Friday, 3 December 2010

Kidnapped by aliens

I suppose you have guessed by now, and it is, unfortunately, true: my long absence from these pages can only mean one thing. Sum of all freediving training sessions since – hang on – July!! is: zero. Déjà vu springs to mind. I guess there are some things in life we just have to repeat over and over again.

I did have a bit of fun at this years’ top notch diving event in the 20m deep indoor dive center dive4life: the SSI Dive Trophy semi final, where the 100 best divers of the year fight it out in various tests. This year, a freediving challenge was added to the mix. I arrived Friday evening, got carted to the tank and thrown in the water to film a demonstration video. After I quenched ideas such as: let’s make the contestants (who have never done any freediving, mind you!) hold their breath for as long as they can at 10m depth, so as to maximise the black out potential, we came up with a safe but reasonably challenging (I thought) version. Dive down to 10m along a line, each meter gets you one point. Still feel strong? Swim ten meters across and up to a line at seven meters depth, detach a karabiner with a key ring and swim to the surface with this token. Total points: 30.

You would think this might be fairly difficult for complete novices. When shown the demonstration video during the briefing gasps of horror where heard from contestants. With hindsight, though, I realize that I have strongly underestimated one important factor: the desire to get points! An amazing two thirds collected all thirty of them. At times I thought they might need rescuing any second, but few gave up. Amazing, and annoying, since this meant that I had to keep going down to re-attach the key rings. A total of around four hours in the water and 68 dives later, I was quite ready for my dinner. I’ll think of something tougher next year, guys!

I went to stay in London for a month, fully focused and ready to train hard, but got floored by a nasty cold, so spent four weeks on the sofa instead, getting grumpy and fat. A single static session with Liv had me start contractions after 42 seconds. I believe this may be a world record. It has yet to improve. I have decided that altitude training is always a fabulous idea, and since the guys from Pure Boarding were twisting my arms very hard, snowboarding season has come early and I have somehow spend three weekends on glaciers already - it has to be good for dynamic. Right?

I was so panicked about not training that I decided it was a brilliant idea to go for a run after the first day of snowboarding of the year and hit upon a very clever plan: as we left in the morning to drive up to the glacier, I asked Sebastian to check where exactly we would reach 10k. On the way down at the end of the day I got changed in the back of the van and then hopped out to run back home. With a look of disbelief on their faces, Simon and Sebastian left me behind, to enjoy the beautiful mountain loneliness. I loved it, but had failed to take into account that I was running at around 1800m of altitude. Punishment for such stupidity soon follows (well, the next day), of course, but then you have to keep up appearance for the smirking guys. I think I didn’t do too badly and none of them noticed that I had, in fact, been close to unable to get out of bed.

Last weekend we headed up to the Kaunertal glacier, in Austria – it was a staggering -20°C. That is a bit fresh for a girl with low blood pressure, and as we stopped for a coffee break, I discovered that I had lost the front half of my feet. Toes? What? Where? Fortunately I was with a bunch of gentlemen who didn’t want to lose the only female in their midst, and took turns helping to defrost me. I did not notice the wind blowing in between my helmet and my goggles, though, and ended up with a bump across my forehead, from frostbite, making me look just like Hermann Munster! Terrifying. I hope it will be warmer when we hit the Dolomites next week.

We have a new guy at Pure Boarding, by the name of Tobias, who is a sports teacher and clearly likes a challenge. One night at dinner we had the usual so-how-long-can-you-hold-your-breath-conversation, and I told him anyone could do two minutes, which resulted in the two of us doing statics in the hotel spa pool after snowboarding all day! He did very well, considering the less than ideal circumstances, and appears to suffer from a thing called the competition gene: first thing he demanded to know afterwards was if I could watch two freedivers at once, so that he and Sebastian could go head to head! I thought I should train, too, and did the one minute/one breath table. I managed six. Just to give you an idea: I have done 17. Aaargh.

Have started doing dry statics in the morning. I start contractions before the first minute is over, and have so far pushed myself to an amazing 2:30. I think aliens have kidnapped me and have replaced the German freediving champion with a thing called couch potato.


Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Time travel

I know I have been bad with my blog recently. There is a big chunk missing from Okinawa. My excuse is, I was depressed, and then I was hungover, from the party. Here is the short version: everyone did their thing, and then the Danish guys won. It was beautiful.

Truth is, I have been unable to do any writing, because I travelled back in time to the year 1952, and as we all know, there was no such thing as blogging, emailing, or mobile phoning back then. While I was still in Okinawa, I had a phone call from a production company looking for someone to double the actress playing the lead in a television movie about Hans and Lotte Hass. For those of you who still think Cousteau was the dude: Hans Hass was there first. He was taking pictures and filming underwater as early as the forties. Check out some of his documentaries, if you can, they are amazing – in black and white, manta rays, sharks, the life on the reefs, you name it.

As soon as I got back from Japan, they carted me off to Vienna for a day, to have my wardrobe fitted. This turned out to be a bright red fifties pin up style bathing suit, which made me kind of nervous, since none of the production team had seen me except in photographs. Imagine they look at you and go: gosh, she’s a little fat! Just as I was standing there on a full exhale to get zipped in, the producer in charge walked through the door with his second in command in tow. “Wow” was the comment, which was a relief, let me tell you. A day at the hairdresser completed the look with top-notch extensions, which was an experiment that once again proved one thing: men are stupid. They will believe anything. Including that a woman’s hair can double in length overnight. Best not to tell them the truth, ever. Illusions are a lovely thing!

We flew off to Egypt with a film crew experienced in the multiple problems that arise in foreign places, savvy to the world and not easily fazed. Or so they thought. Their Egyptian journey started off with a minibus-versus-truck battle on the road to El Quesir. What can I tell you? The minibus lost. No one was hurt and the equipment was safe, so off we went all piled on top of each other into the bus that still had sides and windows.

