Alchemy partner Pavel Tomm, recently spent some time in Cyprus, working as a safety diver during the AIDA World Championship. How exactly do safety divers spend their time during competitions? Which are their duties? What do they do when blackouts occur? Dive in and find out.
At the end of July, I arrived in Tenerife where I was organizing some training camps for my students. The Atlantis Freediving Center, where we are always accommodated, belongs to Linda Paganelli and Pavol Ivanov. During my first evening, I went for dinner with Linda and she just said: "I applied to AIDA for being a safety diver in the World Championship in Limassol, I want you to go with me, go and apply!" "What, me? ... Okay, why not." And then I applied and waited. A few weeks later I received an email that my application was approved and I was invited to the World Championship. Uh, well, that means I need to prepare myself. I need new fins, mine are too soft, I need a plane ticket, this and that, the championship starts in 3 weeks, jeez. So, I sent an email to Alchemy: "Guys, I need medium fins in 2 weeks, with all my very important stickers on it, is it possible?" "Yes, of course. And do you want to test our new neck weight?" "Yes please!" So I arranged all the other stuff, went home to the Czech Republic for just 2 days, packed, and left for Limassol. Well, none of that was without problems, because I completely forgot to fill up the Cyprus flight pass and almost missed the flight from Prague. And it was really close. I can’t remember the last time I was so stressed and chaotic like at that check-in. Flight through Vienna, get tested in Larnaka (even if vaccinated), bus to the hotel, and... forgot my laptop on the bus. What a day....better go to sleep and forget.
The next day I met with other safeties and found out there is Jimmy from Blue Element, a guy I met years ago in Koh Tao. That was a super nice surprise and lots of fun from the beginning. I got introduced to his friend Arthur and we kinda stayed together for the whole championship as a team on line A and I can tell, that was the best thing that could have happened. In the beginning, we had some theoretical lessons led by Marco Cosentino about organization, duties, set-up, medical support, and learned all the procedures that we must be able to do. And the other day we finally started diving. The first day we did some requirements, like a rescue from 30m and work on the system we have to rotate in and all the tasks we have on each position. Smooth and easy. Let's finally start.
The 27th AIDA world championship started on September 20th with 2 days of official training, followed by 9 days of competition. Every day there was 1 discipline, women first, men after. 11 days of being concentrated, fit, and ready. Breakfast at 6 am (2 coffees and 4 small cinnamon rolls) and heading to the beach just before sunrise, jumping into the rib boat and being delivered to "the place". The boat which was used as a platform and base was a big "working boat" with lots of space for athletes to relax, for judges, and all the team of organizers. There were 4 warm-up lines set to 40 meters and 2 competition lines. Every day starts with the same routine. Prepare 2 bottom cameras on each competition line, put all tags on the bottom plate, put official gauges on the bottom plate, and set the line to depth close to the deepest dive. Then we had to pull it all the way up with one-minute stops at 100, 75, and 50 meters, for example, to be able to read it later on dive profile and see if the line is measured correctly. About 15 minutes before the first official top, the line must have been ready to set and prepared for the first athlete. The first 5 dives are a bit shallower to kinda warm up but then came the biggest dives of the day with rotation between lines A and B.
The main thought I had in my head from the beginning was to not disqualify the freediver by touching him when it is not necessary. They are on their limit, they compete in the World Championship and you really don't want to be "that guy" and ruin all their effort. On the surface it is easy, we wait for the call "grab" from the judge. But under the water, all decisions are just up to you. Depending on the depth, but shortly, you have to wait and let the freediver disqualify himself. But of course, you can't wait too long. You must make the right decisions at the right moment.
And how does it actually work in the safety team? In each pit, there are 3 safeties. Safety number 1 is responsible for the dive. He's verifying that the lanyard and official gauge is on and secure and that it is clearly heard by judges. He is the deep safety who's going down to about 1/3 of the announced dive. If the dives are deeper than 90 meters (or 70 m for CNF) there is another safety with the scooter going to 45-50 meters. At the target depth, safety number 1 is positioning himself in front of the diver and is ready to intervene from the bottom in case of blackout or LMC.
Safety number 2 is verifying that the line is set correctly and verifying that the lanyard and official gauge is on. He's going down a bit later after safety number 1 to the depth of about 25 meters and is positioning himself next to safety 1. He's ready to assist in case of deep blackout by putting his hands on the hips/butt of an athlete and supporting during an ascent. On the surface, he's the guy doing all the rescue procedures such as blow and talk and rescue breath mouth to nose. Why in the nose? Because you don't have to fight with potential cramps in the jaw and it goes pretty easy.
Safety 3 is staying on the surface and is positioning himself behind the athlete, ready to support his head out of the water with Keenan's position. All safeties are ready to replace each other in positions in case of equalization problems for example. There is eventually also safety number 4 who is back up safety and ready to replace anyone.
I'm really happy I was able to participate, learn so much, and saw impressive dives. These feelings when you go down as a deep safety to escort someone who's ascending from 120 meters, trying to not be stressed, be at the target depth in the right moment, ready to act, and then the athlete smiles or blinks at you as soon as he sees you… wow, that really is unforgettable. Everything went smooth, there were a few blackouts, a few bit deeper, but nothing really serious happened.
I met lots of amazing people and I really would like to mention a few of them. First of all Chris the "Elvis James". He was head of the safety team and I really haven't met many people like him in my life. Super friendly, always ready to help and support, very educated, and with a gift of making everyone feel relaxed, useful, and confident. Thanks, I really learned a lot from you. Jimmy and Arthur, my buddies and friends, worked together every single day on line A and created a team, which without hesitation was very appreciated by all athletes and judges. Of course all other safeties such as Linda, Natsumi, Filip, Omar, Solal, and others. My favorite judges Maja and Pim, who were smiling from the beginning until the end and working with them on the line made the day just perfect. Fanos, volunteer, and the guy pulling and settling up the line with me all day long and yelling the depth of freediver he reads on sonar, that nobody can mishear. And in the end, many thanks to Jana, for all the amazing photos she took and for staying so calm in the airport in Prague, because I would have missed the flight without her for sure. Congratulations to AIDA, all organizers, volunteers, and athletes. This event was a real celebration of freediving.