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The History, page 2

Also introduced at this time was what is possibly the most influential freediver to date. Despite mere three logged deep dives in the late 1960’s, American Robert “Bob” Croft revolutionized the science of freediving extensively. Having worked 22 years in the United States Navy, Croft was training submarine personnel at a 36 meter deep training tank in Connecticut, when fellow instructors urged him to test his limits. For the next 18 months, Croft’s achievements competed with the best of Enzo Maiorca and Jacques Mayol in Europe. Croft was the first to freedive beyond 70 meters and his achievements were key in establishing most modern scientific conclusions about freediving, among them the mammalian diving reflex and the blood shift phenomenon. Bob Croft was the first record breaker to use lung packing, the Glossopharyngeal Breathing technique in his last breath before his dives.


Mayol became the first freediver to reach 100 meters depth with his sled by 1976. Croft retired early, but both Mayol and Enzo Maiorca continued deep diving well into their fifties, both having passed 100 meters by the 1980’s, and they subsequently found world fame with Luc Besson’s 1988 motion picture The Big Blue. This beautiful, albeit heavily fictionalized depiction of Mayol and Maiorca’s 20 year long sportive rivalry, is still considered the best visual representation of the “Zen” of freediving. At this time, there were very few freedivers in the world; the 1943 invention of the aqualung had lead scuba diving to overrun freediving, but the success of Besson’s movie brought a renewed global interest to the age-old activity.

The New Amas

By the 1980’s, female freedivers had developed to a point, where they claimed a bigger place in the annals of apnea. Already in the mid 1960’s, women such as Giliana Treleani (Italy) and Evelyn Patterson (Great Britain) had gone beyond 30 meters depth. The discipline later known as Constant Weight Apnea was fashioned by women such as Italians Francesca Borra and Hedy Roessler long before taken on by fellow countryman Stefano Makula in 1978. But it wasn’t until two of Enzo Maiorca’s daughters Patrizia and Rossana Maiorca took up records in the late 1970’s, that female competitive freediving finally took off. Later, athletes like Italian Angela Bandini and in particular Cuban Deborah Andollo took female achievements deeper and deeper into the oceans. Bandini caused a sensation in 1989, when she reached 107 meters of depth with Mayol’s now classic freediving sled. She went two meters deeper than Mayol’s then world record, making her deepest human being in history at the time.


And Suddenly She Quit

In this period, competitive freediving was at a peculiar crossroad. From around 1958-1959, the successful scuba organization CMAS (Conféderation Mondiale pour les Activitités Subaquatiques) had homologued the bulk of early freediving achievements. This continued until a combination of medical and safety concern led CMAS to suspend most of their freediving activities around 1970. This didn’t hinder record breakers, who still increased the depth levels of humanity, but this without unilateral standards, resulting in a couple of serious accidents.

By this time, Mayol and Maiorca had withdrawn from competitive freediving and others were to take their place. Fully equipped with modern tools and equipment that had progressed fast in the 30 years preceding them, a new fierce rivalry was born; the new actors were Italian Umberto Pelizzari and Cuban Francisco Rodriguez, better known as Pipin Ferreras, both emerging around 1990.


Pipin Ferreras, Cuba

Umberto Pelizzari, Italy

These two well known freedivers excelled in the category now called No Limits, a term made necessary by the appearance of new deep diving disciplines such as Variable Weight Apnea and Constant Weight. Neck to neck for the remains of the decade, Pipin and Pelizzari took No-Limits into the meters 110, 120, 130 and beyond, while further developing the design of the diving sleds used.

The Birth of AIDA

In 1990 Roland Specker, a freediver from the North East of France, had met the world-class freediver Claude Chapuis from Nice, and they decided to organize clinics so that others could also discover freediving. Specker and Chapuis also set out to create proper regulations for freediving world records, when in fact many records were being established without homogenous global rules. Specker and Chapuis sought out a number of European freedivers, aiming to unite them in an association to recognize records. On November 2nd 1992, Specker, Chapuis and a few others created the “Association Internationale pour le Développement de l’Apnée” (AIDA), with Specker being its first President. Several records were recognized very quickly by AIDA, which were to become the reference for freediving.


The birth of AIDA launched a period of political volatility surrounding competitive freediving. By 1995 CMAS again started to recognize records in response to the AIDA initiative, defining their own separate set of regulations. Francisco Rodriguez, who had become a key figure in the development of No-Limits and the broad media exposure of freediving, developed a long lasting opposition to AIDA. In 1997 he fathered the short-lived IAFD (International Organization of Free Divers), which monitored his later records. In protest to controversial decisions made by AIDA, by 1999 in Italy was formed the organization FREE (Freediving Regulations and Education Entity) also to regulate records. Most developing efforts kept shifting towards AIDA though; all while records kept increasing worldwide.

Through the early 1990’s, Claude Chapuis had organized small competitions between the freedivers attending the clinics held in Nice, and the thought of organizing a world championship quickly grew. The 1st AIDA World Championship was thus held in Nice in October 1996. It was a competition for national teams featuring Constant Weight and Static Apnea, with 35 participants each in teams of 5. The actual nationality of an athlete was not considered particular as the need for filling up teams competing for Germany, Belgium, Columbia, Spain, France and Italy rose. A team representing the United Nations consisting of left over freedivers from various countries was also ascribed. Modern competition freediving was born on that day and subject to improvement. On departure day, Claude Chapuis shook Umberto Pelizzari’s hand and said, "You won; now it’s up to you to organize the second World Championship".

1997 was a year of transition and several freedivers created groups in their own countries. AIDA continued to certify records with 12 countries on the contact list, requiring each of these to create their own national AIDA association. The AIDA baton was by then largely held in France; Thierry Meunier and Laurent Trougnou initiated an early AIDA website to promote the development of freediving via the Internet, giving all freedivers the ability to stay in contact.

Umberto Pelizzari kept his word and held the 2nd AIDA World Championship in Sardinia in 1998. Now 28 countries attended and the event was praised as well organized. Jacques Mayol’s presence created an emotional atmosphere, and during the competition France and Italy were neck-to-neck, mimicking Mayol and Maiorca’s past rivalry, with Italy and Pelizzari himself claiming the gold.

By this time, many new competitive disciplines were suggested by record thirsting freedivers. Most were rejected; others were tested and found too light. Since around 1990, world best achievements in a pool training discipline later labelled Static Apnea was noted in the margin of the book of apnea. For a while AIDA kept distinctions between depth records set in sea and fresh water, and briefly between short and long pool records in the new discipline called Dynamic Apnea.

Already in the 1900 Paris Olympic Games, “Under Water Swimming” had been tested but not repeated. Combining scores from both length and time achievement, Frenchman Charles de Vendeville swam 60 meters in little over a minute, and has so far been the only Olympic Freediving Champion. This makes Dynamic Apnea (in a mix with Static Apnea) the oldest form of competitive freediving.

By the mid 1990’s static and dynamic disciplines saw increased attention, with a major contributor being Frenchman Andy Le Sauce, a La Réunion residential, whose ultimate limits in both Static and Dynamic went unchallenged for five years across the turn of the millennium.

To History page 3