El Quesir is typically Egyptian place: dusty, with a couple of fancy hotels and a couple of not so fancy ones that are busy sinking into the desert but have something one might describe as character. If you are used to Egypt, this is just normal, and much nicer than the full on tourist hell holes, but if you are new to it all, turning down the dirt road to drive past the dead goat and the skinny donkeys towards the Fanadir hotel, having just escaped the monster truck crash, is a special experience. I believe we were also a special experience for the hotel staff. There were around eighteen of us. The sum of the other hotel guests present when we arrived was two. You get the picture. There was still the Egyptian plumbing and the standard jet engine aircon left for the guys to discover, as well as the fact that faced with a desire for ice the bar staff would look stunned, shrug, say “no have”, then smile happily.

The first day was spent setting up equipment, and I got to meet Daniel. The man is an intriguing mix between mad professor and McGywer. Give him a piece of string, some matches, a couple of cable ties and a little washing powder, and he will make you a rocket that will fire chickens at cars or some such thing. He is also an excellent diver and provides underwater everything to the film industry, so they got him to build a whole bunch of equipment that looked just like the stuff Hans Hass dived with in 1952. Here he is, testing his own rig:

We were made to sign in at Pharao Divers, which was funny since they asked me when I had been diving last, and after thinking long and hard, I realized it was two years ago. I had a feeling this would not go down well, and with visions of a check dive in my near future, I put on my poker face and told them it was two weeks ago, which it was, only it was freediving. Never mind. We went in to check-dive the film units - a mixed experience. First, the lid blew off the pressure gauge on Ingo’s (Hans Hass double) gear, then, just as I was swimming along happily at ten meters, I took a breath and filled my mouth with nothing but water. Zero air. Since I had zero buoyancy, a swim to the surface did not appeal and as I managed to get a sip of air through eventually, I continued the dive like that. Getting out, Daniel asked me if all was well, which it was, except for this minor detail. The other detail was that the old school fins were about six sizes too big, so I was holding onto them by curling my toes, which is not a comfortable (or effective) way to swim.

It was soon clear that safety diver Fred would need assistance, so we recruited one of the dive guides from Pharao, a Danish guy called Tore. He turned up on the boat wearing a chicken vest which said “Safety Diver” in orange letters on the back. Hmmm. Familiar. Turns out he was a safety diver at the world championships in Aarhus, and since Elisabeth and I were the practice victims, he most likely has rescued me already! Anyway, he was assigned to me and had the not so easy job of swimming me around the place for the next two weeks.

I have been involved in some complicated diving, but what we got up to tops it all. We had a main boat, moored on the edge of the reef, from where we all took off in a Zodiac, to get to the actual scene of filming, where we’d anchor. Back on the main boat, a monitor was set up, with our DOP jumping up and down waiting for a picture. This arrived (Well. Sometimes) via a cable plugged into the camera, running to the Zodiac, where either Ute or Leif would bake in the sun all day, overseeing the picture being sent back to the main boat monitor. So Mathias had an image, but he wanted to be part of the action and yell at us, too, which he would do via an underwater loudspeaker lowered from the Zodiac, which was connected to a walkie talkie, which Mathias would shout orders into, which we would then hear (or not, depending) down there. Apparently, so did everyone else who had the misfortune of diving the site. Poor scuba novices were confused for two weeks by commands such as: “Achtung! Very Good! Noch einmal! Weiter schwimmen! Keep Swimming, Keep Swimming, Keep Swimming....” etc.

It was lots of hard work, but also lots of fun. The diving was challenging, which I love, and I was freezing most of the time, which I don’t love at all. Main problem was, we had very little air in the units, so I was busy saving it a lot. Also, since the units have no buoyancy but are equipped with steel tanks, I was as heavy as a stone. With my lovely fins, which, as Tore pointed out, gave me about five percent propulsion, I did not stand a chance of going anywhere but down. The most fun I had the entire time was a scene where I had to descend from the surface with a huge ancient look alike video camera housing. I sank so fast, it felt like sled diving! I was busy whooping and having a blast when I saw the reef rush towards me at about 40m. Just as I was wondering how I would avoid pulverizing the coral head below me with the steel housing, Daniel turned up and I dropped the thing into his arms. Next, I realized that slowing myself down was not going to happen, either, but Tore got there before the reef, so all was well, and I was grinning all the way back up. Usually, it’s once more, again, one more time, repeat that last one, do it again, etc, etc, all the time, but don’t think you get to do something twice if it’s actually fun! Tsss.

There was a distinct lack of dancing girls or other entertainment at the Fanadir bar. Eventually we had a day off, and the night before turned into a longish one right away, with a splash-diving competition in the pool at 1am, organised by our camera boss, Mathias, who cannot be still for twenty minutes without thinking up some nonsense. Well, what can you expect from a grown man who goes by the nickname of Matze. I believe he was genuinely disappointed at not winning the splash diving comp. He’d fit right in with us freedivers!

Just when they all thought Egypt was the worst place they had ever worked in, but they had it sussed now, we had the final round: all permissions for filming were denied. Turns out, they were not granted in the first place. We ended the trip with a lovely man from the coast guard coming aboard to pick up everything that looked vaguely suspicious or like something he could use, to take it back to the police station, to be impounded, a thing they love doing, but usually it’s cars. Anyway, what our guys did not realize is that they were kind of nice, in so far as none of us got arrested, so we all went off in a taxi to Hurghada and flew home the next day, luckily with most of the filming done.

I’ll be over there again before long, taking taxis to the blue hole, with my wetsuits and monofin. In the meantime, time travel has come to an end and transported me, slightly dazed and confused, back to the bookshop, and my customers. This morning, I realized that the window after next is the Christmas window, ohhhh nooooooo ...

Then again: it’s nearly snowboard season. Maybe I’ll get a retro outfit, then Remo and Jörg can’t complain that I’m invisible in the videos. Hmmm. Red?

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

More diving in Okinawa

After two days of weather-enforced rest the second constant weight competition day finally kicked off. It started badly for Guillaume, who went down happy as you like to do an easy (!) 102m dive, when he encountered a rope wrapped around the main line at ninety. Faced with this kind of problem at this kind of depth, most divers would have turned. He thought, oh well, I’ll just take the whole thing down to the plate with me, so he pushed the rope all the way to 98m, where it finally got properly stuck, so he went up. We are all very happy he did not get tangled down there. He then got offered to do the dive again at the end of the day, which is in the rules, of course, but may not be a very sensible thing to do considering such minor details as risk of DCS. In the end, all the team captains signed a petition to award Guillaume the full points for his dive, since we are all simply glad that he is unharmed and fully recognise that he would have done the dive easily. The decision went through, and the French team are now in third place, seven points behind team Denmark, who in turn are four points behind the Japanese.

