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AIDA World
Maribor 2007

4th - 7th of July 2007

Tanya Streeter
Natalia Molchanova
Tom Sietas


Apnea Brief History

The word apnea, comes from the Greek word a-pnoia that means “without breathing”. The origin of the word doesn’t have any connection to water but in modern terminology “apnea” is used as a synonym for diving on one breath of air on freediving, diving without any equipment that would make it possible to breath underwater.

Apnea more than any other sport, is based on old, subconscious reflexes written down in our genes. Humans live the first 9 months of their lives in water that is similar to seawater. More, if a baby is submerged under water he instinctively holds his breath up to 40 seconds and swims breaststroke, but unfortunately this ability is lost when the baby starts to walk. Waking up these reflexes is one of the most important thing in freediving thus it gives us better abilities to freedive and it protects us at depth.

Still in the fifties it was the general assumption that humans can’t dive to depths greater than 50m, saying that the hydrostatic pressure at that depth would crush ones lungs. It was first in 1962 that Enzo Maiorca dove to -51m and stunned the world medical experts. It all then lead to exploring one of the most interesting physiological changes in the human body, a part of the diving reflex called “blood shift”.

But diving on one breath was practiced already much earlier. The oldest archeological findings that confirm diving are dated back to 7.000 – 10.000 years b.c.. At the coast of Baltic sea there was a settlement called the “shellfish eaters” and are thought to be the first civilization to freedive.

Also lots of archeological proof of freediving was found in the Mesopotamic civilization and old Egypt dating back to 4.500 and 3.200 years b.c..

On the Mediterranean coast freediving was also a regular practice. Lots of myths and legend tell about this. There is a myth about Glaucus that could be also the first mythological freediver. He was named “The Green Mariner” and the myth tell he fall in a pot of honey as a baby and drowned. He was then brought back to life by the prophet Polido.

A tale from the Greek-Persian wars tales about a Greek fisherman and his daughter Cyan that at night, under water, cut the anchor ropes of the Persian ships. The antique Athenias have cut the wooden barriers under water in Syracusa tales another story.

Aristoteles as the first mentioned and documented the common problems with diving: bleeding from the nose, pain in the ears…

In the Roman Empire a war unit called “urniatores” was established. They had tasks that had to do with water to for example rescuing lost anchors, removing underwater barricades and other special underwater war task.

On the Mediterranean coast there are still some villages in that old frediving styles can be found. If you only look up the village of the Greek divers for sponges you will find lots of interesting and old things connected to freediving.

Of course we can not go on without mentioning the Ammas. This Japanese and Korean women divers still today use the diving technique more than 2000 years old. The divers are between 17 and 50 years old and use a rock to get to the bottom where they pick up shells. They dive 8 to 10 hours a day in a water barely over 10oC

In the modern history apnea was run over by SCUBA diving. The next seeable raise was in the second half of the previous century with the people al Enzo Maiorca, Jaques Mayol, Francisko "Pipin" Fereras and Umberto Pelizzari, but the first of 19th century freedivers was a Greek called Yorgos Haggi Statti that got into history with his dive to save the lost anchor of the Italian navy ship called Regina Margherita.

After his a few year have passed since the next mentionable thing has happened. In 1949 Raimondo Butcher dove to 30m and set the first official record. The records back then where almost all done with a technique similar to no-limit that we have today.

The first to go below 50m as a big milestone was Enzo Maiorca. In the next year Enzo got a everlasting competitor for the record of being the deepest in Jaques Mayol. The ongoing rivalry between them later inspired Luc Besson to make a movie called “The big blue” that is still considered to be the best freediving movie up to date.

On 5th of December 1970 CMAS after consulting with his doctors stopped recognizing freediving records. But still record depths resumed falling. Unofficially.

The next big milestone went to Mayol on 23rd of November 1974 reaching -101 meter. Mayol and Maiorca slowly started to redraw from the freediving world and there were other to take their place. Fully equipped with new modern equipment that has progressed fast in this 30 year a new rivalry was born. The new actors were Columbian Francisco “Pipin” Ferreras and a few years later Italian Umberto Pelizzari. Pipin became the world deepest man in 1989 reaching -112m followed by Pelizzari in 1991 with -115m. In the mean while also other disciplines became popular and records were set in all disciplines but there still was no organization to recognize them.

Then, in 1992 AIDA was established to become the new freediving association. It immediately started to recognize records and organize competitions. In 1995 CMAS again started to recognize records and trying to change the rules. But it was too late. AIDA was doing a perfect job and freedivers liked it.

Some time passed to reach the new milestone in deep diving. It was Pelizzari that dove to 150m in no limits in 1999.

In the next years also some women started the freediving cariere. The most known name for sure is Tanya Streeter. She set the still standing no limits and wariable weight records with 160m in 2002 and 122m in 2003.

In the last years more and more records are being set in competitions. Today we are surpassing 200m in no limits and 100 m in constant weight, 10 minutes in static apnea and 200m in dynamic apnea and the limits seem further away than ever before. We identify ourselves with freedivers like Martin Stepanek, Tom Sietas, Herbert Nitsch, Carlos Coste, Natalia Molchanova, Mandy Rae Cruickshank and Annabel Briseno.

And we are still writing history with the next big competition being held in Maribor 2007.