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.