Freediving depth champs celebrate with records, and inclusive community


Photo: Phil Clayton

People say freediving is about inward power, discipline and control, and this was acutely evident at Lake Taupo during the 2018 Freediving New Zealand Depth Nationals in March.

Both competitive and recreational grade freedivers took part in the three day competition. Many were hoping to walk away with a strong international ranking to take to future competitions.

Others, like New Zealander Ryan Hansen, are newer to competitive freediving, and though competing in the same disciplines the rules are more relaxed; they are after the experience without too much pressure.

Ryan said: “Having never been to a freediving competition before, going to the depth nationals was quite daunting. However as soon as I arrived I was welcomed and put at ease. The atmosphere was supportive throughout and I learned heaps. I will definitely be back next year.”

The stage set this year was at Lake Taupo boasting fresh water visibility around 15 metres and 19 degree C temperatures. The boat was anchored between Motutaiko Island and Moutere Bay to provide shelter from all but the worst weather.

Competitors could enter up to three disciplines all completed with a single breath of air:

FIM – Free Immersion. You can use the rope to propel yourself down/ up.

CWT – Constant Weight, allowing the use of fins, and you must maintain a constant weight for the duration of your dive.

CNF – Constant Weight without fins, with a constant weight and no fins.

Competitors could choose a different discipline every day, or focus on one and submit the best for their final result. You are required to announce the discipline of your dive and nominate the depth you are attempting to reach.

Day One saw almost all competitors perform faultless dives including a National Record for Zimbabwe claimed by Matthew Woods in the Constant Weight No Fins discipline.

Tania Rounthwaite, the only female competing, was amongst the most successful, reaching a depth of 41 metres in Free Immersion.

Day Two and the judges again witnessed several strong performances.

Competition grade competitor Phil Clayton had another successful day with a dive to 55 metres in the Constant Weight discipline.

“I’m really pleased to have been successful again after missing out for a couple of years due to injury. I love the national freediving competitions, especially the depth nationals, catching up with freediving friends from all around the country.”

Jack Hamilton being congratulated by fellow Auckland Freediving Club members, Anthony Hafoka and Nicky Toothill of the Safety Team on his 40m FIM dive.

Competition organiser Nick Rhodes believes that while it is incredible to see the competitors’ perform, the truly great part about competitions such as this is the sense of community.

“We have freedivers from different parts of the world, and completely different backgrounds, all here with a shared passion for the sport,” he said.

“For a sport that requires you to turn inward for strength while diving, there’s a real community vibe at competitions like this.”

PADI Regional Manager, Jen Clent, agreed. “In freediving, rather than competitors feeling like they’re competing against one another, there’s a sense they are competing against themselves,” she said.

“It is so great to see everyone sharing one another’s successes and just as strongly, the disappointment of an early turn or a red card.

“It’s really exciting to see the growth of the sport here, both competitively and recreationally, and to play a part in training more PADI Freedivers to dive safely.”

Bryan Bailey smiling to the audience having had another white card for his last dive of the competition 30m FIM.

At the end of the event, first time competitor, Bryan Bailey said: “Competing was a huge amount of fun, and watching for the first time how a freediving competition was run was an education and enjoyable. I was able to put my PADI Freediving training into practice from pre dive mental rehearsal through to good technique, even reaching a PB on my CNF dive.”

The months of planning and organisation for the three day event paid off with a smooth run helped by having an experienced safety and medic team onsite. Head of safety Gemma O’Brien said:

“We conducted many hands-on training sessions prior to the competition to ensure we were in the best form to respond to all scenarios. It was also great to see women represented in all aspects of the competition, from competitor to judge and the safety team”.

Phil Clayton showing his tag from the bottom plate tag having successfully completed a 55m CWT dive. (Male AIDA grade Winner)

Successful dives ranged from six to 55 metres across both competition and recreational grades; the competition welcomes all levels of diver, and with the rapid growth of freediving, it’s only natural more athletes will join the community of passionate freedivers.

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