It is the world's deepest blue hole of its kind. Plunging to 203m (666ft) just a few metres from the shore, Dean's Blue Hole in the Bahamas is an awe-inspiring natural wonder. It's also the perfect venue for the sport of freediving. Last month it was home to the Suunto Vertical Blue, the largest freediving event of its kind. It saw 56 athletes from 21 countries battling to reach incredible depths on a single breath of air.
Over ten days, two world records and 65 national records were broken in the course of 252 individual dives. On the first day of the competition on November 21, Ashley Futral Chapman (USA). broke the Constant No-Fins (CNF) women's world record with a dive to 67m in 3'15. The North Carolina native dived without fins and used a modified breastsroke technique to achieve her third world record.
The Russian freediver Alexey Molchanov raised the bar to a new level with a world record dive to 126m in Constant Weight (CWT), in a time of 3'46. This is the discipline of diving with just a monofin for assistance.
Mid-competition the Suunto Vertical Blue looked set to turn into a clash of the titans as just minutes after Molchanov's dive, organizer and Suunto ambassador William Trubridge sought to recapture the record.
On this occasion, the multiple record-breaker made a technical mistake and turned back too early. Two days later Trubridge made another attempt but in the end the fates were not on his side.
However, by diving to 121m on the penultimate day of the competition he achieved a new national record for New Zealand.
Each freediver accrued points for each dive during the competition and Trubridge also finished top of the overall rankings.
Afterwards he said: "I'm a bit disappointed with my own performances but given the enormity of Suunto Vertical Blue I can't be too disgruntled. The results speak for themselves. We had the most performances of any depth competition ever and I have had more athletes tell me that this was the best comp they've ever attended!"
"Alexey, Ashley and many other athletes all gave outstanding performances."
He added: "I will take a break at Christmas and get back into training in January."
One of the surprises of the competition was the Japanese freediver Tomoka Fukuda who achieved a national record of 65m in Free Immersion (ascending and pulling on a rope) as well as an 80m dive in CWT despite the fact she's only been competing for a year."
Other national records fell to France, Britain, Chile, Brazil, Argentina, the Czech Republic, Spain, Mexico, Israel, Tunisia and Finland.
The overall winners were:
Gold: Alena Zabloudilova (Czech Republic)
Silver: Ashley Futral Chapman (USA)
Bronze: Tomoka Fukuda (Japan)
Gold: William Trubridge (NZ)
Silver: Alexey Molchanov (Russia)
Bronze: Robert King (USA)
The overall winners each received a Suunto D6is. Suunto, the world's leading dive computer brand, is the official depth gauge used at all AIDA World Record freedive attempts. Mika Holappa, Dive Business Unit Director at Suunto, says: "With so many of the world's top athletes taking part and so many fantastic World and National Records, Suunto Vertical Blue has been an amazing festival of freediving and we are proud to have been involved. William Trubridge should be congratulated not only for his inspiring dives but for organizing such a successful event."
William Trubridge, organizer, added: "What makes Vertical Blue a special event is that it gives the athletes free reign to mine their aquatic potential. If you left your diamonds in the basement of a 40-story skyscraper that flooded up to its roof then these guys could freedive down the lift shaft and collect them for you. The deepest dives last in excess of four minutes, but that's not four minutes of holding your breath in your bathtub — it's four minutes of propelling yourself through the water column, while combatting pressures that would crush a soccer ball to the size of a tennis ball and which exert mind-numbing narcosis on neural circuitry. It's four-minutes that takes place in another dimension, where time is drawn out into an eternity — an eternity that lasts but a single breath."
About William Trubridge:
Freediving is in Trubridge's blood. Born in Britain, the first few years of his life were a nomadic existance sailing around the world on his parents' yacht before the family settled in New Zealand. He learnt to swim at the age of 18 months, and was freediving to 15m by the age of eight, competing with his older brother to see who could bring back a stone from the deepest depth. But it was not until he was 22 that he discovered competition. Since then the 32-year-old has broken numerous freediving records. He was the first man to break the 100m depth barrier completely unassissted — without the use of fins, rope or weights in 2010. He also holds the record for ‘Free Immersion’ — 121m — where divers descend and ascend by pulling on a rope. In 2011 and 2012 he received the World's Absolute Freediving Award (WAFA), which ranked him as the world's top freediver.
A selection of the record dives are available on YouTube: www.youtube.com/user/VBFreediving