The 2019 British Freediving National Champions

Alex Atkins & Alice Hickson!

At the end of each year, the British Freediving Association recognises their National Freediving Champions.  They are the male and female freediving athletes who have garnered the most competition points throughout the year.  In order to achieve this accolade, it helps to compete in as many of the competitions disciplines as possible.  This is no easy feat but it has the added benefit of making the freediver a stronger and well-rounded athlete.  

This year we congratulate Alex Atkins and Alice Hickson on this brilliant achievement – it is the first time either has won the title.  Alice, a freediving instructor, trains with Bristol Freedivers has been freediving since 2014 and Alex, a Level 3 SSI freediver took his first course in March 2017 with Aquacity Freediving, who he trains with still and hopes to do his instructor course in the near future.

When asked about their training schedules it is apparent both would relish the chance to train more if they could.  Hickson’s training is mainly pool-based due to convenience and accessibility and although she managed to sneak in a few trips to Saltfree (a quarry run by the NDAC) for some depth training and adaptation, she didn’t feel as prepared as she’d have like for her open water competitions. For Alex winter is when he prefers to concentrate on pool for technique and CO2 training and then complements this with circuits and bodyweight training at home; in the summer, being based near the coast in Cornwall, Atkins says “We have beautiful, deep waters in Porthkerris, Cornwall, so it is a perfect place to do your depth training.  I also have a very physical job being a tree surgeon so that’s a great way to keep me in shape!”

Asked if they follow a particular training programme Alex responds, “At the moment I’m super flexible and have no set training plan at all. Running my own business and having a busy life makes it hard to set a regular training plan. This is something that I need to tackle in the near future though if I am going to progress further” and as for Alice “In terms of training although I have a plan written by Giorgos Sakkas, I’m not yet in a situation where I can follow this as I’d like. My hopes for next year are to be able to focus more on my training and to play more in the sea!”

We asked Alex if there were any breakthrough moments this year and he said that “Having played a lot of sport in my life the thing that has always made me better was “when it gets hard, fight harder”. This has always made me chase numbers and has only hindered my progression.  With freediving using this motto only makes it worse as it creates stress, anxiety and often frustration.  I’ve learnt that all my deepest (and nicest) dives have come from letting go of all expectations and just enjoying the ride!”

Were there any highlights or proud moments for either diver?  For Alice is was the chance to spend time in warm waters, surrounded by fellow freedivers at the Infinity Depth Games in Cyprus where she managed to a break national record that had stood for 12 years, diving to a depth of 57m in constant weight no fins (CNF) and then setting it deeper still to 60m: “Breaking the record was awesome but the highlight still has to be spending time with friends old and new and being able to dive in clear blue waters.”  For Alex, being fairly new to the competitive side of freediving he says he was “super proud” to come away with 3 medals at the 2019 Bristol Blue Nationals and 2nd overall.  Atkins also attended the Infinity Depth Games and his other highlight of the year was he says when “I managed to dive to 50m on my last day in the competition. I was stoked to get an official 50m dive in a competition and my deepest dive of the year.”

It is widely recognised within the freediving community that although you may appear alone when you taken that final breath and submerge your face under water, you most certainly are not and it is very much a team sport.  In order to achieve at the highest level, many freedivers are quick to recognise those who work with them in their team, figuratively or in reality and who help them along the way.  Alice sites collaborating with Liam of 2971 as another one of her highlights of her year and that being sponsored by Giorgos Sakkas (aka Dr Apnea) as an honour and privilege:  

“I am so grateful to all of the people who have supported me so far and particularly this year. I’d especially like to thank Liam from 2971 and Giorgos for their sponsorship and support, Apnea for the awesome blue suit and all the members at Bristol freedivers. Thank you to everyone who had believed in me offered their guidance and encouraged me to flourish at freediving.”

Alex too is keen to mention his mentors and teachers Georgina Miller and Daan Vehoeven: 

“I’d like to give a huge thanks to Georgina and Daan of Aquacity Freediving.  Not only have they been fantastic coaches but are great friends. Whether it’s George’s constant positive support or Daan’s invaluable advice, or his tough love, telling me statics always hurt and just get on with it (!).  Also I’d like to thank the freediving community as a whole for all their support. I am a big believer in asking for help and I am never to shy to ask for advice. Whether they’re a pro or beginner, you can always learn something from other people.”