My training buddy Elisabeth has been unlucky with an ear infection, so could not start, but was there to coach me and Martin. I felt quite bad, dizzy and light headed on the boat, but was instantly happy as soon as I did my duck dive. Until a cramp hit me at ten meters, that is. I still carried on swimming, trying to wiggle my foot at the same time, and even managed to take the first proper huge mouthfill of the season. Annoyingly, the cramp just got worse and worse, so at 40m I finally had enough and swam back up going au-au-au-au the whole way. There is only one thing I have to say about this: grrrrrrrrrrrrr.

Fortunately our Danish friends were there to distract me, taking Martin and myself on an outing to do some snorkelling around some cliffs and a cave. The spot was beautiful, with lots of little holes to swim through and even a fair amount of fish to look at, especially some very tame batfish, which I just love. There was also an amazing amount of beginner divers being carried around by their guides, which gave me flashes of memory from my previous life as a dive guide in Thailand. Let’s just say I was glad it wasn’t me. On the surface, we had what felt like thousands of snorkelers - Linda would have had a field day. Having said that, I noticed that the snorkelers here are exceedingly well behaved, all with lifejackets or giant pink inflatable rings to support them, and all in an orderly group, hanging on to each other and being pulled about by a commando guide at the front. The cave was beautiful, you could swim over 50m into it and then back out against the light, past schooling fish along the way. We played around for two hours, freaking out hapless scuba divers and filming each other. Lovely.

Next, it was back to static training. Spending the day in the hotel before it was time to go to the pool did not help, and I could feel myself getting grumpier and more miserable by the hour. Sure enough, what followed was a new personal worst, as Jesper calls it, in training. I quit at three minutes. Elisabeth spoke to me sternly and made me go again, so I quit at 3:15 the next time, feeling amazingly miserable. This meant that I had to have another session yesterday morning, of course, and after a lot of struggling I have finally made it past five minutes for the first time this year, so am feeling a little better about the static competition this afternoon.

We have had a bit of a spontaneous party, too, organized by team Denmark, who went out and bought some bottles of wine, invited anyone they came across, and went to climb off their balcony and onto the flat concrete roof that their room opens onto. Now this is hardly a glamorous place, but we stole the chairs and a couple of tables from the rooms around and ended up with about fifteen people, having a rather good time, extremely pleased with the fact that we could feel the breeze blowing on our faces. Doesn’t take a lot to make us happy. The highlight of the party came when Jakob shot up a couple of rockets and firecrackers he had bought earlier in the supermarket. We’re an easy enough bunch to please, really. Give us some wine from some toothbrush mugs, a firecracker, and some silly jokes, and all is well.

Now then. Must rest for static. Urgh.

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Team world championships in Okinawa

Team Holiday germany - the photo was taken by Canadian team member Kevin

Having made my way across a couple of time zones, I climbed onto the hotel shuttle bus at Naha airport a week ago, feeling weird and spaced out. The hour drive did not present me with lush green tropical gardens, as I had hoped, but with a city that blends into city that borders onto a city. Continue in this fashion and you have it. Since the entire island got destroyed during the war, it seems that things have been built up again quickly and randomly afterwards, covering most of the available space in the south with buildings and paved things.

Still, I had high hopes for the “Tokio Dai-ichi Grand Mer Resort”. It turned out to be a concrete high rise. Rooms are spacious, though, and the staff friendly, so I thought I would be fine if I could just go and find the pool, have a swim and then sleep for a couple of hours under a sunshade. Book and towel in hand, I set off. I should have been suspicious when I was told that the pool was on the second floor. It is indoors. There is no beach nearby. On top of my jetlag, I instantly began to feel very claustrophobic.

So far, this has been relieved somewhat by the presence of my teammate Martin, Norwegian Elisabeth, the Danish team and my favourite Kiwi divers Guy and Kerian. It’s all ok when you have people to have fun with. Sure enough, I went out to train at the dynamic pool with the Danish crew, and did my first fifty meter swim in eight months. The result was predictable: it felt awful. The most worrying bit is having lactic legs before hitting the wall. Fortunately, I am on “team holiday Germany”, so I was about to quit and go home when Jakob and Jesper caught sight of me and simply made me do a proper(ish) dive. After the fifty meter turn, I could not swim in a straight line for some unknown reason, but decided to ignore this since oxygen felt fine, so I came up at 100m, actually feeling alright. Damn. Now I will have to think about pushing a bit after all.

It was a day for sorting out technical bits, so I asked Danish alternate Henning to help me check if my neckweight was right. He held me in place just where I would like to be neutral (turns out my weighting is perfect) and then popped up to say: listen, don’t get offended, I promise you what I am about to say is a good thing, honest, it does not mean you’re fat, it’s just, I meant to say – here goes – you have heavy legs. Why, thank you, Henning! This is the first time a guy has apologized to me before paying me a compliment. I guess it takes a diver to understand that a compliment is what it is. He says he got a very defensive, if not outraged, reaction when he said this to a girl before, hence the apology, in case I might get all upset with him. It was very entertaining, and quite charming.

My favorite Kiwi divers Guy and Kerian (background) waiting to dive, sheltering from the rain

Deep diving training itself is complicated by a few factors: one, it takes 45min to drive us athletes there in the hotel shuttle bus, two, the conditions are volatile to say the least. It appears that there are very strong tidal currents, so there is a small window in which things are ok, and then the lines and divers go flying sideways. I pulled down to do a hang for my warm-up, and started contractions after 28sec! Did I mention things don’t feel quite right? On the official training day we were greeted by a rainstorm with thunder and lightning and large waves. After helping the Danish team with countdowns and manning the counterballast, I managed to ignore the fact that I was having contractions on the way down and swam to 50m, not a happy dive, but one that was ok, in any case. A devil has made me announce 56m for the competition, which means I do have to concentrate more than I had planned. Team holiday? What? Where?

Most of us have been in the very warm hotel pool daily, doing statics. I am still just beyond 4min, with a big struggle, which is simply wrong, if you ask me. I have observed a couple of very funky sambas from athletes that shall remain nameless, but who are clearly struggling with the temperature. My favourites for the moment are team New Zealand and team Denmark. They all seem to be pretty together, training well and having a good time, too. The French team is the most professional looking, with Sony Ericson written all over there various bits of matching outfits. Problem there is, the spirit seems a bit low, because they made their final selection only a couple of days ago, so Christian got kicked out. We’ll see how they do, but they collected a yellow card for Morgan on the first constant weight day, which was yesterday. We have been split into two lots of divers, and as always, I have ended up with the day I did not want, namely day two. Getting restless with me are Jakob and Rune, Jesper and Kerian got lucky and have collected their white cards for a 90m and an 88m dive.
The rest of us decided to leave the hotel and make our way downtown for a bit of sightseeing, led by Martin, who is turning out to be even more useful than normally, because he speaks Japanese. It was good to be out and about, but also turned out to be rather hot, so we felt cooked after about twenty minutes. We were contemplating whether it would be rude to go for a swim in the wishing well, but decided against it and went in search for a taxi and a beach instead. This is where we were taken:

I promise I have never seen anything like it. A beach under
neath a motorway bridge. It was only topped by an experience the Danish team had earlier in the week: they arrived on a beach, hot and sweaty, looking forward to a dip, to find that there was no water! The tide was out. All the way out. Apparently, the lifeguards were still on duty, though.

Our constant weight competition day was cancelled due very strong winds. I am now back in restless claustrophobia mode, and really wish I could have done my dive yesterday. Going to do another static. It is WRONG.

Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Skandalopetra – or: going down with a rock

There is not much to be said about the last comp day, except that it would have been a day for Linda’s chicken card. Lots of athletes turned early, including some of my coaching protégées. I will have to consider dropping them, as I am clearly in high demand and cannot waste my time on chicken divers. Also, they are spoiling my track record. My only success was Jakob, whom I managed to talk out of his holiday mode and into doing a nice dive. I just told him he had to put pressure on Jesper. Works every time.

I was a failure myself, turning once again at exactly 53m with a non cooperative left ear. Coach Martin would be proud of me for being so sensible and not pushing things. I think I’m quite proud myself, actually. Anyway. Now for the fun stuff: as soon as we got out of the water, we entered party mode, as usual. As is standard custom, this was hindered by the dreaded banquet, but we have been well trained by previous occasions and got all the speeches out of the way, briefly enlivened by throwing cherries at the French table, which we got told off for quite sternly. The party finally kicked off when we decamped to the bar, which was next to a pool. Now you may guess what had to follow. It was all instigated by none other than Nicolas Guerry. He started by going up to people and telling them he needed to just check their key card, which he would then flick into the pool. I am glad to report that I was not the only one thick enough to fall for this. I doubt there were many people left with access to their room after an hour.

After I got chucked into the pool at Rush in Dahab after a triple depth party a couple of years ago, an experience which I did not appreciate, I had decided to stay dry this evening. The first to go in was Stavros, and soon Nicola and his friends were on the prowl for new victims. Strategy is everything in situations like this, so I had cunningly placed myself next to the largest man around, in the shape of South African cameraman Barry. As soon as any wet men came to get me, I just flung my arms around his neck and clung on for dear life. This proved amazingly successful for about an hour. The guys approached several times, thought about various angles for grip or lift, simply got pushed away by Barry once or twice, saw that they had no chance and left to find another victim. Just when I thought I might stay dry, after all, they hit upon a new plan: they put Stavros in charge of the military operation to get us in the pool. It took about ten guys. It was also the beginning of the end of the party, as everyone was now too cold to continue much longer. The poor guy in reception was faced by around forty freedivers, dripping all over the floor, demanding new key cards. Not sure if they will have us lot back next year...

Next up was a hangover flight to Rhodes, to take part in the Skandalopetra Games at Lindos. Skandalopetra is one of the oldest ways to dive, used by the Greek sponge fishers hundreds of years ago. It’s simple: a rope is tied to a flat marble stone. You just hang on to the rock to get pulled down, and when you have enough, you pull the rope and your mate at the top pulls you back up. Essentially, it is a very basic form of no limits diving. Herbert did a world record of 107m last year, which the organisers had asked Stavros to come and break. There is a minor problem: you are not allowed a wetsuit, fins, mask, or anything else, except swimming trunks and a noseclip. This presented me with a challenge the guys thought quite excellent: you jump in with a 10kg stone - I promise you: the bikini does NOT stay on. Somehow, everyone wanted to take pictures or be in charge of video all of a sudden. But hey, we women are creative with outfits, so I managed to dig out a sports top and a pair of hotpants that I held in place with my weightbelt. It worked beautifully, except once, when I forgot to tighten the belt and it nearly all went wrong.

The event was organised by a guy from Thessaloniki called Nicolas. He was extremely welcoming and kept telling us about the 100 people that would turn up shortly. We kicked off with about ten, which was fine by us. The municipality had arranged an enormous platform for us to dive from, which was all very well, only the thing did not seem very seaworthy and needed to be towed out of the very narrow entrance to St Pauls bay, in which it was moored, every day. The first time, we took bets to see if we would be shipwrecked on the rocks on the way out, or out there in the distant sea when the wind picked up, smashed by the waves. Since the platform was kind of yellow, it quickly got dubbed the ‘SS Saganaki’ – Saganaki being a slab of fried cheese, for those who are not acquainted with Greek cuisine, and also Will’s favourite dish of the week. The SS Saganaki was piloted by captain Tsaziki, who managed to shout commands on anyone who came near. Amazingly, they anchored the thing in around 70m of water on the first day, so we did actually get to do some dives. Visiting the thermacline at 27m with no wetsuit on was an interesting experience, I tell you. As we were told that it was customary to compete in teams, Philipe and I joined forces and became team Germany/Canada. When I got ready to handle the ropes for his dive and to pull him back up, I was greeted by slightly worried stares from the Greek side, who were clearly not used to the sight of a blond girl handling ropes. It was surprisingly easy to get him up – as long as the diver stays streamlined and you don’t break you rhythm, it is fine. Had there actually been a competition, I reckon team Canada/Germany would have kicked ass.

