rob has been diving ridiculously deep, which makes me feel quite inadequate, as he was only about five meters ahead of me when we met in 2007, but now he’s happily popping down to the eighties. I think it must be the bright pink stuff he keeps having, which he claims is a sports drink, but we believe is in fact radioactive. We’ll check tonight, if he starts to glow in the dark, we know something fishy is going on.

I went out all by myself today, with no one to look after me. Sniff. As I got to the line, it was just getting a bit rough, but anyone who has dived next to the platforms surfing on the waves in Sharm last year cannot be phased by such minor details. I was worried that the sled might have broken my constant weight again, and I sure felt pretty weird and disoriented to about 20m, where I just started to freefall and everything was fine. Before I knew it, I was at the plate, thinking “hurrah! I made it” and “should have announced more...” Some things never change. Minutes after my dive, I started the coaching conveyor belt, which included Maria, then Nicholas Guerry, then Jesper. Maria wisely turned early, feeling a bit worse for wear from her great dive yesterday. Nicholas turned early, too, which is a shame, but better to be safe. By now the waves were pretty huge and the organizer’s team just did not keep up with the ironing! Guillaume Nery did another super easy 80m free immersion dive, he seems relaxed and is diving very well, with an obvious love of what he is doing which is nice to see in a world class athlete.

I went to find my next Danish coaching project, which was Jesper, who once again had to dive first. Unlike yesterday, when he needed stressing out, it was pretty clear to me that my job was more along the lines of “it’s only two more finkicks” and “all you need to do is equalize” this time round. By the time I got him onto the rope, the waves were enormous, but he was so focused, nothing seemed to bother him much. There was true excitement in the air when he left the surface. Stavros has introduced a great device this year: a top-rate sonar, on which they can follow the divers progress the entire time. A guy on the boat shouts out “seventy meters – seventy five – eighty...”, which makes it incredibly exciting for all spectators. Hearing “touchdown – coming up” was an amazing moment. As soon as Jesper appeared back at around twenty meters, it was clear to me that he would make it, he was still looking so strong. He certainly did not need his coach on this dive, and well deserves to celebrate this amazing performance with a lot of beers tonight. Next up was Jakob, and I think we were all truly hoping he would make this dive, too. Again, the shout “touchdown” from the boat had us holding our breath, but as he reached the surface he just could not recover quick enough and briefly nodded off after taking a couple of breaths, leaving Jesper the sole new Danish record holder. Considering that Jacob only started competing last year, this was a fantastic dive, especially since he said he equalized all the way there without problems. More will come from both guys in the future!

A new fashion has been taken on by a handful of freedivers at the last day of competition: the kamikaze headband. It sports the kamikaze logo and is a very useful item, since it is made to hold the Velcro tag, which the freediver now only has to slap onto his forehead. Even athletes with the worst case of freediving brain should be able to manage that and it eliminates the irritating question from the judges who like asking for the tag, when it should be totally clear from the smile on the diver’s face that he has got it. Well, now it is right in front of them. Here is a picture of British diver Stuart Bond after his successful 58m cw performance:

Now there were lots more great dives, but I can’t talk about all of them, and anyway, I believe I have a party to go to. I am aware that everyone is well tired of hearing about all these dives all the time, and waiting for me to get to the real gossip, which I promise is coming up as soon as I have recovered from the likely three day hangover.

Friday, 3 July 2009

Oh what to announce on the final day

First of all, I instantly have to confess to making a grave mistake, and apologize to my very good friend and longest training buddy Sara. How could I forget? I guess I have been so imersed in the little bubble that is the mediterranean freedving meeting that I have blanked out all previous experiences, and when I mentioned in my last post that the tlc I recieved from the Danes was possibly the best ever preparation for a performance, I neglected to state that it can only ever be a close second to the pedicure I got from my coach Sara just before it was time to warm up for static at the worlds in September. While most athletes were busy streching, yogaing, meditating, and generally being very serious, I got pretty toenails and went on to do a pb. Sorry Sara, it won’t happen again!

