-51M / 167FT – The Story

Unassisted Constant Ballast, Mens Saltwater.
7/12/02 – 51m / 167ft / 2:14 Sec. Blue Lagoon, Jamaica

This record has to be one of the most satisfactory achievements in my life. Recently I have been thinking about it and it has really just hit me that I am the first one to make it past 50m without any equipment, pulling on the line, or getting any help from anyone or anything. I never really doubted that I could do it but it was always a matter of how difficult it would be. My two previous records were not very difficult but because I was lacking in technique I knew this would hinder my performance for the 51m record.

After watching Topi Lintukangas’ record video I knew that I had some serious work to do to catch up in technique. For instance, before I never freefell when I got negatively buoyant. I would just haul butt all the way to the bottom and head back as quickly as possible. I knew I couldn’t keep this up or for sure I would be popping up, blacked out on the surface in Rudi’s arms.

It was June 28th, six days after Topi set the unassisted record to -48m. We had originally planned to do 50m because that is what we knew for sure our dive site would allow us. From previous training dives in different categories we noticed that 50m was the bottom of the lagoon. We found out different later.

Part of our dive team assembled in Miami, Florida to hop on Air Jamaica, our sponsored airline to head to Kingston, Jamaica. Toby Gregory, our photographer from Tulsa, Oklahoma met us in the Miami Intl. Airport.  I introduced him to Yasemin Dalkilic (training partner), Rudi Castineyra (trainer), Emmy Castro (Safety Diver / Bottom Judge), and Allycia Jones (massage therapist).  Toby fit in with everyone as if he was there from the beginning.

We finally made it to Kingston and then took a four hour drive to Port Antonio where the lagoon is located. This drive usually takes 2 hours but for some reason Jan decides to use one of the slowest, blindest (is that a word?) drivers around. Lots of sore asses by the time we made it to the final destination. Allycia and Emmy were taken to Fern Hill hotel which was another one of our sponsors. Rudi, Yas, and Toby stayed at my house.

Day one of course is the same thing as usual, no diving just preparation. We had to get the rope from the bottom of the lagoon that was dropped down there since the last training session during Christmas break. The platform also needed to be cleaned because it has been in the water and has grown a green beard all around the edges. Rudi, Yas, and I sat down and counted the days until the record day and made a dive plan where we would figure out what dives we would do, how deep, and which days were day offs. You actually need day offs because the deep dives really accumulate and can deteriorate your performance. I guess you could call it smart training. When you are away from the ocean for so long it is was hard to sit there on the day offs and not go diving. I found myself swimming to the platform which was 3 minutes away from the dive shop and just staring down the line without diving. I guess it made me feel like I was diving.

Day two was our first day to dive and I was so excited I could barely contain myself…Actually I really couldn’t contain myself so I went to the bathroom.. I never was worried about performing the depths after being out of the water so long because I had a solid 5 weeks of training prior to our arrival (unlike the 47m record that I got 8 days of training. Before doing anything Rudi and Yas start to show me different stroking techniques which were a lot more effective than what I was doing before. Rudi and Yas sat on a floating platform while I made several horizontal passes until they were satisfied and I was exhausted.

We went over to the platform with two 40m unassisted dives planned. But before we did that Rudi said to try the techniques vertically and see how far I get before I hit the freefall zone. I found after making about three dives it took me 5-6 pulls (arms and legs) to get to negative buoyancy while using a one kilo weight belt. I did two negative pressure dives and then prepared well for the first 40m dive. After 6 pulls I put my arms by my side and started freefalling using my feet as rudders to stay close to the rope. I couldn’t help but be excited, this is the first time since I have been training with Rudi that I am actually freefalling! Before I knew it, I was at the bottom where my Mom waited on me.  We hit 40m in a dive time of 1:38. When I got back to the surface it was the best I have felt after any deep dive. I sat on the back of the platform for 10 minutes and did a short breathing session before going down again. Second dive 40m in a dive time of 1:40. Still felt fresh from the new found technique. I couldn’t help but think “why wasn’t I doing this all the time?”

Day three the entire dive team is together, David Lee, Rudi Castineyra, Yasemin Dalkilic, Jan Lee Widener, Steven Widener, Andrew Bennett (safety diver), Mark Royce (safety diver), Emmy Castro, Richard Garel (safety/videographer), Toby Gregory, and Allycia Jones. Allycia is a professional massage therapist and worked on my legs right before going down. I found that after repeated days of diving that I would have a tremendous buildup of lactic acid deposits in my legs. Allycia would take care of that with the magic hands. I bet not every diver is as lucky to have a massage therapist on their dive team!

The days go by and we gradually increased the depth…actually there was nothing gradual about it. All we did was either 40m, or 45m then on July 8th we put the plate at the bottom expecting to get 50m but after I arrived at the surface the Suunto Singer, and the D3 that I was wearing both said 51m. Actually the left hand was 50.7, and the right hand was 51.3m because of the tag retrieval. This is when we decided that since we can officially go 3m more than Topi’s 48m record then why not? So all the t-shirts, hats, and posters were now lying….We fixed that by taking a silver marker and putting + 1m next to all the 50m. So after the 51m dive I am telling you that freefalling is great because I never have come up after any dives this fresh. The 51m dive took 2:05. Rudi wanted me to keep it under 2:00 but I found that if I did that then I would have to add more pulls going down to increase my descent speed, and also not ride the pulls on the ascent so much.