Every day we were told 100 people would arrive, every day we went out with ten divers and a lot of hangers on, including a dog. As six of the ten divers were made up by us lot, I am a little surprised at the lack of Greek participants. Maybe they were all frightened away by the prospect of being beaten by a girl and a Canadian? Anyway, Stavros was to do a deep training dive on day three, so we went out with the Saganaki ship, dropped the 110m of anchorline in 105m of waters and proceeded to drift along the coast towards Turkey at a rate of several knots, until we got stuck in around 52m of water, where some guys jumped in to dive, only to find that there was a ripping current taking them off at a 45° angle to do a no limits dynamic instead. It was weird. The platform was populated by terribly serious looking CMAS officials, which always brings out the very worst in us, in the shape of a quickly rising urge to be extremely silly. Since Stavros could not do his dive, we had him visualise the performance instead (see picture above), and to be proper, we made Manos visualise the safety, Fred visualise taking pictures and Will visualise pulling the rope. Had we been able to find a judge to visualise giving the white card, the record would have been valid.

Next up is a flight to Berlin, where I have ten hours to unpack and repack my bag, visit the bookshop to do all the work I should have done in the last four weeks, and rush back to the airport for a looooong journey to Okinawa, Japan. Sushi! Can’t wait.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Fun and Games

Now that I have the big dive out of the way, I have gone into holiday mode. The day after my record, I went out on the first boat, to open my coaching business, and spent all day bobbing in the waves and pressing my services on various people. A coaching success was Johan, who wasted no time in declaring the Swedish no fins record with 68m. He looked strong until he reached the surface, then he looked like he needed my help, so I yelled. He pointed out later that we have now given each other a national record, which I think is rather lovely. I was also able to help out Kerian, who had announced 80m FIM, with his pb being 60m. This was the first time I saw him a look a bit nervous. He had come up with an amazingly clever plan for getting comfortable on the dive. Turning at the bottom at 80m, he was going to start swimming up no fins until he felt good and got settled, then he was going to begin pulling. Have you ever heard such a thing? I felt it was my duty as a coach to cure him of his temporary insanity, so I looked at him as sternly as I could and said: no you’re not. You are not going to swim. You are going to pull. You are going to like it. He looked a bit surprised but gave in without discussion and had a lovely dive. I believe a combination of this and the superman suit has made him feel very brave, so he has declared 101m for tomorrow. I would like to remind you that his pb of a few days ago is 90m. Balls of steel, said a fellow diver. I believe it will be my job to look after this one again. Can’t wait!

Good thing is, since I have pretended to have a share in getting Kerian to do good dives, he has put a word in for me with blue seventy, and I am now the proud owner of prototype superhero suit, see above. If this makes my diving go the same way Kerian’s has gone, it will be quite brilliant! It looks good in pictures, too, which is obviously the most important thing of all. Guillaume has announced 118m for tomorrow, which will be a pb for him. I reckon it will be an easy dive – I saw him surface laughing after 114m. Superheroes wherever you look, I tell you.

Of course we freedivers have a lot of downtime, and we never seem to run out of silly things to get up to. The other day a crowd of us had gathered around the pool, when safety stud Daan accidentally (well...) fell into the pool with one of the sun loungers. More furniture soon followed, and instant fun was had by all, diving down to have our picture taken by Laura. Problem was, the owner of the hotel was actually swimming in the pool himself, and although we made a vague effort at being discreet, he eventually realized that we had sent his chairs to the bottom and proceeded to have sense of humour failure, in Greek, at whole bunch of freedivers, who sat on the side of the pool, a picture of innocence. We have decided that the guy is the Greek answer to Basil Fawlty, wandering around the place, ready to pounce on people when they least expect it. The photo shoot was followed by a pack-a- much-as-you-can- and-then-check-how-floaty-you-are- competition, which was won hands down by George. She still floats with two neckweights on. Amazing.

We have a special sleep study going on here, so random athletes have been getting all wired up. It was Livy’s turn the other night. Check her out:

I believe this is a very clever study indeed. They wire you up like that to check for sleep disturbances, thus making sure that you will effectively be getting NO sleep at all. We could not stop laughing when we saw Liv, and immediately started to make up lots of ways to mess with her. The highlight came when she told us to cut it out and be quiet, since the thing strapped to her chest was recording sound, to check for snoring, and movement. Tim and I were busy bouncing up and down on her bed and knocking the headboard against the wall within seconds, to see if we could make the scientist think she had had wired up robot sex. In between making grunts and groans we did give the game away by succumbing to fits of the giggles. Not sure what the scientist will make of this one.

Today was a rest day, so when the guys from the south African film crew offered to buy me a beer last night as I wondered into reception to try and write my blog, I decided it was time for my 100m beer. Little did I realize that the moment I took the first sip, I would be lost. Somehow, I ended up on the top of the cliff behind the hotel, dressed in flip flops and torn denim shorts, with a bunch of guys in equally shabby attire, entering the swishest bar around, full of women clad in high heels and mini dresses. I felt distinctly underdressed, which did not stop us from drinking beer and tequila and dance about merrily until five in the morning. I survived by tossing one tequila off the cliff, hiding one behind a flower pot, pouring one into someone else’s glass, and ditching one under the table. One of our guys removed his shoes and then went to sleep in the bar, one showed the most amazing dance moves to the locals, and one fell asleep in the corridor outside judge Ute’s room because his key card did not work and he failed to navigate his way back down to reception. All in all, a brilliant night, followed by an adequately painful hangover. I’m a little nervous about tomorrow night’s party. Help! Anyone out there to look after me? Please?

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

New German record in variable weight: 100m!!

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100m breath

This morning, I was definitely back on track in terms of nerves – I had a hard time forcing down my porridge breakfast at 7:30am. Fred sat at the table with me, and heard a big sigh – oh come on, he said, looking at me all surprised. The nerves are not actually fear of the dive, it is just that I want to make it so badly, it makes me nervous to think that I might mess it up. Having listened to jokes along the lines of have a beautiful dive, did you have a beautiful dinner, and such things, I had asked Jakob to come out with me to calm me down and coach me. His job was to yell at me at the surface and get me to focus. As we sat in the dry boat, he told me quite sternly: Anna, you are not going to be happy and smiley when you come up. You are going to be grumpy and serious until you have seen the white card. I just nodded and said: ok. Ok. OK! He then went on to promise me a coffee for after the dive, which got me very excited, I tell you. Coffeeeeeeee!

