Competition in Freediving | Good Bad or Ugly?
Following is my own personal opinion on the essence of freediving competition, how it effects the rest of the community and the athletes themselves. I am not trying to put forward any alternatives to competition or to try to stop them all together. These are simply my musings as a freediver, safety diver, Judge and coach - who has continued to train quite seriously and go deeper for many years without feeling the need to compete.
Better or Just Deeper?
First we should address what it means to compete. To compete against others is to test yourself against these individuals, whoever is better gains the higher ranking. But what does it mean to be a better freediver? and does a Freediving competition reflect this?
There are a set of factors which I evaluate with regards to my own dives and the dives of my athletes. In competition there are also factors - designated in the rules - which determine if a dive is successful or not. To compare these two methods (mine and competition) of judging a dive, shows clearly a discrepancy in what it means to be better than another individual at freediving.
My own Judgements of a Dive
How confident I feel (days and hours) prior to the dive.
How Peaceful my Breathe up is.
How long it takes to feel ready to dive.
Was the transition into the dive a continuation of my flow, or a sudden change of reality.
My degree of awareness/consciousness during the dive.
Contractions - did they come at the expected time.
Was the depth reached.
How I handle the CO2 levels.
Freshness on the surface (hypoxia).
Competition Judgements of a Dive
Did the diver dive within the 30 sec window.
Was the discipline performed according to the rules.
Was the announced depth reached.
Was the protocol performed in the required time.
Was the tag brought to the surface.
To continue this train of thought, we can imagine 2 athletes perform an 80m dive in competition. One uses beautiful technique, enjoys the dive, surfaces fresh and does an easy protocol. The second diver, cant equalise the last 8m so risks barotrauma, uses poor technique, is clearly stressed and is clearly hypoxic on the surface - but still manages to perform the protocol.
Both will be awarded a white card, both will be awarded the same points - and therefore with the limited judging criteria of competition are equally good freedivers.
But of course, anyone with common sense can understand that they are not equally skilled in the art of freediving. One has put in the work to master his/her skills and nerves then announced a responsible depth. The other is diving irresponsibly.
The point I am making is that competition puts a disproportionate value on depth when considering the many facets of freediving.
Is it fair?
Is it an accurate judgement of skills?
Does it do freediving justice?
The best and the worst of us
Freedivers come in all shapes and sizes and have a plethora of motivations to freedive. Competitors represent -5% of the freediving community, yet some how receive the majority of the media spotlight. So the way athletes conduct themselves, and the preference competition gives to depth, shapes both the image of freediving and the minds of new freedivers.
Far from giving us role models, competition puts the limelight on the most reckless of us. To use the recent AIDA World Championships an an example, the top 5 male CNF announcements had 3 blackouts. The top 5 female CNF announcements had 2 Blackouts. This means out of the "best" 10 freedivers at the competition, 50% blacked out.
I am not trying to shame these divers, I don't even see a problem with them diving so close to their limits. It is their life, and so long as their safety diver is a part of the decision, they are free to risk it as they see fit. Freediving can be a worthy arena in which to test yourself.
My issue is the image and example set. Far from being at the forefront of what freediving is, I think competition as it stands should be our dirty little secret. A place to give divers the opportunity to compete and test their limits in the safest possible manner, but out of the public eye.
What about you?
If you do decide to compete, I recommend looking at it as an opportunity to see yourself in a new light, and hopefully learn something - nothing more than that. Taking competition too seriously is a mistake. Comparing yourself to other freedivers is a mistake. Focus on yourself.
It is wise to see the things you do in life, and patterns that you repeat as an opportunity to learn something about yourself. If a diver is consistently blacking out in competition, there is an opportunity to reflect on where this drive to push/perform/prove something comes from. If this inquiry leads to the diver making changes for the better and becoming fulfilled without the need for external validation - then this is a good thing.
The most important question to ask is :-
Why do I freedive? and will competition enhance that experience?
What about me?
I have always dived for the sake of diving, the reward is in the moment. Freediving has never been a way to prove myself. I keep training because it fascinates me, I keep going deeper as a consequence.
The best scenario for me if I entered a competition is the dive feels amazing, the worst is the nerves ruin my dive. So since I can have an amazing dive without competition, there is nothing to gain and everything to loose.
You are the only person who can truly judge whether a dive was successful or not. Some stranger in a yellow t-shirt that only saw the first and last 10m of your dive has no idea. A coloured card tells you very little.