Text: Daan Verhouven


The Boivie-Näslund-Verhoeven 122; an International Co-operation for National Records.
The 2007 edition of Nordic Deep provided again more examples of what is turning out to be a fairly unique version of competitive behavior, namely that amongst freedivers. Whereas in other sports the object is to defeat your opponent, be it by swimming faster, jumping higher or literally beating them to a pulp, in freediving competitions you see a very different thing. Competitors are doing their best to help each other as much as they can, with training tips, technique evaluations, even going as far as to lend out or give better material. There's still the desire to win, of course, but the focus seems to be much more on the primal urge to better oneself. Perhaps it's because of the rarity of freedivers that we are more social to each other, or because there is no monetary loss to being beaten, but I think there is another aspect to it; I think that ultimately, we're not competing.

Most of us aren't even close to being the best, the top ten freedivers in the world being so very much better than average.

Sebastian Näslund, organizer of Nordic Deep, has calculated that in 2006 the average competition static was around 4 minutes 30 seconds, dynamics were around 100 meters, Constant Weight to around 40: that's less than half of what the champs are doing. But to your average freediver, that means precisely zilch. What's important, unreasonably important, what is incredibly pointlessly essential, is doing a Personal Best. We all get contractions, it gets almost unbearably hard for all of us at one point, and we all know the relief of that first breath, the joy of the white card, the almost orgasmic thrill of doing a PB. We do little dances the rest of the day -even samba's are allowed then.
We invent PB's: there's training and competition bests, cold water bests, winter and summer bests, dry and wet bests, best on or off coffee. No suit bests. No preparation bests. No clue bests. Full lungs bests, half lung bests, FRC bests, empty bests, negative-packs-ouch-that-hurts bests.
Maybe it's because we can share these bests with our buddies that we like it so much when someone else does one. Unless it's a dry static, a sane person would never do a PB by himself, and it's only because of the safety provided by a buddy that we can begin to try to do a max. It might be called a Personal best, but it is never a solo achievement. Take my recent PB at Nordic Deep for example:
With a little weight from my friends
The pool in Lysekil is puddle-like: 1,8 meter at its deepest. I knew, having also been to Nordic Deep in 2006, and I thought I'd brought enough lead. The airline certainly thought I'd brought too much, but it turns out 4,5 kilos is not enough to keep me and my 3 mm pants anywhere near the ground in 1,8 meters of water. Turns in the shallow end were an exercise in speed levitation; I was almost catapulted out of the water. I needed more lead, or a lot less air. I hoped there'd be lead. This was 20 minutes before OT. Thank the creator in her wetsuit for Peter Boivie, Swede's premier breath-holder, and owner of some pretty fascinating self-made neck-weights (or horse-shoes for equestrian anomalities, depending on how you look at them). He was warming up with some weight around his neck that looked about the right size, and he let me try it. I did one push off the wall with fully packed lungs and didn't immediately surface nor buried myself, so I asked if I could borrow it. Now neckweights are very personal, and letting someone borrow yours half an hour before your own OT is right up there with sharing underwear, but Peter is one of the kindest people anyone will ever meet and didn't make any fuss about it. So I was good to go. Elisabeth Kristoffersen, a friend of mine who just happens to be the world's second best female dynamic swimmer and a Norwegian who's about to go study in Denmark, offered to coach me should I need it at the surface. I'd announced very low so I could see the rest of the people swim, and was first to go after the starters. It was Thursday, the second day of competition, and my attempt at a deep dive the day before had taught me my head had been invaded by slime; equalization proved hard at 6, 10 and 15 meters, and impossible beyond 25. That morning, I'd woken up coughing, so I had some excuses for my undoubtedly poor performance that day ready. I zoned out during the last 2 minutes to OT, and pushed off very relaxed when it was time to go.
I wanted to go slow, not ask much of my body, since it already felt tired, and thanks to Peter’s neckweight, I could do that. I drifted to 25, turned and did another 3 1⁄2 strokes to 50, thought about quitting but turned again, another 3 1⁄2 strokes, thinking how much I really like doing no fins, but sweet Mary with goggles this is hard, should I quit? Nah, turn at 75, and now the body’s doing interesting things, going into full safe-oxygen mode, feet and hands getting slightly numb and sphincters relaxing –hurrah for pre-top bathroom visits, I say. Tap the wall at 100 and since I got this far, might as well see what’s left, so another turn. I did a PB of 110 DNF at the World Championship in Maribor, Slovenia, and that one felt like I could’ve done more, so I’m keeping that in mind. Well, I try; most of my mind is going “WHAT THE F*** PLEASE DON’T DROWN GET UP YOU DUMB BASTARD!!!”