There are four competitive pool and four depth disciplines. Alice gained points in every discipline had a particular success in CNF, where a diver swims with no fins on, to 60m. Her success in both this and static apnea (STA), a timed breath hold to 6 minutes 38 seconds, places her in the world’s top 5 in both disciplines.  Alex had points in all disciplines except dynamic apnea (DYN), with a particular strength in Free Immersion (FIM). This discipline sees the diver propelling himself using only his arms to pull down the rope, getting to 50m deep. We think it may be it is all the tree climbing that gives him the edge with this discipline.

Press Release: CNF National Record set by Alice Hickson

Alice Hickson on the descent. Photo credit: Daan Verhoeven

Alice Hickson has set a new freediving depth UK national record in Larnaca, Cyprus at the 5th edition of the Infinity Depth Games, on Sunday 13 October.  Using only her arms and legs for propulsion, Alice swam down a measured rope to 57m, collected a tag from the bottom plate (at the end of the rope) and returned to the surface to receive a white card validating her dive from the AIDA International Judges – holding her breath for a total of two minutes and thirty-six seconds.  The previous record (set twelve years ago by Sara Campbell at 56m in October 2007) has not been improved upon until now by the naturally talented Hickson.

Hickson is a thirty-year old Mental Health Practitioner, originally from Doncaster and based in Bristol.  In her spare time, as well as trying to fit in her freedive training, Alice teaches children with special needs how to swim.  Alice holds all of the records in the pool freediving disciplines, and having set her sights on depth just this year, has already won the 2019 UK female national depth championships, organised by Saltfree Divers in Chepstow.

This is what the new national record holder had to say about her constant weight no fins dive (CNF):

“This is my first time at the Infinity Depth Games (IDG) organised by Pavlos Kourtellas, Costas Costantinou and Nicole Karsera, and first time training in warm water!  I got here a week ago and each day has been amazing. The set-up is fantastic and the IDG team and volunteers go above and beyond to make everyone feel comfortable, calm and welcome. There’s a great atmosphere between all the other athletes too.

The past week I’ve focused on CNF as I’ve not had chance to do this in the cold quarry back home and it’s probably my favourite discipline.  I love the freedom of no fins (and it’s one less thing to carry and forget!).  The dive felt amazing and it was the icing on the cake to break the long-standing record.  The most important thing for me is to enjoy the dive and I loved every second.  It’s so much easier to put in a good performance when you know you’re surrounded by beautiful, kind people who want you to do well!

I would like to thank all of the organisers, safety, AIDA judges, friends and athletes for their support, well wishes and kindness.  In particular, Beci Ryan for epic coaching, Georgina Miller for all support, Daan Verhoeven for top tips and encouragement, Francesca for wise words, Liam Abel of 2971 for an amazing kit and Giorgos Sakkas for a great suit and assistance.  Looking forward to discovering what else I can do.”

British National Records set in the new Depth Discipline Constant Weight Bi-Fins by Dean Chaouche & Helena Bourdillon!

British freedivers Dean Chaouche and Helena Bourdillon have set new national records of 98m and 75m respectively, in the constant weight bi-fins (CWTB) depth category.  The discipline has been recently recognised by AIDA International, whereby a diver descends using only bi-fins as propulsion. Dean and Helena are the first UK athletes to set records in this discipline.

Helena Bourdillon. Photo credit: Alex St Jean

This is the first time Helena has set a national record in freediving, and she set two over the course of just two days!  The first of the two British records took place on 4 August when she swam down to 73m, the next day, 5 August, she went to 75m, both times at the Caribbean Cup Freediving Competition.  Helena had this to say:  “I’m thrilled to have done this and enjoyed it a lot!”

Dean set the first of four CWTB records at the Asian Freediving Cup on 9 June, going down to 90m; he went two meters deeper on 24 August at the Korean Cup organised by Freedive Panglao in the Philippines and then to 95m on 29 August and finally to 98m on 31 August at the Freedive Panglao Mini Comp.