Stavros went first, and someone should do a study of what the man eats for breakfast. First he was doing safety all day yesterday, then he went out early to set up the sled for his own record, then he just popped down to 150m and came up easy as you like. He was fully focused and said “I AM OK” very seriously when he surfaced, then let out a huge roar when the judges showed him the white card. Natalia was up next, having announced a variable weight world record with 125m. She has been trying out various combinations of mask, no mask but noseclip, fluid goggles with noseclip, fluid goggles without noseclip. This is the option she went for in the end, just holding her nose. I have not seen that before, but it seemed to work for her. She also took five kilos of weight off the sled, and went down with 15kg instead of twenty, which slowed her down a lot and made equalisation much easier. She got down and back fine, and has added yet another WR to her name. Doesn’t look like she’ll be stopping anytime soon.

I was next to go, and had an easy time breathing up with the sea once again flat calm. While visualising my dive, I focused on things such as equalising my mask before taking the mouthfill, which I did as soon as I released the brake – unfortunately, I was a bit too zealous and released a nice big puff of air into the sea. The second one escaped me when I overfilled my mouth and could not hold the air in anymore ( last time I checked, my hair was still blond). I could feel a cramp coming on at around sixty meters, which distracted me so much, I nearly lost my mouthfill, so equalisation was very complicated and I had to put a good long stop in at 82m. Finally the left ear cleared, and I dropped down to the bottom.

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100m rocket sled

Getting off the sled, I was starting to think about what I needed to do, instead of just being excessively pleased with myself, which worked much better and kept narcosis at bay. I had a harder swim up this time, due to the longer stop, but Daan met me at 25m, and it always just wonderful to be in the hands of people you know will keep you 100% safe. Jakob did a good job telling me what to do on the surface, and I was all serious and said “I AM OK” instead of going on about how lovely the dive was, so Giota and Ute were finally able to give me my white card. Rarely have I been so pleased with anything. It was amazing, and I have to say thank you to the fantastic safety team, who just take care of everything and give you the freedom to go all out and do dives like that. Wonderful, guys, thank you thank you thank you!

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amazing 100m safety

100m coffeeeeee!

Benny went right after me, and did a sweet and easy no limits dive to 105, another Australian record, so we rounded off the sled morning perfectly, with everyone back happy and well. I went to sit down by the beach after a quick shower, and was busy texting everybody, when coach Jakob came and rounded off the morning by bringing me a huge portion of the most fantastic chocolate ice cream. 100m ice cream – nothing tastes quite like it. I added the final touch with iced coffee after lunch, and am now feeling full, tired and as pleased as punch. Tomorrow I am having a day rest, and will be out to coach anyone who puts their hand up. So far, I have Kerian, who is not wasting anytime and has announced 90m constant weight, when his previous pb is 82. I like it, but am quietly getting ready to yell a lot when he comes up. He is followed by Jakob with 90m, too, then Will, with 87 no fins, a big dive I am excited to see. Next one is Niki from New Zealand, who has been doing brilliant no fins dives, in fact, she did 57m in training and is going for 59m tomorrow, pretty exciting with the world record being 62m and two more competition days to go. I am very happy to coach her, and will be sending my best good-dive vibes when she leaves the surface. She is followed by George, with 48m constant weight, and then Liv, who had a strong 60m swim with her fin yesterday and is going for 44m without fins tomorrow.

So that’s six so far. I’m sure I will pick up some strays when I am out there. I wonder if I could announce a world record in coaching the most athletes in one morning?

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

100m and the most beautiful f***-up

So. Much in my usual style, I declared a record dive without actually bothering to try the depth in training first. Surprisingly, I was not really feeling stressed at all this time, and did not spend all evening going round saying “I’m so nervous, I’m so nervous, I’m so nervous” to anyone who crossed my path. I woke up at five, but just calmly went back to sleep again, very unusual. Having my oatmeal with banana for breakfast, I was waiting for the nerves to hit me, but nothing. The “oh shit what have I done” moment finally arrived when I was putting my wetsuit on, and it was so bad, I actually considered being sick there and then.

Trying to see if staring at my feet in the clear water will make the nerves go away. It does not.

Outside, I was greeted by perfect conditions, a glassy sea, slightly hazy, in an eerie and very atmospheric way. I was the only one going for a record that morning, so had the warm up lines and the safety studs all to myself. The only non-Greek safety stud, Daan, was appointed as my coach, a role he took very seriously, including massaging my foot – I think he was trying to take my mind of giant knot that was in my stomach. I did just two warm-ups, both rubbish, decided they were not going to get any better, and went to climb onto the sled. Nik from Cyprus was in charge of my attempt, and did a great job at making me feel like everything was under control, including letting me know that he would be personally meeting me at 25m, which I love – nothing like knowing that someone you are happy to completely rely on will be there to keep you safe when you are going for the hugest dive of your life. Except for continuously thinking “oh shit”, all was well, so I released the brake and shot off into the blue. Equalisation worked very well, until 89m, where I could not clear anymore, so I stopped the sled and spent a few seconds trying to move the little bit of air I still had in my mouth into my ears, with no success. Hmmmm, I thought, how far can it be, looked down to see if the plate was anywhere near, and spotted the tennis balls. Seconds later I hit the bottom, with pressure on my ears but lots of air in the mask. Well. One might say there is room for improvement.

