Roatan’s Beauty, Truth & Wisdom

A competitor surfaces next to the freediving platform.

Breath Hold Divers Break Records off West Bay

The sixth annual Caribbean Cup Freediving competition took place in Roatan on May 17-25, just a couple hundred meters from West Bay Beach. The competitors came from countries as far as Japan and Tunisia. Freediving is an exhilarating sport, and for divers descending to 50+ meters, an extreme sport in which competitors push themselves to the limits breaking records.

Roatan has quickly become one of the top five places in the world to hold a freediving competition. It has consistent 30-40 meter visibility, it is protected from wind, it has low currents, depth drop offs to hundreds of meters less than one kilometer from the beach, it has easy access to emergency vehicles and a clinic is just a couple hundred meters from the beach. It’s also one of the very few places where spectators are allowed to watch the competition from the water or glass bottom boat.

Free divers competed in three categories: constant weight, constant weight without fins and free immersion. The diving is performed off a freediving platform that lowers a guide line to which dive markers are attached and a depth sensor informs the judges if and when a marker has been picked up. Counter ballast attached to the line could be released and can lift a free diver to the surface in case of emergency.

Walid Boudiaf, a Tunisian free diver attempted a 107 meter free immersion dive. He disappeared under the water for 3 minutes and 45 seconds… and when he surfaced, he looked around, but wouldn’t take his breath. “Breathe, breathe!,” shouted his coach. It took 8-10 seconds before Boudiaf took his first breath. “It’s not that you don’t want to breathe, it’s Hypoxia,” explained Alessandro Manzato, a Roatan-based Italian competitor. The next day Boudiaf broke his country’s national record diving to 111 meters in constant weight category.

You call this samba. Your body starts to shake and you sometime pass out

Spain’s Miguel Lozano, 39, attempted to break the world record of 125 meters, but passed out on his way up, 29 meters below the surface. The safety crew helped him onto a platform, but it took Lozano almost three minutes to regain consciousness. Lozano has supported himself with sponsorships, classes, teaching and competitions for a decade.

Several times during competition at 40 meters the current would slow free divers down. “The current really destroys you,” said Manzato. Four safety divers watched over the ascending competitors. “The last 10 meters are the hardest,” said Manzato.

In 2017 Roatan’s Caribbean Cup had World Cup status and attracted over 80 free divers. “They were pushing themselves to the max, the guys were going balls out. Almost half were passing out,” said Alex St Jean, the official photographer of the vent.

Some divers, deprived of oxygen for several minutes, begin shaking and lose ability to control their movements. “You call this samba. Your body starts to shake and you sometime pass out,” said Lucas Bulssau, 19, from France who has been freediving for eight month on Utila and has volunteered as an assistant during the Caribbean Cup.

Esteban Darhampe, organizer of the event, wants to bring back the World Cup status to the Roatan event in 2019 and move it to July-August.Two world record attempts ended up in disqualifications “but just the feeling of having them attempted on the island is great,” said St Jean.

Nathaniel Leazer from USA and Sheena McNally from Canada became this year’s champions summing up most meters in all three freediving categories. Twenty-five national records were registered by AIDA and two world records were attempted.

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