But the physical signs aren’t yet warning me that it’s about to be lights out, so I do some more hurried strokes and get up when I’m sure I’m past 110. Quick surface protocol and damn, I’m pretty close to the 125 wall… 119 is the Dutch record for no fins.

The jury is a pleasure to look at, two very pretty African ladies, and usually I’d not mind drowning in their lovely eyes for eternities, but I want that white card quicker. I get the card, and they say I did 119,6 meters, so they’ll write it as a 120. I’m a little confused because it used to be that they’d adjust downwards to the meter, but maybe this is a new rule and man, then I did a new national record. I’d been hoping for this one since that 110; delighted I get out of the pool after thanking my safety. But then I realize, no, I hadn’t read nor heard anything about a change in the rules, so I go back to the jury, and wait till they’re done with the next competitor. They give me a worried look and say that they might have messed up. I tell them yes, please adjust it, otherwise I’d have to protest myself. So now I equaled the record, and want it even worse.

The African Noseclip
Lucky for me there’s another competition day in the pool on Saturday, but in the meantime, Elisabeth borrows my noseclip and spontaneously breaks it, it being not quite as adjustable as she in her pre-dive jittery nerves thought it would be. So on this Saturday, I have to again depend on the –very reliable- kindness of Peter Boivie, but also have to arrange a noseclip. Now Sebastian Näslund is known as organizer extraordinaire, videographer par excellence and reluctant recalcitrant in the face of our Zaphod Beeblebrox*-like president Bill Strömberg, but he’s also very kind, though he’ll probably deny this. He did, in the midst of running around doing about a trillion other things, dive deep into his huge bag to dig up a noseclip he bought in South Africa (the man travels more than an airliner). He also lend me that noseclip during the World Championship, I did 3 PB’s with it, so I consider it lucky.
Hence decked, with borrowed material from all over, I again went for a PB, hoping this time it’ll be a national. Mentally, that is a different game to play. I don’t know why exactly that is, nor why I was pursuing this record, though I already have the CNF national record, and it’s fun to have both. But internationally it’s not very deep or far, especially compared to the world records. Yet I felt I had it in me, and that’s what counts. Other people had commented on it, how easy the 119 looked. There was more in me than that 119, even with a cold, which had plainly refused to move out of my head and happily stuffed my nose all day long.

So I set off, with Sebastian’s noseclip and Peter’s neckweight, and kept going despite voices telling me I’m mad and I’ll die, die a madman. After 100 I keep swimming till I’m almost at the wall, and come up. Maybe there was more in me still, but I wanted to keep it clean, plus this is day four of competition, I’m a bit tired and there’s another day of deep diving tomorrow. Two male judges this time, a svelte Swede and a slightly more spacious Serb, but I love it just as much when I get the white card, and it’s 122. I love that number.

In the end it’s probably trivial, these national records. A few people are glad for me, and I certainly like it, but what I’ve found is this: when I began freediving, 3 years ago, I never imagined I’d be able to do this, swim this far, this deep. Not a year ago I’d thought it too far for me. Even though it’s not much by international standards, it’s much more than I ever imagined possible for myself. To me, that’s not trivial. I wasn’t competing with our national record holder, but with an old idea of myself. The old preconception of what is impossible struggled with the reality of what I could now, with the help of others, do -and it lost. We can’t beat ourselves, and we certainly can’t beat water, and thankfully we don’t have to. We don’t even have to beat others to have a great competition; in a great competition, another’s best adds to ours. Next time, I’m bringing more weights; and noseclips.

Daan Verhouven
*Thank you Martin!

The african judge