Oh, before I forget there was the issue of making the tags. Up till the 51m dive we were diving without tags and not practicing the tag retrieval. Rudi put a stop to that and cracked the whip on the crew to get them made. We decided on PVC pipe as Rudi and Yas said the ones they used in Turkey floated nicely. Well, the Jamaican PVC doesn’t float. So we said “well, lest stuff the middle with Styrofoam!” We did that and they floated on the surface but when we actually brought them to 51m the Styrofoam compressed into this hard plastic substance and the tags were once again flaccid, limp, whatever you want to call it. Out of sheer laziness, and lack of resources we decided not to worry about it. Basically we had Emmy, our bottom diver place the dead tags on the plate when she went down before the dives. Not very sexy but it worked.

On the 10th Gabriel Znidarcic, the surface judge arrived. The 11th he and Emmy measured the rope, counted the tags, and signed both the rope and the tags to make sure that everything was kosher and by the rules and was not to be tampered with. The 12th rolled around and it was now record day. I couldn’t help but be grateful that we weren’t waking up at the butt crack of dawn like the first record. I could sleep in till 9am and still make it to the dive site on time. Once again breakfast was toast and jam. Have to keep the food intake light as to not upset the breathing. We made it to the lagoon and to my surprise there were a few media folks there…TV, Radio, Tourist Board, and News Papers. This is very unusual since the first record no media group seemed to care. Pleasant surprise. CVM did a quick pre-dive interview and then everyone started to get their gear together and put their rubber clothing on. The dive site is now so close we didn’t even need a boat to get there…everyone jumped in from the dock at the dive shop and then swam to the platform. I did the usual facial immersion, one warm up dive to 25m with fins, then started the official preparation.

First negative pressure dive to 16m, then a second to 19m with dive times of close to 2:00…These dives have yet to feel comfortable. There is something about going down with no air in your lungs that just doesn’t sit well with me. One thing for sure is they feel much better than the very first ones I did. After the second negative all the divers were gathered behind the platform and ready for Rudi’s signal. Rudi looked at me from his official coaching spot and said “you ready?” I just gave a small nod and he started the 8 minute count down with a loud “8 Minutes!” I notice that for the first time since I have been freediving with Rudi that I am calm and not even worried that it was record day, no stress, nothing. I still had to keep the hyperoxia under control. When I start breathing I get extremely lightheaded and can black out from too much oxygen. This actually happened to me in Greece while training for the 47m record. How embarrassing when your safety crew continuously reminds you of it with a little chuckle. I definitely was not going to let this happen again so I made sure to keep on top of it by burning a little oxygen by pumping my fists or shrugging my shoulders depending on how strong the hyperoxia was. Sometimes I even danced in the seat a bit. The countdown dwindled to 5 minutes and then I heard the safety divers BCs deflate as they went down. By 3 minutes they were close to the line as I could tell from the bubbles. By the 1 minute countdown I was right on target with the breathing and was prepared to take the last breath. I made sure to flush (revitalizing breaths) several times and then slowly took the last breath, I think it took me close to 30 seconds to take a full breath including 6 packs. I plunged in and started the descent.

I noticed that at 5 pulls I was already past the 15m diver and already negative so I didn’t do a 6th pull like usual. I believe this is where that extra 11 seconds came from in relation to the first time I attempted the 51m. I started to freefall but slowly at first and then picking up speed. When I heard the 30m signal from Andrew I closed my feet and tucked my hands close to my sides as to be more hydrodynamic. I was moving pretty quickly and used my feet as a rudder to keep myself close to the line. After gliding for a while I heard Emmy at the bottom making lots of noise and then I slowly looked up and stopped myself on the rope and did my best tag retrieval ever. I felt so comfortable and relaxed I took my time to put the tag on and then waved to Emmy before ascending. On the ascent my form was great and I was nowhere near running out of air so I rode every pull until I was almost stopped. Probably another factor for the long dive time. I got to 15m and Rudi was there waiting on me and asked if I was ok and I gave him the shaka (the surfing “way cool dude” signal) and then used the positive buoyancy from 5m to take me to the surface. I hung on to the pipes on the platform and took my mandatory 3 breaths and then handed the tag to surface judge and then all the spectators screamed in excitement. We all waited until our deep camera man and deep safety divers finished their decompression stop before returning to shore. Now that I know my technique is close to where it should be I am confident that there will be deeper unassisted records in the future.

A big thanks goes out to everyone especially Jan, my Mom, for taking care of everything and keeping the pressure of organizing the record away from me. She was truly a savior and I love her for that. A free diving world record is a tremendous team effort and would not be possible without all the help of everyone who worked hard for a successful dive. Thank you everyone for being there for me for the third time. Hope to see you there for the 4th!

Don’t forget to watch the video of this record in our “Photo/Video” section!