freediving safety diving

Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series: Freediver Safety perspective

 

After a busy day preparing for a record attempt I trawled through my information stream of e-mails. In the Inbox was a welcome sight. The organiser of the safety crew for the Red Bull Cliff diving World Series had contacted me, asking if I was interested in doing the diving safety for the 2013 event in Abereiddy, South Wales at the Blue Lagoon. Information had already started to filter through to me about this event a few weeks before, and I had googled a previous years competition, and seen the location and the whole thing just looked stunning.

 

I duly accepted the role of being on the surface of the water as the athletes dived from the 27 metre high diving board. We were to follow the Divers down into the water and deal with the potential of unconsciousness or spinal injury or simply winding of the athlete. I might add at this point due to the nature of the set up, and the skill of the athletes, this is another example of an extreme sport where there are very few injuries. But like any sport, even the sports that on the surface look like there are small risks only, accidents can happen.

 

I was asked to take a second freediver with me for additional support that had the required abilities. Given it was a 4-5 day contract, and located down South I chose my good friend Sam Still. We have entrusted our lives to each other on innumerable occasions as safety divers for our own sport for almost exactly a Decade now. The team was coming together. In addition to us the organiser had the experience of last years event, a very experienced Scuba diver joined us to deal with the potential of a deep prolonged incident, a Paramedic on a Jet Ski accompanied us and a Jet ski rescue driver /instructor. We were part of an experienced team.

 

On the shore were Advanced Paramedics, Coastguard, various methods of transferring casualties and so much medical equipment for all eventualities. My hats off to Red Bull team, when they do something, they do it properly! No cutting corners, no expense spared in safety. An entire pontoon was set up to deal with an incident; it was never needed, but doesn’t detract from it being there.

 

Wednesday 11th September 2013:Set up

Thursday 12th September 2013: Training

Friday 13th September 2013: Qualifying dives

Saturday 14th September 2013: Competition Day

 

The first set up morning we travelled with the crew to the venue. We parked up right next to the sea, right on the South West Wales coast, a beautiful beach to launch the armada of craft that we would eventually take over the lagoon. We decided firstly to go and view the venue, what an amazing place, I travel all around of the world and this is certainly a unique place. Like a Roman amphitheatre, with a deep water pool at the bottom, with access and egress only possible around and over steep cliffs or at high tide you could take vessels of all sizes through the narrow entrance to the bottom of the amphitheatre.

 

Enough time already spent, it was the beginning of what turned out to be a 12 hour day, and using many of the skills i’d learned from my two decades on and around water, drove RIBS, set up platforms, towed RIBs, kayaked, tied knots, made shot lines, made buoyed off areas, depth sounded the entry points and many more useful jobs.

 

On training day we were fortunate to have experienced Cliff diver Joey Zuber, now a TV presenter and organiser, and motivational speaker. The training consisted of lots of descriptions of how the cliff divers dive, how they may spin, how far away they would land, what was the most likely outcome of a bad dive etc We learnt that the stream of water that was at the bottom of the cliff was actually so the athletes can judge where the water is to perfect their landing, so we took that job very seriously. We did get ribbed by some of my students who had travelled to see the show that we were just the ‘splashers’

 

The Underwater spinal position they wanted to put the divers in was very similar to our normal lifting procedure, once we had ‘got our eye in’ on how deep and at what speed the athletes got to that depth we could pin point every single time in the bad visibility water (maybe 2 metres?) where to be. We decided i’d go shallow and quick, so maybe to 2 metres each dive, and Sam would go below the plume of water the diver produced and get any deeper problems, maybe 4 metres. I was extremely surprised how shallow the athletes went even on perfect dives, they were coming up in a couple, few seconds every time nearly. We practised the transition for getting an injury from the original underwater rescue, to shore. A single freediver lifts the Cliff Diver to the surface, second Freediver stabilises with first, Scuba diver to assist in positive buoyancy, spinal board goes in, under the diver, board passed to Paramedic on the Jet Ski, board lifted onto Jet Ski, then travel to shore, maybe 50 metres away. We literally got the victim from being underwater, to being on the shore in the larger group of Paramedics within 20 seconds. It was slick! This gave us great confidence that the job in hand was within our capabilities.

 

The real test started once the athletes started their warm up dives. They were allowed to walk to the end of the 27 metre high protruding platform and one after the other more than once, there was a stream of Cliff Divers, one after another. Literally we’d power dive down for the first, swim to the surface, check they were okay and on the Jet Ski, then look up, signal to the next, they gave us specific instructions where they wanted us, lie on our back and then we’d swim, get into place, start to splash hard to make their entry visible, they’d take some steps back, stretch, then they’d walk forward and they’d dive, we’d start to breath in as they left the platform as they hit the water really quickly after, hold the breath, they’d hit, we’d dive, swim frantically over to them, follow them up, see they are okay, lie on our back signal to the next Cliff diver....

 

It was one of those repetitive series of actions where you can just forget about everything in the world except your specific reason for being there, the brief times of rest in between i’d lie on my back, watching the shadow cast of the Cliff diver walk over to the edge of the platform, the clouds in the blue sky, behind the silhouette were slowly moving behind the cliffs with the sun warm on my face and then, they’d jump, it started to go slow motion as I got more into the zone... Nice

 

The divers came quick because the water was cold and they wanted to get back into the hot tub. South Wales even in August just in a tiny pair of speedos is only for the hardy. The competition day came soon enough, we had met the athletes a few times over lunches and dinners and they are a sound bunch, genuinely great people, we knew we had to be there for them. An armada of kayaks and boats started to filter through into the lagoon and find their spot. Hundreds of spectators lined the cliffs, the water edge, in the water, the amphitheatre was full of excited viewers. The athletes never failed to impress.

 

Video link here

 

Have a watch the Red Bull World Cliff diving Championship on the Dave channel . First UK showing on Sunday 24th November night at 6.00pm (there are repeats) it is worth it. And have a look at the ‘splashers’, just one small wheel in the cog of an amazing event put on for these incredible athletes.

 

Steve Millard

 

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Contact:

E-mail: Steve@freedivers.co.uk Phone: 07940998915

Freediving, when practised properly, is a very safe sport. However there are risks so always dive with the supervision of a QUALIFIED and competent buddy. Never hold your breath alone, even in water as shallow as your bath. Someone needs to be there who knows exactly what they are looking for and what to do in case of a blackout. A casual observer or even a lifeguard who hasn't been specifically trained in apnea would not be suitable.