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Hi gang,

Here's a piece from the Beachcomber Magazine in the "panhandle" region of Florida where it feels like I've been hanging out for too long. One of  the favorite activities of mine and my paraia on Paros was spearfishing and sussing out octopodia and I assume that there's those of  you who still do. Some of the best of free-divers in the world come from the Med, so maybe this will interest... 

“Zen” of the Freediver
By
Wynn Parks

Free-diving has got to be the silver-backed, granddaddy of extreme sports. This isn’t snorkeling, or diving with scuba gear. In its most extreme “competitive” styles, free-diving involves taking hold of an oblong chunk of lead and hanging on while it pulls you down a rope cable until the light turns blue-grey, then disappears -- the object being to “out-deep” your competitors, and come back up to tell about it. It’s, pretty much, taking your life into your own last breath.
Neither competitive, nor sports free-diving have changed much since ancient times. Free-diving still means “voluntary apnea”-- holding your breath!
In the far western "panhandle" of the state of Florida, Mike Pooler’s, Benthic Ocean Sports, free-diving is taught; also further east in Tallahassee, free-diver, Rob Pierce’s business, Hypoxia Outfitters, is poised to assemble an elite free-diving group, professionals and amateur alike, styled the “Forgotten Coast Free-divers”.
Recently, Rob was explaining the variations in free-diving competition.
“Okay,” he says, “some of the most popular “depth disciplines” include Free Immersion; Constant Weight, Variable Weight and No Limit… also, you have the shallow water practices called ‘Pool Disciplines’…”
Essentially, Free Immersion is pulling oneself down a cable-rope. According to the International Association for the Development of Apnea (AIDA), the women’s record is 300.3 ft., while the men’s is 409.2 ft.
Divers doing Constant Weight go up and down along the rope under their own power.
Variable Weighters ride lead sleds down a cable rope. The sinking is easy. What’s tricky is how far to ride and still have enough O2 to come up under one’s own power.
Mike, in his Benthic Ocean courses, doesn’t teach below 132 ft., which precludes the Variable Weight event. “That kind of competition is the realm of a handful of divers; the hardcore boys.” He adds, “They go down over 400 ft.; and conditions in the Gulf aren’t really conducive to competitive free-dive training anyway.”
However, the true Evel Knievel types are the No Limit free-divers who ride sleds down, questing single-mindedly for the fabled one thousand foot mark –down to 800’ reported -- depending on automated flotation gear to lift them back to the surface, in whatever condition.
Out of regard for their sport’s reputation, both Mike and Rob cite, at some point, the water safety mantra about never diving alone. When I mention once losing a Parian friend to “shallow-water black-out” in the Seventies, Mike shakes his head.
“Lots of casual divers don’t even know that word…! You dive. Pressure squeezes your body, but everything’s okay, until you start back up. Water pressure un-squeezes; the blood runs out of your brain. You black out. If you got no buddy, you drown.”
Apparently, the Pool Disciplines, mentioned earlier, can be done anywhere one can float face-down in water. Though they can serve to teach breath-holding skills, ie. how to stay off the panic button -- when your brain is screaming “Breath! Breath now!” -- they’re taken quite seriously by practitioners. Static Apnea, can be done floating face down in the water. According (AIDA), the world champion is a French, “S.A.”-man, who did 11:35 minutes! The women’s champ, from Romania, did 9:02 minutes.
Every waterbaby that ever went to a swimming pool has done the Dynamic Apnea thing; seeing how many laps they can swim underwater… a Greek diver has done over three football field’s lengths!”
When I ask if Pool Discipline specialists use “hyperventilation” Both Mike and Rob are unanimous in condemning it as a “killer” practice. Hyperventilating, or deep huffing quantities of natural air can short-circuit the smothering panic, and create an illusory sense of one’s limit, leading to black-out.
Mike suggests Yoga relaxation techniques to optimize the body’s oxygen utilization.
Along that line, the Static Apnea category includes a subcategory permitting use of a pure oxygen mix, but not for deep dives, where it can become toxic.

At first glance, extreme sports seem to fly in the face of good sense, with the hazard way bigger than the reward. Yet diving to the “bottom of the sea” is a theme that runs through humankind’s most ancient tales. The five thousand year old story of Gilgamesh from ancient Sumer describes how that hero got hold of a big rock; and jumped off into the deepest parts of the sea to fetch back a limb off the Tree of Life. If the exhilaration of pushing beyond the limits is what gives a free-diver’s life its glory/bliss, the Tree of Life metaphor totally explains it.

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