Dean Chouche. Photo Credit: Potti Lau

Dean said: “After my 90m bi-fins dive which I had made earlier in the year I was surprised by how much fun deep bi-fins dives can be and so I decided that I would push the depth a little more and enjoy the process of developing a new discipline.  My other goal for these string of comps, organised by Freedive Panglao, was to achieve a greater state of relaxation similar to what I feel on training dives and to build slowly. I began with a 92m dive on the second day of the Korean Cup, following that dive I decided to go for 95m on day one of the Mini Comp, it was a very relaxed and enjoyable dive, exactly the experience I was looking for. I made a slightly more challenging dive to 98m due to current, though I am very happy with the numbers, what I’m more happy about is the circumstances and the quality of dives and focus.  There was quite a bit of current all the way down, I was aware of this before my dive but I still maintained a very relaxed state of mind.  When I started the dive I could feel it was taking more energy to keep straight and I could feel the current moving me around on the descent but I realised I was still in a very comfortable state of mind and knew that I could make the dive even with the added difficulty.  The swim up was for sure harder than the previous dive but ultimately successful and a clean protocol. I’m super stoked with how relaxed I can feel even in competition and will aim to build on these satisfying dives.”

Dean Chaouche from Swansea has broken several national records in both the free immersion and constant weight no fins depth disciplines and is currently ranked in the world’s top 5.  You can follow Dean on Social Media under the handle @deanfreediver.  Helena Bourdillon(http://helenabourdillon.com) is a motivational speaker as well as a competitive freediver and is based in London.

Call out to British Freediving Instructors

If you are a qualified Freediving Instructor and would like to be included on the British Freediving Association website annual list of instructors, then we would like to hear from you!The BFA would like to provide a listing for individual instructors in addition to the club listings.

If you would like to be included then please send an email to Liv at training@britishfreediving.org. Include up-to-date copies of your teaching insurance, HSE medical & a first aid certificate (First aid within the last 2 years), and we will list you up on the BFA website as a British Free Diving Instructor.If you send along any contacts such as a websites or email and what agency and instructor level you arethen this will be added to your details.This list will be renewed each yearand you will need to send your details to the training officer annually to be re-listed.

2016 National Champions

Tim MoneyTim Money

Picture Credit: Daan Verhoeven (www.daanverhoeven.com)

Every year, the BFA selects the male and female National Champion based on competition results across all disciplines in the pool and open water. For UK divers this means training year-round and often having to travel abroad to reach the depths needed to excel on the world stage.

The 2016 champions are Tim Money and Liv Phillip.

Both athletes are cornerstones of British freediving; they are not only consistent high performing athletes on the pool circuit, but they rank at a high level in depth disciplines as well. The BFA would like to congratulate them both and wish them every success in 2017.

Liv Phillip commented: “It’s a real pleasure to receive the British Championship award again this year. It’s the 10th consecutive year I’ve won the British Championship, and every year has been very different as my freediving and my goals have developed. In the beginning I just wanted to hit the water with any excuse to do so, which is where my desire to do all the pool and depth disciplines came from. Now I’m a very experienced diver, things of course change, and I find new reasons to continue competition freediving. One thing that does not change is the freedom I feel from being in the water, and specifically in the sea. I made a competition personal best this year in constant weight with a dive to 75m, and the challenge in doing this was having very limited training time and resources, and very few training days doing depth in the sea. What I fall back on is a real joy of the water and the friends I get to share the challenges with along the way. I’d like to thank all the people who have supported me this year, and I’m looking forward to the 2017 Depth World Championship in Roatan in August.”

Tim Money commented: “I love this award and am really chuffed to get it. It’s really challenging to get points on all disciplines, and almost see it as the pentathlon of freediving, as it’s very hard to train and do well across the board. My head says I should be more specific and concentrate on one event to progress, however the excitement factor throws that out the window and I have a go at everything, which is great fun. My main challenge is with time between teaching, family and work – I just don’t get to do enough diving or events. I managed to get to two events this year, so only just got points in all disciplines, and hope to do more in the future. I would really like to thank my family who let me run away to these adventures, and my employer (www.saba.com), as they help me with time to get to the World Championships.”

