Earlier this month Michael Board competed at the annual Vertical Blue (VB) competition held at Dean’s Blue hole in the Bahamas, where he became the first Briton to dive, in competition, to over a 100 meters in the discipline of constant weight (CWT).
Picture Credit: Daan Verhoeven
The VB is extremely popular worldwide with freediving athletes and always attracts those at the very top of their game. The attraction of this competition is not just down to its stunning setting, but also because of the meticulous organisation, brilliant safety divers and experienced AIDA judges.
From the start there was a huge amount of pressure on Mike’s shoulders from both himself and other people. All eyes were on him to see if he could make it down to that golden 100 meter mark. All he had to do was swim down vertically, the length of the marked rope, with the aid of his monofin, pick up a tag attached to the bottom plate, and swim back, complete his surface protocol and hey presto, National Record. But of course it is not that simple and a CWT dive to 100 meters is no mean feat. For a start, the dive is done on one breath, lasting approximately 3 minutes; add to that the huge exertion of pressure on the body which builds at depth and the water temperature which gets colder through the thermo cline and then the fading light into darkness. Experience is vital and key.
In Mike’s words “it was a good competition in the end even though I had a shaky start. After my initial attempt at 100 meters CWT on Day 1, where I blacked out on the surface for a few seconds at the end of my dive, all of my other dives were solid with clean surface protocols and no signs of hypoxia, so it really does look like the pressure of the first dive of the competition and the weight of my own and lot of other peoples expectations just got to me. I actually tested my heart rate on the beach before my dive and it was 10-15 beats higher than my normal resting rate, so definitely some pre-dive jitters!”
Being an experienced diver, Mike planned his dives over the next few days with thought and care. His second dive in Free Immersion (FIM) was to a deliberately low (for him), 91 meters. This ensured a relatively easy dive where he felt relaxed and strong, giving him confidence going in to the next 100 meter attempt. There was the added bonus of setting a new National Record in the discipline, adding 8 meters onto his previous record of 83 meters back in 2011.
During the course of the competition, Board deliberately swapped between FIM and CWT to give maximum rest time for his legs between big dives. Going into the 100 meter record attempt on the 13th November, his second go at it this competition, he felt that strength and confidence as hoped. Board says “I pulled off a really nice dive that only took 2 minutes and 54 seconds. I had finally cracked some equalization issues which had plagued me since my first attempt at the 100 meters the year before and which caused me to rupture my ear drum in Greece just 9 weeks ago at the World Championships.” Mike was now on strong form and with equalization to spare at the bottom plate and clean surface protocols he says “I was excited to see how far I could push it. Still I rested my legs for the next dive and chose to do a FIM on the 15th November with a dive to 96 meters in 3 minutes 32 seconds, another National Record.”
Picture Credit: Daan Verhoeven
With the pressure now gone on the remaining two dives, Board decided to do them just for fun. On the 17th November he decided to announce only a 2 meter increase for his next dive and go for 102 meters CWT, “as I was keen to continue coming up clean on the surface rather than just making it. I completed the dive in 3 minutes 1 second and it felt strong, and I again felt I had more in me, which is a good way to feel after a dive!”
However, Mike’s joy at having achieved the dive was short lived. He told me “I stayed in the water to watch Nick Mevoli’s dive and cheer him on and by now everyone knows what unfolded. So it has been a real journey this year with some significant setbacks and injuries, some real lows as well as the recent highs, but I could not have hoped for a better end to my season in terms of personal achievements, but of course it has been tragic end of the season for freediving in general.”
Nick Mevoli lost his life at the end of a competition dive on the 17th November at the Vertical Blue. Nick, an America freediver, was a silver medallist at the 2013 World Championships and Constant Weight National Record holder; he was well known and loved by many of his fellow athletes. The cause of his death is under investigation.