I have also been aware that the pictures I have posted previously of top freedivers William Winram and Stavros Kastrinakis have not shown them at their very best. Now I couldn’t leave you with a wrong impression and would like to state that both of them are naturally extremely handsome. Here is a picture, just in case, showing them in top shape:

Now that’s much better.

I was out all day today coaching a total of six athletes. It was just like a conveyor belt, one out, one in, with hardly any time to even leave the competition zone. I was more or less a part of the equipment! Things kicked off to a fun start when I went to get the zodiac taxi with Jakob and Jesper, both going out for their 85m dives, and Jesper mentioned that he was feeling almost too relaxed about the whole thing. Clearly, I was facing a totally new coaching challenge here: how to stress the athlete just enough to get him focused? Things such as “It’s a very deep dive” and “it’s definitely going to be a max” might have been said. Aparently it worked, since he once again broke the surface already smiling, closely followed by equally happy Jakob a few minutes later. Maria did an amazing 70m dive, but all my yelling did not induce her to remove her noseclip, so she has collected a red card but is having another go tomorrow. Will Winram turned early, tired, so I just ignored him when he came up. I am too busy to waste my valuable coaching time, after all. The challenge of the day was Christian, who had gone off to visit the fourth dimension and it took me shouting at him for 13 seconds to get him back to planet earth and through the surface protocol. In the end, he listened, and collected a white card for a 58m no fins dive, which has qualified him for the worlds in the Bahamas.

After all that drama, I was suddenly feeling very tired and decided to go off to sleep for a few hours, to ponder my anouncement options in my dreams. The moment I was on my bed, I was wide awake, with lots of interesting ideas going through my head. This I kept up for three hours, until I had only minutes left to announce, when I felt so stressed I quickly wrote down sixty meters constant weight and handed it in before I could change my mind. I encountered the Danish team outside the organizers room, and I know I have been going on about them, but really, this is getting to be quite fun: the gentleman’s agreement is still firmly in place, and both Jesper and Jakob have announced 91m, a Danish record! Even William (who is going for 77m no fins again) was impressed, to the point of threatening to buy them both a whisky if they did those dives. I can already see where the party tomorrow night is headed.

With such go for broke dives to do tomorrow the two boys (I’m not convinced one could call them men) deserved some tlc themsleves tonight, so were treated to a massage in turn. Let there be no excuses! I will be out there to coach them and a whole host of other lonely freedivers, so I will be able to report back firsthand from all the action. This will hopefully include a positive result from Johan, who is having another go at breaking the hundred meter curse. Maybe he needs stressing out a bit before the dive, like Jesper? I shall find out and offer my assistance. Now it is very late, and I should be sleeping, so I will leave you to ponder more important things and report back from our little freediving universe tomorrow.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

90m! A new German variable weight record at the MFM

Sorry, I have been offline for a while, too busy sunbathing, drinking orange juice and talking about freediving. Oh, and training a little, occasionally. We’ve had mixed days out here, with some pretty rough weather making things complicated, mostly for organiser Stavros who was faced with 32 athletes all wanting to train at 10am sharp. Meanwhile, I still got to go out early to do my sled dive, but felt the pressure with a line up of freedivers behind me foaming at the mouth, ready to go. As bossy boss Stavros had forced me to put the rope to 90m, and I always do what men tell me, I was headed down there when I got hit by a nasty cramp in my calf at around ten meters. My first idea was to stop and try again, but I realized that I would end up at the back of the grid, so I took my cramp all the way down to 87m, where messy equalisation finally stopped me. The next day all sled people got banished to the afternoon. I woke up tired, and kind of knew I should rest, but was so annoyed with having missed the target the day before, I couldn’t get myself to do it. I was sort of hoping the weather would turn bad and take matters out of my hands, but no such thing. Warm-ups were terrible and had me considering such options as a shallow dive, or, even better, bed, when I heard myself say: “90m” to Stavros. There are some lessons my brain just refuses to learn, as I quickly found out when I was distracted by a strange gurgling noise on the way down. It took me 35m to realize that my noseclip wasn’t on properly, and the bubbling sound was the air escaping with each equalization. Needless to say, there was not much left, and I stopped at 53m, fully aware that I should have stayed in my room, asleep, all morning. Having learned this lesson the hard way, I decided to take two days off, which left me free to coach people on the first competition day.