For more information, please contact Louise Nelson, Press Officer, British Freediving Association at press@britishfreediving.org.

Mens & Women’s British Freediving Champions 2015

Mens British Freediving Champions 2015 - Tim Money Women's British Freediving Champions 2015 - Liv Philip

Every year, the BFA selects the male and female National Champion based on competition results across all disciplines in the pool and open water. For UK divers this means training year-round and often having to travel abroad to reach the depths needed to excel on the World stage.

Meet 2015’s UK Champions Liv Phillip and Tim Money, who have trained together for many years in London. This is Liv’s 9th consecutive year as Champion, and Tim’s 3rd. Both are AIDA Instructors, representing the UK regularly at team and individual championships and both volunteer their precious time to assist in running the BFA. Liv and Tim spoke to each other about their freediving year, challenges overcome, achievements and how they’ve kept on top of their game for 10 years.

Liv Phillip (LP): “Tim, I met you on a cold winter’s day on the Saltfree platform in 2006. You were doing some sort of strange leg stretch in your wetsuit. Why are you still going strong in freediving ten years later?”
Tim Money (TM): “Freediving is great escapism from conventional life, which of course I value with my job and family, but it gives me a chance to have some adventures. Plus, the community is special. At events there is a common shared love and understanding of freediving despite differences in race, culture and lifestyle and I think that is pretty unique. Our sport is competitive, but because of the intensity of our sport, camaraderie shines through”.

TM: “Liv, you like all the competitive disciplines and this is the 9th consecutive year you have been the British Women’s Champion, what was your freediving all about in 2015?”
LP: “2015 was totally about looking after my family and not about freediving. I took two trips to deep dive this year and the training time was minimal, but it provided some much needed time away from responsibilities back in the UK. Family illness and difficult circumstances meant it wasn’t possible to make the sort of selfish decisions necessary to be a top athlete, but made it very clear how much I love diving in the sea. The challenges I’ve faced this year outside of freediving have been very important to me to put into the perspective how unimportant competition results are in the grand scheme of things. Having said that, as soon as I was in the water, I valued every moment and I think that explains winning the British Champion title. I ended up with a personal best in Free Immersion with a 4th place dive of 68m at the Depth World Championship in Cyprus. The nice thing is that my mum is my biggest fan and this really cheered her up”.

LP: “What about you? How were you looking at your freediving in 2015?”
TM: “I got some more time in deep water this year which let me concentrate on some things. I did more UK diving, which I enjoy and keeps me from getting so rusty, and I was able to get away to the Cyprus Depth World Individual Championships. I did a Constant Weight dive to 67m there, but I think for me the real achievement was the experience of learning how to do that. I went to the Bahamas earlier in the year for the Vertical Blue Championship and my family came along, but I found my little girl won my attention hands down and so I just dived for fun”.

LP: “Are you still as excited about freediving 10 years on?”
TM: “I question this every winter, and I’ve decided I will continue in whatever way as long as I am enjoying it. That may be recreational, within my club, teaching, or competitively”.
TM: “And how about you?”
LP: “Yes, I still love what I’m doing and I am quite adept at changing things so I don’t get bored. Anyway someone has to beat you and give you something to aim at!”
TM: “Haha! I think having a training partner who I can have healthy competition with gives us both a kick to make an effort”
LP: “I agree you need a training partner who’s going to be honest with you and know when to tell you the truth however much you might not want to hear it. When it all goes right, or wrong, you want your best friends to be there to share it with, or really what is the point of it all?”

Liv would like to thank Fusion Lifestyle, Powerfins & Elios Wetsuits for their support in 2015.

Tim would like to thank Powerfins and his employer Saba for their support in 2015.

The 7th Great Northern competition and the UK BFA Pool championships has been announced for the 10th April, 2016

The 7th Great Northern competition and the UK BFA Pool championships has been announced for the 10th April, 2016

The competition has reduced to one day for this year, and will be two disciplines over two sessions.

Static (STA) will be held on the first session, and the second session will be a choice of Dynamic with fins (DYN) or Dynamic no fins (DNF). In the dynamic no fins sessions points will be multiplied by 1.3 to even out the fairness in the point score.

