If you have even the vaguest interest in competitive freediving, you’ll have heard of Vertical Blue. Dubbed the “Wimbledon of Freediving” by the NY Times for good reason, this is the most prestigious competition of the freediving calendar. It’s the competition that every competitive freediver wants to attend, and is closely watched by everyone else.
Held at Dean’s Blue Hole, in Long Island, Bahamas, it isn’t the cheapest competition to get to. However, the location is possibly the best place in the world for deep freediving training, just beating the Blue Hole in Dahab – for the deepest divers – because of its unlimited depth (well, 200+m, but most are a few meters off that depth yet).
While the hole itself is located on the choppier, more exposed atlantic side of Long Island, it is protected on three sides, and benefits from near perfect conditions. The only drawback we found was that the visibility can cloud up with fine Bahamian sand, but that doesn’t seem to bother anyone, except the photographers. This apparently isn’t the case in April/May, when the comp is set to take place from now on.
Flags and platform overlooking Dean’s Blue Hole
So, I was honoured to be asked to join the six-person safety-team for the November 2014 edition of Vertical Blue by VB Event Coordinator and Head of Safety Johnny Sunnex, who also happens to be one of the deepest divers in the world and was taking a short break from competing.
Following the shocking and tragic death of top American freediver Nicholas Mevoli, it was of supreme importance to event organiser William Trubridge, AIDA International, and all involved, that there would be procedures employed by the safety team – headed by expert trauma and freediving medic Tom Ardavany – that would surpass anything in place previously at a freediving competition.
Tom had been communicating regularly with several Doctors involved in freediving research for the year running up to the competition, and Johnny had gathered together a team of highly qualified safety freedivers.
Once in the Bahamas, the team were taken through theory, drills and scenarios by both Tom and Johnny, in and out of the water. Tom was hugely generous with his knowledge and was a calm and informative educator, taking us through his specialised equipment and procedures so that each one of us was confident to manage any situation that could arise with the best outcome possible. Johnny is not only among the elite in competitive freediving, he is also an AIDA instructor trainer and previous safety diver at VB, and he shared his vast experience of potential scenarios with us, and took us through numerous practices and training exercises.
Each day, following the competition, we would go through additional drills with Tom and Johnny, including full evacuations, and we would use videos to go over the events of the day.
The competition went by as a bit of a whirlwind, but it was a hugely enjoyable whirlwind, made more incredible by the fact that we were such a unified team – more like a family – working to each of our strengths and supporting each other throughout.
With all that we learned and the new procedures that we put in place, and from what we’ve been told by the judges, participants and wider freediving community, we really were the best-trained and best-performing safety team in a competition to date, thanks in no small part to our incredible leaders Johnny Sunnex and Tom Ardavany.
See the video on the Safety Team by super-editor Richard Davies here: