Meet the man who has taken the sport of freediving to a new level. Fran Rose talks to the multiple world record holder and finds out that despite all his achievements to date, he's only just getting started......
Fran Rose sits down with world record freediving sensation Dave Mullins.
Dave is one of the best freedivers in the world with multiple records that still stand.
Here’s what Dave had to say…
Although I spent a fair bit of time fishing and snorkelling with my family when I was young, I only started to get into spearfishing and freediving as a teenager. I did a lot of spearfishing at the Hen and Chicken Islands with my dad Wayne and my brother Peter. My dad had been freediving most of his life and my brother was a natural freediver with a swimming background to boot, so it was hard keeping up with them! Mayor Island was also a special place for us and still is.
Have a bit of faith in your body's ability to adapt to what you throw at it. After my first 50m dive in Lake Taupo I was exhausted and felt like I was on the edge of a blackout. It was hard to imagine going any deeper and it seemed that was my limit. A couple of years later and with more pool training behind me, I was diving to twice that depth with relative ease. Also, learn from experts. There are some very dangerous practices out there and taking on the steep part of the learning curve without some guidance is not a good idea. Learning the appropriate techniques and understanding freedive physiology can make a huge difference with regards to both performance and safety.
Before the dive and through the first 30m of the dive there are always doubts. Seeing a line stretching 110m into the depths is a daunting sight and when you're full of adrenaline with your heart beating fast it seems unthinkable that you could get down there and back on one breath. At that point you need to let yourself be irrational, to let go of the doubt and dive regardless. After all, you made the decision to set the line at that depth the previous day and this is no time to re-think it. I find that sense of recklessness is what lets me relax. Beyond the mental battle, the main focus is on timing the countdown and maintaining my technique. Balancing relaxation with technique is not easy, especially in the first few metres for which you need controlled power. Past about 50m I'm committed and all my focus is on equalising; letting my chest relax under the pressure and keeping a controlled rhythm.
Coming off the bottom is a particularly stressful time and it is a matter of staying in control. There is a lot of water above me, my legs are already burning and I’m getting big contractions that interrupt my fin stroke. Adding to this is the narcosis: bright visual distortions, metallic taste and a sense of intoxication and sleepiness. It pays to restrict my focus to simple things: counting kicks or maintaining a rhythm. Essentially distracting myself from the reality of the situation I’ve got myself into!
The last 30m are easy. My safety diver comes into view, the pressure comes off, the urge to breathe disappears and I can relax and float to the surface. The only challenge is to stay focused for the surface protocol and ensure I do everything right to avoid disqualification on a technicality like dipping my airway or grabbing the line before my head is out of the water.
AND WHAT DO YOU CONSIDER THE REAL DANGERS?
Lung squeeze has never been a factor for me, although it could still happen. So I would say that narcosis is the biggest danger on my CWT(Constant Weight) dives. Being severely ‘narked’ on the bottom means my judgement and co-ordination are very poor. This could mean I get my lanyard tangled on the baseplate, or simply spend too long picking up my tag (which I have done several times now). Poor judgement and slow reaction time can also lead to other problems like ruptured eardrums. Popping an eardrum at depth can be very dangerous as your sense of balance is often affected and the vertigo makes it difficult to swim directly upwards. I know of other divers who have had very deep blackouts for this reason, wasting too much energy on the ascent by spiralling around the line. The final problem with narcosis is that it makes you want to stop kicking and rest – not a good idea on the way up from 110m! I've talked to divers who were so ‘narked’ that they stopped kicking altogether and began drifting away from the line.
The other big risk is decompression sickness (DCS). Because there are no tables for freedivers and many variables involved, it's hard to know the boundaries - how fast can we ascend, how long can we spend at depth and how many repetitions can we do at a given depth? For this reason we limit ourselves to one deep dive per day and breathe pure oxygen for 10mins @ 5m after each dive to speed up the off-gassing. Still, it is something we worry about because of how little we know.
CWT(Constant Weight) has progressed slowly over the last couple of years compared to other disciplines and there are several divers currently stuck around the 100-110m mark. I think we'll be able to push the record well beyond 120m or even 130m, although it will be very hard going. I expect many attempts will fail as people stretch their limits and take more risks to go just 1m further. When you're diving that deep, small mistakes will cost you and turn a successful dive into a BO (blackout). But like all sports, the standard will gradually continue to improve. People will find ways of surpassing the limits we're currently hitting, either with new techniques or with straightforward training and adaptation.
The sport is still young and our view of human potential is continually changing, particularly in the DYN discipline. When looking ahead it pays to not put too much value on the limits others appear to be running up against as there is still so much scope for development and innovation. This applies to everybody, not just me. Although it seems fanciful now, I think that 300m DYN is an achievable goal. Whether I'll be able to do it or not is anybody's guess, but I'm comfortable with setting that as a target.
It was just a case of gritting my teeth; there was certainly no finesse to it! Although I only trained up to 7:00mins in the weeks prior I was pretty confident I could go past 8 minutes, even under competition pressure. After all, my longest dynamic swims are over 4 minutes so the training effect I get from them must also contribute to my static ability. I'm not sure it's something I'll pursue unless it's really necessary though, as it was for the team competition!