Free Diving In La Paz

Competition to get the deepest on one breath, and do it without dying trying
BY: LLOYD BRIDGES

Freediving is a discipline as old as the need for sea sponges we use to scrub our bodies. The need to dive for these sponges may date back to ancient Greek times as both Plato and Homer mention bathing with sponges back in 348 BC. The demanding job of diving for these sponges has always depended on the diver’s ability to hold their breath while going deep.

This job then morphed into a sport called free diving. This is diving as deep as you can while holding just one breath. No breathing apparatus is allowed and the goal is who can go the deepest. 200 feet or more is common.

There are various freediving activities pursued these days, including hunting, photography, underwater hockey (yup, and this hockey is not just for Canadians),  and synchronized underwater swimming. Swimming under water with no gear is a risky sport, and people die participating in it.

The safety of the divers depends on such things as currents and water temperature, equipment, and support crew.  Divers can be dragged away by the changing currents, and they often exceed the capabilities of their bodies, and black out. Without a good team, or at least the use of a buddy system, the passed out diver is a goner.

Big Blue is the name of the first annual international freediving competition and is going on for nine days right now at our very own Espiritu Santo Island near La Paz

There will be five days of competition, and one day of official training and one day of diving with whale sharks. The whale shark stuff is  just for play, as the big guys stay near the surface.

The opening ceremony was held at the Costa Baja Amphitheatre this past Sunday  with mariachis, DJ’s, and a performance by the Royal Academy of Dance. The program also featured videos of freediving, and best of all, it was free to the public. It was at the very cool amphitheater on the grounds of the Costa Baja resort just a few minutes north of downtown La Paz. This venue has a dramatic backdrop of sheer rock, which was dynamited at the time the marina was carved out of the rocks. They normally present dramatic lighting of the rock wall behind the stage, and it enhances the various programs presented there.

There are many activities to enjoy after the competition, and these stretch out from November 10th to the 14th , including a training class and practice at lung stretching, a fun swim with the whale sharks, swimming with the sea lions, visiting a sunken boat, approaching a school of hammerhead sharks, and surfing; all with a price between $80 and $100 USD for each activity, depending on the event, and most excursions include food. Check out their website for more information.

 The main event will see top competitors from around the globe, many of which hold very impressive records; there are three Mexicans and seven North Americans, as well as Latin Americans and Europeans.

There are several things the Big Blue is trying to accomplish: first, to raise awareness about sea life. After all, the sea of Cortez was named the aquarium of the world by Jacques Cousteau because of the diversity of life, including whale sharks, hammerhead sharks, turtles, jumping mantas and sea lions, as well as hundreds of different fish species.

Big Blue will also hold conferences featuring scientists and the world champion freedivers.

The promoters are also presenting a baby hammerhead adoption program, in hopes to raise consciousness for the preservation of sea life; and finally, it is being held in honor of Natalia Molchanova, a world champion who failed to surface this past August. Hey, we told you this was a high risk sport.

There are three competition disciplines.

 The first and the most popular is constant weight (CWT), which consists of using weight to make it easier and faster to get down.  However, the rule is that the same weight that goes down must come back up.  The athletes competing in this category will use one giant fin, with both feet crammed into it. They need to swim the way fish swim, using mostly their abdominal muscles.

The second category is constant weight no fins, (CNF), which is similar to CWT, but with no monofin. With this you need to swim down, head first, doing the breast stroke, which is considered the most demanding and athletic of all disciplines, as almost every muscle in the human body is used and it consumes more oxygen than just standing on the weight platform.

The last way to do this is known as free immersion, (FIM), a more relaxing discipline, but requiring the arms the most. Competitors will pull himself along a rope to go down and come back up

All of the divers must compete in all three disciplines and most points takes all. For more information go to www.bigblue.com.mx. And then jam on up to La Paz where all the action is.