“There is no fear – quite the opposite. There is an element of letting go and you can become euphoric. The first thing you do is totally relax on the surface and slow down your metabolism and as you dive, you empty your mind so that you are no longer in the moment, then as you go deeper, air in your lungs contracts including the nitrogen, which can induce narcosis-a false feeling of wellness. This happens at around 40 or 50 metres and again stronger at around 80 metres. You feel very relaxed and let go and it can feel like you are being hugged.”
Since we last chatted to local free diver Dean Chipolina on ‘Insight Magazine’ he has upped his world ranking to fourth and increased his depth in the two disciplines that he trains for. It’s fair to say that he has been carrying the UK diving team to glory and this summer he is confident that he can improve his ranking again and intends to surpass his deepest recorded depth of 101 metres. There are only three months of training left before July and despite the colds and flu doing their best to slow him down, he remains unphased and quietly confident that he can pull it off again this summer.
“My achievement last year was to break the 100 metre barrier. That had been my aim for the last three years. I didn’t want to scrape through that, I did a controlled dive and when I got to the surface I still had something left so I know that I can still improve on last year. It was an enjoyable dive, stress free and I was totally in control. With that dive I managed to come fourth in the world for the mono fin category. The other achievement was that I increased my bi fin record to 90 metres so both my disciplines have increased by ten metres over the last three years.”
Ideally this summer, Dean wants to break the UK national record for bi fins by reaching 100 metres and he also wants to dive to 112 metres on his mono fin dive. To that end he has just ordered a pair of custom made fins which is going to leave him little change out of a thousand Euros. Free diving is expensive when you want to swim down a rope holding your breath like a dolphin. “If all goes well this year I could end up with two UK national records so we shall see. There is a small competition in Corsica in July which I am going to use to go for my record attempts. This summer I want to concentrate on breaking UK records first and then see what happens for the world championship which will be in September.”
Does he still feel that there are a lot of dives left in him to compete at that level? “Oh absolutely! Last year I always had more left in the tank whilst I was doing my pre-competition dives and this year I want to push those boundaries further. The thing is I am conservative and I don’t want to over extend to limits which I haven’t reached yet. One thing that can throw any plans askew are the underwater currents. Like in Cyprus last year there were strong underwater currents so we ended up revising our target depths because you have to work much harder. In July I won’t even attempt to break any records unless there are top conditions for diving. In the world championships you have to dive regardless of conditions on the day, obviously within the safety parameters. My training is modified now and I am confident that I can push my boundaries further.”
Dean Chipolina now belongs in a small group of elite divers who are constantly their pushing boundaries. His online coach is 46 year old Algerian born French diver Abdelatif Allouach who has won several world championships and holds a 2021 world record of 115 metres on bi fins. “These guys are always pushing their limits and they are on the cutting edge of the sport, however I can take a lot from them and am still learning all the time. I have an equipment sponsor from Latvia but this year the war has impacted on their budget. I still don’t have a travel sponsor and it would be nice to travel to pre-competition dives and competitions without having to dip into my own pocket. Travel sponsorship is now one of my priorities. The sport nowadays gets a lot of TV and other media coverage including YouTube which is always good for the sponsors.”
As a regular user of the GASA pool I often see Dean training with his mono fin gracefully skimming the bottom of the swim lane for various lengths of the pool (in one breath!) and I wondered whether that is his favourite discipline. “It is indeed but I am dropping my frequency on that to concentrate on bi fins now so you will see me using them exclusively for a while. The mono fin lends itself more to coordination of two legs moving as one, whereas the bi fins for me seem more uncoordinated as the two legs use up energy in movement which is more difficult to streamline. It also seems less efficient in getting the job done. I have just ordered a pair of bi fins where the blades are separate from the shoe. I now have to measure my foot carefully and order the shoe that will be glued to the blades. My main concern is that last year at depth I could feel that the shoe was a bit loose as the feet are compressed. So now I will be ordering very tight fitting shoes and that will be one thing less to worry about on future dives.”
I remembered that from my diving days of the 70’s using aqualung, when you go over your usual depth of around twenty metres you become more aware that you are in a hostile environment. You feel different in your headspace as the pressure increases and you have a sensible fear that there is a lot of water above your head if you have to climb in an emergency. I wondered how fear might impact on free divers, who go for three or four minutes and over, without breathing, to complete their deep dives.
“There is no fear- quite the opposite! There is an element of letting go and you can become euphoric. The first thing you do is totally relax on the surface and slow down your metabolism and as you dive, you empty your mind so that you are no longer in the moment, then as you go deeper, air in your lungs contracts including the nitrogen, which can induce narcosis-a false feeling of wellness. This happens at around 40 or 50 metres and again stronger at around 80 metres. You feel very relaxed and let go and it can feel like you are being hugged.”
“At those depths you are no longer an air breathing mammal. All the air in your body has been squeezed and plasma fills your lungs so that they do not crush. Your body has a mammalian dive reflex which comes into play and allows that to happen. From your guide line you have to pick up a tag which verifies the depth that you have achieved. Then you start your ascent slowly and in control. You will be met by safety divers at 3O metres and as the daylight penetrates the black, there will be more safety divers around you in case you black out. Suddenly you break surface and you have to keep it together and give a clear OK sign within 15 seconds as protocol demands. The dive marshal raises a white card and your dive is declared valid. That is what we live for.”