100m!! I admit to feeling excessively pleased with myself as I was finning back up. Going round in my head was mostly “I did it, I did it” with a brief “wow, it’s a long way” thrown in. Nik came to meet me at 25m, and I was just thinking what a great dive it was, when I broke the surface and proceeded to present the judges with the second most beautiful surface protocol ever. Sadly, it was not one that could be rewarded with a white card: I came up, did not bother to take a breath, started laughing while removing my mask, then gave three OK signs, and said, still laughing: “oh what a beautiful dive”. The second it was out of my mouth, I wanted to take it back, take it back, take it back, and replace it with “I’m ok”, but the reverse-the-time-space-continuum button did not work. Truth is, I was off my head with narcosis, in a very happy kind of way. I simply blurted out the last thing that was in my mind before I surfaced. Tomorrow I am going to repeat ImokImokImokImok the whole way up. In fact, I might start saying it to myself in my sleep later tonight. I guess I have had my training dive now, so all should go swimmingly. Benny gave me a radioactive sports recovery thingy to drink, itwas so vile, it has to be good. I think I am now glowing in the dark though - see below:

Now then, time to report some news and gossip from the competition. If mine was the second best SP ever, Stavros has the winning ticket. True to his superhero reputation, he went to quickly do a no limits record one morning, with 150m. The footage from the bottom camera shows him touching down, inflating the liftbag and on his way up in a matter of seconds. He was definitely fine. Then something happened on the way up, and he beat even me in terms of narcosis. The surface camera video is a thing of beauty: you see him come up, but then he stops to do a somersault just below the surface, which he has no recollection of. He then pops up, removes his goggles, points and shoots at the camera guy, and simply swims away! All the while he manages to look terribly cool and manly and in control. He will go again tomorrow, too, so we’ll see what new things we can come up with between the two of us. Other than that, we have had a great variable record from Benny, who unlike me, did a 100m training dive and then went on to get it white carded a day later.

Tim and Benny before the rubber ring challenge - don't ask

We have had to great days of competition, too, Guillaume just got a 110m dive out of the way on the first day, even more amazing as he was playing catch me with the tag down there, which he picked up and let float away several times before taking it back to the surface. Johan has amazed everyone by just going down to 65m without fins in the second attempt today, so the Swedish record is looking shaky. There are definitely small horns growing out of forehead by now. I had announced 58m free immersion yesterday, but decided to bail when my ears hurt and squeaked during my warm ups, since I want to save them for tomorrow. Instead, I coached lots of people, including Kerian Hibbs, who is looking great in a blue seventy suit he designed himself – we call it the superman suit, since it seems as soon as he puts it on he can do no wrong. Today he squared up to Guillaume – they both announced 70m no fins. Kerina went first, and I watched him sprint down off the surface and back up again without ever slowing down. He says he saw stars all the way up (more narcosis - the theme of the week!), but his superman powers kept him safe. Guillaume made it, too, around 30sec slower. He said he looked up from 20m, and was not sure how he was going to make it back, as there was nothing left in his arms, but he was laughing because the breath hold itself was still so easy. Jakob arrived the night before the comp, and went straight out to set a new Danish free immersion record with 75m, he said he laughed all the way up because it was so easy. Mark Harris from the UK also set a national record with 70m FIM; he went out to do his trademark constant weight with bifins dive today, 70m again, in ancient C4’s. We are all convinced that given a decent pair of fins, or, oh my god, a monofin, he would hit surprising depths. We love having his wife (well...) Laura here, since she just goes around and quietly takes lovely pictures that make us look like athletes, rather than a bunch of weirdos who exist on a diet of bananas and burp a lot. I also had the joy to coach Will today, who went down to 97m to grab the continental FIM record, with a loooong dive time, also dropping and catching the tag. Really guys, get it together!

Alright, there is lots more, but I have to go to bed, I promise more stories once I have the white card business out of the way. In our spare time, we have rubber ring wrestling matches in the pool, amongst other things. It’s lovely.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Time to get serious

Alright then, I’ll give you the story behind the last “pictures only” post. I was not going to be messed around by invisible ashes from Iceland again, so I came up with a clever plan: take a bunch of very deep, and very serious freedivers, get them all down to Nice, squeeze them on a sailboat and start training. The freedivers where: George, Liv, Elisabeth, Martin, Jakob and my friend Andy, who is a boarder and sailor, but we just made him into a freediver, too, so now he’s lost.

Elisabeth and I arrived first, and, since we are so serious, went straight out to dive, just next to the port of Nice, where the shore conveniently drops right off to 100m+. It was lovely, if a little fresh, with around 15°C on the surface and a charming thermacline hovering at about ten meters. I was doing my hangs at 9.6m. You get the picture. We both did a couple of easy dives, although I was holding back a little with some pain in my left upper jaw. Remember the Aspen dental disaster? Well, the tooth came out as soon as I got back, and the surgery for the implant was done the day before arriving in Nice. The guy not only drilled a hole through my jaw into my sinus, but also recommnded NO exercise for a week. Great.

Since I could definitely feel the new sinus-to-mouth connection on deeper equalisations, I was taking it easy the first few days, and did a maximum of 50m. We did couple of fun variables going down with the bottom weights, and I was beginning to feel a little adapted. One morning we had set to rope to 60m, where Elisabeth did a lovely dive, and I went after her with my alarm set to 48m and every intention to turn at 53. On the way down, I was testing a new thing I picked up from the Danish guys last year: if you cannot equalise, level off, raise your head, clear, drop down again. Since I was diving without packing and still messing around with the mouthfill, I missed a couple of equalisations and levelled off for the first time at around fifty. It worked beautifully, which got me quite excited, and I did the same thing again at around 55m. Raising my head, I could see the plate, which Martin had loaded with some tags, to make things more fun. “Oooooh, I can get a tag” thinks the blondie, and quickly drops down to sixty. Feeling terribly pleased with myself, I started swimming up, clutching my piece of velcro. After about ten meters, it started to feel kind of hard. Reaching forty, my legs were completely lactic. I struggled all the way to the surface, came up onto the buoy, forgot to take a breath and had my first nod off from a deep dive. Ooops!

Liv helped me to calculate descent and ascent speeds during my dive, and we soon saw that something was not right. I went to check my weighting the next day, and discovered that I was neutral at six (!) meters! No wonder swimming up felt kind of hard. I took it easy on the rest of dives, and stuck to the low fifties, looking for some adaptation. Liv had fun playing with no-fins-no-arms, which got her to 26m and gave her a new understanding of the power of her leg kick. Jakob did a lovely 72m dive in the gathering dusk and we got new freediver Andy all the way down to 17m. See? Serious, serious training. Yoga in the morning, then training, then sleeping, then eating, then training, then sleeping. Well, I will admit, there may have been the odd moment of silly behaviour and fun activities, such as climbing the mast and swinging from a rope. We did have mess-with-Andy-day and mess-with-Jakob-day, too, which were highly entertaining. All in all, we got the fun out of the way most days and then fitted in a little freediving, too.