As I mentioned earlier, I have been hanging out with the Danish team. Now they used to always strike me as kind of quiet, but excellent divers, very focused on their training and all annoyingly good at dynamic. Saturday night taught me not to assume anything anymore. After dragging me off to a new restaurant where they proceeded to order two bottles of wine in quick succession, they made me drink the free Raki that came with the meal and then, to round off all the things you should not do in the middle of training, took me back via the Lotos bar. Here Jesper and Jakob ordered Mojitos, Maria a Cuba Libre, while I stuck to a beer. Rune was the only one who stayed sober, no idea what he must have been thinking about us lot. Things got worse when the waitress came over with some free shots, followed by another round, followed by some beers on the house. I crawled into bed at three thirty in the morning, and am still trying to work out how they managed to get me involved in this kind of shocking behaviour. One would have thought that I had learned to be wary of all Nordic people by now, but a suggestion by said Danish team to head for the beach on our rest day seemed like a good plan. Unbeknown to me, they had gathered information from fellow Dane Sofus, about a very beautiful, secluded beach that we should visit. After wading around some rocks, we found ourselves in a pristine cove, surrounded by picturesque cliffs, and – here we go – a whole load of naked people! Needless to say, we kept our bikinis and swimming trunks on, but Maria and I were treated to a charming display of the local wildlife strutting up and down in front of us suggestively when our good-for-nothing-men went off hunting for some caves instead of looking after us.

Come Monday, I was impressed with the overall Danish stamina when I went out to coach Christian to his first no fins competition dive with 50m, Maria to a great 65m and Jesper to 75. Jakob also did 75m, and you should have seen their smiles. We stayed out to watch the exciting dive of the day: Johan had gone all out to beat the 100m curse and announced 101m constant weight, a dive we were all sure he could do having seen him come up clean from 97 in training. Things turned out differently this time and he treated us to a good Viking show after returning to the surface – he took two breaths, kind of realized it wasn’t going his way, starting cursing, and blacked out. As soon as the safety divers picked him up, he came round and cursed some more! I saw Per Westin do something similar later on, so they seem to have some kind of Swedish-man-thing going there, I’ll find out some details if I can. After a days’ rest Johan went for it again, although he made the critical mistake of reducing from 101m to 100m, which he should have known would be bad luck since he was aware (I didn’t even know it myself, I swear, I just have “the room at the end”...) that 101 was my room number. Don’t ask how he knew, he just did, and it’s all innocent, in case you were wondering. Anyway, back to the mistake, a meter less didn’t help, and where he was too slow on the ascent on the first try, he was too slow on the descent the second time round, and the lights went out at 7m. Now we are waiting for the final try on Saturday, when, provided he announces 101, I am confident that he will make it.

In the middle of all this, Stavros has been up to his tricks from last year, showing us what a bunch of pussies we are, by managing an entire competition plus training for a bunch of annoying athletes, safety diving, filming, and quickly popping down to 111m in record time when there is a break , to set a new Greek record in variable weight. Here is a picture of him breathing up on the boat. I didn’t take that charming shot, you have to blame his safety divers.