For example, a Freediver getting 130m DYN will be the same points as a Freediver getting 100m DNF (100 x 1.3 = 130m)

The competition winners are those athletes with the biggest point score over the two disciplines. AIDA rankings are given for all disciplines competed in. The AIDA rankings for DNF will NOT be multiplied by 1.3, this is purely to decide the competition winner.

Please visit the site www.freedivingcompetition.com to see more details and enter the competition.

Video from Apneists UK’s last competition: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=fu9GhxeU7sk

British Freediving Association saddened at the loss of Natalia Molchanova, Freediving’s most accomplished athlete in history.

Natalia Molchanova was reported missing after diving on Sunday August 2nd

Picture Credit: Daan Verhoeven (www.daanverhoeven.com)

The British Freediving Association (BFA) is saddened by the news 23 times World Champion freediver Natalia Molchanova was reported missing after diving on Sunday August 2nd off the island of Formentera near Ibiza. Natalia was diving recreationally for fun with friends to depths of 30-40m without fins, a relatively shallow depth for someone of her accomplishments, when she failed to surface. Search efforts are ongoing but Natalia has yet to be found in a region known to have deep water currents. When Natalia was diving on Sunday, she was diving recreationally in the sea which is the same activity enjoyed by many recreational free divers and snorkelers in the ocean to much shallower depths.

During training and competition, Natalia always dived on a line with a safety lanyard which is the system all trained freedivers use to avoid unnecessary dangers. Being attached to a line allows the divers safety freedivers to react immediately should a diver ever have any problem during a dive. Natalia was a great teacher of freediving as well as a great athlete and would have taught this system to her hundreds of students many times.

The sport of freediving has strict safety protocols in place which are developed by the sports main organisation AIDA International www.aidainternational.org and used in competition. Safe diving practises are also taught to all students when they enrol on a course with a properly qualified freediving Instructor, making the sport a surprisingly safe pastime despite its media image as an extreme sport. Freedivers combine careful training, slow progression and a combination of athleticism and meditative techniques to allow them to make their dives.

Natalia is much loved and respected within the International freediving community as a gracious Champion and exceptional person and her loss will be hard for the community to come to terms with. She has broken 41 World records and won 23 Gold medals in World Championships making her the most accomplished freediving athlete in history. The first female athlete to break the 100m barrier with a dive to 101m during the 2013 depth World Championships, she set yet another world record with a dive to 71m in the no fins discipline in May in Egypt at the age of 53.

Natalia is the president of the Russian Freediving Federation and has developed many training programs for teaching freediving safely around the world. She is the author of scientific articles about freediving, and she has written poetry on the subject. She was known by her peers as being a remarkable athlete and intensely competitive, whilst remaining accessible to everyone, and always being generous with help and advice.

Natalia had an intense love of the sea and the sport of Freediving, and devoted her life to doing the thing she loved. Our condolences go to Natalia’s son and training partner Alexey, and to all of her family and friends at this time.

Thankfully tragedies such as this are rare in free diving, but never freedive alone and always seek training from a qualified instructor.

Glass and Water: The Essential Guide to Freediving for Underwater Photography by Mark Harris

Glass and Water:  Freediving for underwater photography - Author Mark Harris

Glass and Water is the first book on underwater photography for freedivers. With contributions from expert underwater photographers this book teaches the skills, knowledge and equipment necessary to successfully pursue underwater photography without scuba gear.

Glass and Water is not a replacement for existing books on underwater photography as it focuses on freediving techniques, equipment and photo opportunities which are better suited to freediving (rather than scuba).

‘It’s most unlikely that you’ll come away without learning something brand new and innovative. I know that I did’: Martin Edge.

In ‘Part 1: Equipment and Basics’ Mark shows how by choosing or adapting freediving and photographic equipment some early hurdles can be avoided. He also explains some underwater photography basics and opportunities for freedivers.

‘Part 2: Technique’ explains how using appropriate freediving techniques can increase the length of time available for taking photographs underwater and help to manage camera equipment.