I flew back to Berlin for a whole day, where I whizzed around and sorted out various things, before putting all my stuff back into my bag to head for Athens, and the third Mediterranean freediving world cup. I arrived a few days early, together with William and Phillipe from Canada, to see if we could get some pre-comp-dives in. Energizer bunny/organizer Stavros was busy rushing from one end of Athens to the other to buy a kilometre of rope and a couple of tons of weights, so it did not look good. I talked Will into coming to the pool to coach me in a static instead. Yes, you did hear right, a static, which I believe just illustrates the level of my desperation. Since I had done a total of two static sessions in the last eight months, having to surface after four disgusting minutes because I felt low on O2 should not have been a surprise, but I tell you, it was. I roped Phillipe into doing some more and am now back to 4:45, still horrible, but O2 fine. After three nights of being pampered with lovely food by Giota, we caught Stavros in a moment of weakness and he said yes to a quick diving expedition. We had to go and rent a boat, which, beautifully, was called the “fun-yak”, and got dubbed “f***-yak” right away. It was exactly like trying to ride a bathtub a couple of miles away from shore through the swell. There was more water in the thing than outside, and bits started to fall off it five minutes into the trip. Clever freedivers that we are, we had decided to do variable dives, just holding on to the weight. Will went first, aiming for sixty meters, and got to the end of the rope, which, strangely, turned out to be at 57m. I found all of fifty meters, and by the time it was Stavros’ turn, he had all of 48m! The f***-yak was drifting so fast, we were doing sideways depth, going shallower by the minute. To reward ourselves for this useful and clever training session and enormous exertion, we consumed an enormous dinner and then headed off to get serious in Kalamata the next day.

We invaded the Messinian bay hotel around lunchtime, and the poor staff got their first glimpse of the trouble they were about to be in. It started with Will, who was inspecting various rooms to see if he liked the bathtubs, and continued with the fact that half of us appeared to have arrived early, a problem in a hotel full of guests for a Greek wedding. Some people above my head have flooded a bathtub since then, we have been asking the poor waiter for olives and cheese when he doesn’t have any, half the people are vegetarian one day and eat meat the next, the other half don’t eat pasta or bread, and all of us want lunch and dinner at times when the staff usually have their break or are on their way home. It can’t be easy. One waiter tried to make sense of the situation, so he went around asking how many of us were vegetarian, so we immediately asked what the vegetarian option on the menu was, which got him looking quite suspicious. He finally relented and said: well, you can have some rice. As opposed to pork with rice, that is. You get the picture – I don’t think they quite understood what they got themselves into when they agreed to put us all up.

Training started last Monday. The boats are mooring so far away from land, taking the transfer out feels a bit like heading into international waters with a little rib. Every evening at around seven, Stavros puts up a list that we have to sign into, to get a training slot. This causes mayhem and lots of elbow action, since 34 freedivers all want to train at 10am, much in the same manner as all freedivers want to eat bananas. We have people from all over the world here again, including top divers Guillaume Nery and Natalia Molchanova, who has announced a variable world record and is training on the sled every day. So far, things have been mixed for her, since Stavros has got the big sled out here, which definitely resembles a rocket. I believe it makes a whizzing sound on the way down. She does not like the speed and has had some trouble clearing her ears, but still has a few days to go before her attempt.

Since I got no training in Athens (well, not counting the funny-yak outing), I did not think I could get close to my target depth for variable weight this time. Going out on the first day, I was distracted in the water, and totally forgot to take a mouthfill at the surface on my FRC warm up. This suddenly occurred to me at around ten meters, so I just brought air up without thinking about it, thus giving myself my first ever squeeze, on a warm-up dive. What can I say? Blond. Rest in the afternoon followed and then a careful 65m sled dive the next day, which went very well (except for getting a cramp just before I hit the bottom, minor detail), so I was considering either 70 or 75m for the day after. Coming up to the line, Stavros suggested 75, which sounded just fine to me, so off I went, on the rocket sled. I had a depth alarm at 65, and was wondering why I was taking so long to the bottom, when I finally had to hit the break having lost my equalisation due to another cramp. Pulling up I was a bit unhappy with myself for not equalising down to 75, and was thinking things like: I am not ready for a deep sled dive this time, it’s not happening, I’ll make a new plan, etc. Back at the surface, they all looked at me a bit funny, and Stavros kept trying to see my computer. In the end I checked it myself: 82,5m!! Apparently, there had been a bit of a misunderstanding with the rope, which was at 85m instead of 75m. They had a fun moment topside when the guy on the sonar shouted out “seventy meters – seventy five” and then, instead of “touch down – coming up”, he said “eighty?”, which had them wondering whether the sonar was broken. It was not.

Having thus just skipped a whole training dive, I took a day off and then went for ninety meters yesterday, no need to mess around when things are going well, after all. I woke up feeling kind of nervous, and was quite convinced that this was not going to happen all the way through my warm-up. I got on the sled, did a breathe-up without countdown, released the brake and went faster than ever. At 65m, I stuck my elbows out to try and slow down a bit, but looking at my profile, it made no difference. At around 80m, I cleared one ear but not the other, which I proceeded to ride to 92, where I opened my eyes to find that my mask was fully equalized! I even made it back to the surface without a cramp this time, and, apparently, came up and said “fuck that was good”, all on camera for the South African film crew who are here shooting a documentary. Dive time was 2:14, 92m at 58sec, average descent speed 1.7m. Last year, I did 90m in 2:40, but somehow the rocket descents seem to agree with me, and I have decided to waste no further time and have declared a record attempt for Sunday.

Cross those fingers! I need all the luck I can get.

Friday, 4 June 2010

Happy Freedivers training from a lovely boat:

Stunning sunrise

Beautiful freediving

Perfect breakfast

Lots of fun

Perfect lunch

Deep training

Lots of silliness

= freedivers in freediving heaven!