Will Winram and Rob King both had a bad moment when they were glad to hear their alarm as they were freefalling towards the bottom, which apparently means that they are not far from the plate and can stop equalizing, only it didn’t mean this at all in this case, since it was some random alarm set on the official gauge. They both had to turn early, which should teach the officials to check gauges for alarms, and possibly teach athletes not to rely on such things. After a brief moment of “I quit”, Will has recovered his competitive spirit and announced 77m no fins for tomorrow, closely followed by Guillaume Nery who has been breezing down to depths such as 90m constant weight and is having a go at 75 no fins. Jesper and Jakob have been having some fun agreeing on the depth they will do and then announcing the same thing – yesterday the y both did fantastic 80m dives, easy as you like, and the smiles have been growing by the day. They look like a couple of ten-year old boys with a new toy, who are generally up to no good.

In the midst of all this, I had a go at 90m in a record attempt. This took place on Stavros’ new über-sled, which, since I am diving variable, was missing the tank and liftbag that normally creates a nice bit of drag, slowing the monster down somewhat. Add to this that unlike Stavros and Will, I cannot fit 9 litres of air into my lungs, (3.6, actually) and was wearing a 3mm suit, and you can see where this is going. Shortly after I released the break, I had already shot past photographer Fred Buyle and was out of sight before he could take a picture. I was going so fast, my noseclip was flying off, so I had to hold it on, which got me very distracted and before I knew it, I was well behind with equalization and stuck at 73m. Grrrrrrrrrr. I decided to go back to wearing the mask and give it one more training dive, which I had yesterday after the competition. This time, Stavros took some weight of the rocket sled, so I a bit more time to think on the way down. I still ran out of air for my ears, though, and, thinking I was somewhere around seventy, hit the brake. Back at the surface, I saw that I had been at 86, and could have pushed it to the bottom! This at least gave me the confidence to have another go today, early in the morning, especially since I realized that my mask was equalized at the bottom, instead of my ears. Mantra: pinch the nose, pinch the nose...

By now I was starting to get annoyed with missing my depth, so as the day progressed, I steadily got more nervous. Fortunately, I had the Danish team to distract me, who made me go back to the naked beach, and took me out to dinner in the evening. This had been part of a plan they made to thank me for lending Maria my wetsuit. I was presented with the following choice: one: drinks, two: dinner, or three: a massage by Jesper and Jakob. Hmmmmm. I was still considering my options when they took matters out of my hands by feeding me, making me drink some wine, and then taking me down to the moonlit beach, where we (and I would like to state clearly at this point that Rune and Maria were present at all times) sat on some blankets with a candle and takeaway peppermint tea, listening to the waves and some music from Jakob’s eclectic collection. Before I could protest, I was treated to the third option, with Jesper massaging my head and Jakob my feet. Once we overcame a fit of the giggles at the all around cheesiness of this situation, it actually turned into the most relaxing preparation for a record dive I have had so far. How could I possibly fail to go to 90m after so much tlc?

This morning I woke up at five, with the usual fit of nerves. This seems to be good for me, though, as it really gets me focused. There is no more messing around. Conditions were just beautiful, calm, no waves, fantastic visibility. I had Jesper with me to coach, and the other Danes for moral support and to take pictures. Just before I got onto the sled, I had a brief moment of nerves over the amount of people around just for me. All this vanished, as usual, in time for official top, and as I released the brake I was concentrating on my new mantra: do not put air in the mask. I was keeping my nose firmly pinched, while still going well fast. Somewhere around seventy I decided it was time to slow down, so I stuck my elbows out create a bit of drag, and was just running out air for the ears when I heard the 80m alarm and was at 90m seconds later, with a squeezing mask but room left for another five or six meters. The whole way up, I was grinning to myself, pleased as punch. I just saw the surface video: I come up, do the surface protocol in four seconds, then break into a huge smile and start laughing, then finally remember to take a breath. Oh well, who needs to breathe when they have made it to ninety meters!

Tomorrow I am having a day off, which leaves me free to coach five people. Exciting will be Jesper and Jakob again, who are sticking to their gentleman’s agreement and have both announced 85m. Maria is going for it big time with 70, as is young Rune with 63. I am hoping to see a load of white cards. Now, I am off to bed, to contemplate what to do on the last day of competition. As usual, I have the odd funky idea in my head, and will soon let you know which devil is winning.