Freediving is a funny sport. I think most of us agree that it is a huge mind game. Physical strength and skill is one thing, and certainly important, but if your head is not ready, it cannot work. Thoughts, feelings, subconscious mind - all of it has to play along.
Much of this is under my control when I dive. It is up to me how I have prepared myself physically, and if I am mentally up to the challenge. But then there is an element to freediving that is often taken for granted or overlooked: the importance of the safety diver. Essentially, freediving is a safe sport - but we depend on the safety divers to be there and take care of us when things have become too difficult. People underestimate how important a good safety diver - and over all safety team and system set-up - is for a successful deep dive.
It's simple, really: if there is any doubt in the back of your head about the safety diver or system, you will not be able to freely perform a maximum dive. To be able to reach your potential, especially on very deep dives, you need to be completely without worry about being taken care of. A good safety diver will radiate a sense of security to you without words, just by calmly being there in the water. The safety crew comunicates around you and while you are getting ready to do your best, they are also preparing themselves to look after you. All of this filters through into my awareness during preparation - if it is right, it enhances the focus and sense of readiness for the dive. If it is wrong, it is subtly but crucially disturbing.
Coming up from a deep dive, it is always a fantastic moment to see the safety diver. Mostly I stay within myself, focusing on the last but most difficult meters, but I am intensely aware that they are there and all is well. It is a feeling of: nothing can happen to me now. Through my six years of freediving, I have had outstanding safety divers - sometimes my training buddies, sometimes full crews during competitions or world championships. All of them have shared my successes by allowing me to be mentally free of worry. If you look at videos of record or competition freedives, you will see that the first thing many of us do is hug the safety diver - without them, it would not have happend.
Then there is the moment where you actually need your safety diver, because you got yourself into trouble. Most deep freedivers have been there, and it is a curious feeling to wake up in the arms of someone else and not quite know how you got there. A good safety diver will make you feel alright even at this moment, they give you calm and trust that things are ok, and there is no reason to worry about anything. At big competitions, the safety team will spend hours and hours in the water, diving and diving again to wait at depths of up to 30m for a diver to return. Over the years there are stories of superb rescues perfomed, such as at the 2013 world championship by Steven Keenan who swam down to 40m to pick up a diver in trouble.
I would like to post a thank you here to all the guys who are working hard at big competitions to look after us, and all of those who have been there for me over the years, training buddies, friends and others. Thank you, without you none of it would have been possible.
2013 World Championship safety team:
Marick le Herisse
Friends and training buddies:
And many, many others!