Freediving Houdini

March 2nd, 2012
by Thomas Tomczyk

[private] William Trubridge is the Houdini of freediving. He can hold his breath for seven and a half minutes. Without fins he dives to 101 meters; with fins he goes to 121 meters. He uses yoga and deep meditation to slow down his heart beat and shut down energy usage as much as possible.

In late February Trubridge visited Roatan on a five-day visit. He is working on organizing a freediving competition on the island, Caribbean Cup, possibly as early as June of this year. His visit was meant to create an awareness of the sport and to develop a network of personnel needed to organize such an event, perhaps at world championship level. “Freediving is a great sport for spectators, and I wouldn’t be surprised if a flotilla of glass bottom boats, kayaks and catamarans turned out to watch the action on and below the surface,” Trubridge said about Roatan hosting the event.

Trubridge currently spends his summers in Italy and his winters at Dean’s Blue Hole in the Bahamas where he teaches freediving and prepares for competitions.
Interview William Trubridge

B.I.V.: Can you explain how Utila helped you to become a better freediver?
W.T.:
I first stayed on Utila in early 2003, which was when I first started freediving. I had come to the Caribbean with this purpose and spent two months living out on Pigeon Cay, freediving morning and afternoon and sometimes for the night dive too. I was really living and breathing the sport and realizing that it was something that I could make into a lifestyle and hopefully a career. The easy access to deep, warm water and easy living meant that I was able to quickly make progress in freediving, and on the last day of my stay, with Adam Laverty as my safety diver, I managed a dive to 46 meters. I still knew little about the sport, but I knew that I was in love with it.
B.I.V.: How is your relationship with other top freedivers competing with you?
W.T.:
Freedivers generally form a close and comradely community. There are rivalries, but often we will find ourselves training with or providing safety for someone who we are in direct competition with. Trust is always a vital component of anything that happens in the sea, and I think the sea itself nurtures humility and respect in freedivers.
B.I.V.: What do you think is the maximum limit for freediving of unassisted constant weight?
W.T.:
The truth is I don’t spend much time thinking about where any potential limit may lie. If I did come up with a number then it would certainly prove to be a limit to myself. I think it’s better to focus on the process without accepting any kind of ceiling. Obviously there is a limit to all things, but it lies in that grey area that will never be completely defined.
B.I.V.:. How did free diving on such an extreme level change your body?
W.T.:
I haven’t had physiological tests to determine exactly what has changed in my body. It’s safe to imagine that I probably have a below average capillary and mitochondria count compared to an average athlete. At the same time I hope my muscles have increased their myoglobin concentration to store more oxygen. I haven’t done a blood test recently, but the last time I did my count of hemoglobin was higher than normal. Other than that I guess I am pretty regular, and although I do a lot of stretching for my lungs even these aren’t much larger than the average size for my height.
B.I.V.: As you are growing older, has your outlook on the possibility of dying while freediving changed and evolved?
W.T.:
I guess we are always a little more careless in our youth, and with maturity comes more responsibility. However freediving is a far safer sport than it is given credit for. No one has thus far been killed or permanently injured during a freediving competition, and if you freedive with a trained partner and the appropriate safety systems then it is a healthy and low-risk sport. Having said that, it is impossible to escape the knowledge that being so far away from the surface and the element we need to sustain life, we are essentially taking as big a step as we dare into the “underworld,” so the fear of remaining there is a big motivator to always freedive within your limits and with the best safety possible.
B.I.V.: Do you have any suggestions on how safety procedures could be improved in free diving competitions? Are there any methods or devices that could be introduced?
W.T.:
Currently freediving competitions rely on running lanyards and counter ballast systems, so the entire descent line can be pulled to the surface, with the freediver attached, in the event of an emergency. So far no counter ballast system has required deployment, however the lanyard’s karabiner that runs on the descent line frequently becomes stuck, sometimes at maximum depth. I don’t believe that this system is as efficient as it could be, and it’s possible that we might see a serious incident caused by a lanyard before we see one prevented by it. However, there’s no viable alternative: depths are too deep to have technical divers stationed down there, and short of a quick submarine with a very large butterfly net, I don’t think there’s a better alternative than what we are currently using-which so far has not led to loss of life or permanent injury. [/private]

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