New World Free Dive Record Set

Martin Stepanek has gone where no man has gone before -- more than 100 meters below the sea without an air tank.

"I'm officially the deepest man in the world," Stepanek said. "That's the record. It's like 35 stories."

Stepanek dived 106 meters in 3 minutes and 45 seconds, setting a new world record at a competition off the Cayman Islands over the weekend.

Mandy-Rae Cruickshank reached 80 meters, setting a Canadian women's national record. Both divers competed in the constant ballast category, where the diver wears a personally determined set of additional weights.

"That's the incredible feeling, just being down there and having this peacefulness and being accepted into this whole other realm," Cruickshank said.

Underwater pressure can be so intense during free dives that it can cause loss of feeling in arms and legs. Lungs shrink to the size of a grapefruit, vision can blur, and while the average heart beats 72 times per minute, a free diver's heartbeat can slow to just 15 times a minute, increasing the chance of death at every additional foot below the ocean's surface.

"The enemy in a competition like this is your own little demons," said Kirk Krock, a free diving coach. "That can be overwhelming. What you need to do is break the dive into parts and pieces, and just have that encouraging voice saying, 'You've done good to 100 feet, just go the next 100 feet.'"

In 2002, French diver Audrey Mestre died when she blacked out at 300 feet below the seas. She is the only person to have ever died during a competition, but her death has rippled throughout the free diving community.

"You have to be able to let everything else go away, and all you do is focus on the task at hand," Cruickshank said.

Martin agreed.

"When I'm out of air on the way back from 300 feet, I'm not thinking, 'Oh my God, it feels bad,'" he said. "So basically it's just concentrating on the very moment I'm going through."

Martin's and Cruickshank's records are unofficial until ratified by the International Association for the Development of Free Diving.

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