And in ‘Part 3: Perspectives’ Mark and a range of informed contributors reveal how to photograph particular animals and their personal approaches to freediving photography. This includes the author’s ‘Virtual Dive’ which pulls together everything covered in the book.

The book includes photos and/or contributions from Fred Buyle, Sue Flood, Danny Kessler, Dr Anne-Marie Kitchen-Wheeler, Laura Storm, Andrew Sutton, and Shane Wasik. There is also a Foreword by multi-award-winning underwater photographer Dan Bolt and a Glossary of key terms.

‘Glass and Water should be as essential as a pair of fins and a camera for underwater photographers. Mark shares his tremendous expertiseÉ the methodical and well-illustrated techniques will benefit anyone wishing to produce great images in the sea’: Brian Skerry, National Geographic.

Mark Harris is a former British champion freediver who has instructed, coached and judged at international level, consulted on and taught students how to freedive for roles in both television and film and ran London’s main club, London Freediving for almost a decade.

Available now in paperback for £16.95 (ebook forthcoming) from Divedup.com, online and from retailers.

Dean Chaouche wins silver medal at Suunto Vertical Blue, the Wimbledon of Freediving!

Dean Chaouche wins silver medal at Suunto Vertical Blue

Picture Credit: Daan Verhoeven (www.daanverhoeven.com)

Suunto Vertical Blue (VB2015), one of the most prestigious and much-anticipated freediving competitions took place at Dean’s Blue Hole on Long Island in the Bahamas between 27 April until 7 May. Attracting elite freedivers from around the globe, Vertical Blue has become known as the Wimbledon of Freediving.

Three of the UK’s top Freediving athletes attended the competition: Georgina Miller, Tim Money and Dean Chaouche. The athletes had the opportunity to do nine dives in the three freediving depth disciplines, constant weight (CWT), constant no fins (CNF) and free immersion (FIM), in order to win the coveted championship title.

Dean Chaouche, 25, a former electrician from Swansea, turned professional freediver, is a relative new comer on the competitive freediving scene. Quietly making his way up the ranks, he performed incredibly well, taking home a silver medal in the discipline of CNF, with an impressive dive to 68m and narrowly missing out on third place overall. We caught up with Dean and asked him to share his experience of the competition, what he learned and his plans for the future.

“Running up to the competition my training went really well, physically and mentally I felt strong and confident. Last year was the first year that I could dedicate most of it to freediving so I feel that I’m really getting to know my body and how it works.”

Dean went from strength to strength in the other two disciplines, with an easy 91m CWT dive (a first personal best in a competition and he says his best dive, with more meters in the tank) and 80 FIM. The length of the competition can really test the athletes’ stamina. And as the competition goes on, unexpected obstacles can appear to challenge an athlete’s journey. The conditions, which had been perfect for the first three days, with no wind and amazing visibility, deteriorated when a cold front moved in. Before Dean’s 80 FIM dive, on day 6, he was very cold and close to not starting, but fellow athlete Georgina gave him her Gore-Tex jacket, which he says pretty much saved the dive.

“If I could change anything to what I did in the competition, it would definitely have been how I approached the last third (act of the competition). I could have put some more depth on either CWT or FIM, which may have given me an overall finish. So next competition I will put the CNF dives in the beginning and I will make sure I can always dive on the last day.

Overall I felt the comp went well, I managed to get three good dives in all. The competition itself was amazing I was overwhelmed with the blue hole, finally being there felt very surreal. The set-up is perfect for smashing out big numbers because it gives you a chance to get into the competition and work your nerves out on the earlier dives. The organization and safety are carried out in a very professional manner and that feeds your confidence in knowing that you’re in safe hands.”

Dean is off to Columbia for Nirvana Oceanquest in Columbia, organised by Walid Boudihaf, starting on 6 June. And after that he plans to head back to Australia and teach some freediving courses (email: dean.chaouche@yahoo.com) Looking into the near future, Dean would like to run some training camps and aims to achieve maximum performances:

“I feel now that I have a lot of personal knowledge training for deep diving, and I have a solid structure which really works for me and hopefully for others too.”

Find and follow Dean on Facebook and Instagram as Dean Freediver.