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Photograph courtesy William Trubridge

Freediver Smashes His Own World Record—Twice

Four and a half minutes is a decent chunk of time. It’s about how long it takes for your coffee to brew or your average shower. So imagine holding your breath for that entire time, while diving 400 feet into a lightless abyss. That’s what world record-holding freediver William Trubridge did–twice–this past week at the annual Vertical Blue diving competition at Dean’s Blue Hole on Long Island, Bahamas.

Last Saturday, Trubridge extended his 2011 world record by a meter by diving 122 meters, but then surpassed that record two days later by diving 124 meters in four minutes 34 seconds. That’s 2.5 times the length of an Olympic swimming pool, or 100 feet deeper than the Statue of Liberty’s tallest point, if she were inverted.

These records came in the free immersion category, where divers pull themselves into the deep along a weighted rope, sans fins.

What is usually a tranquil Bahamanian island destination became a hive of activity as freedivers from around the world came to test their lung capacities in the world’s deepest oceanic blue hole.

Trubridge, a New Zealand native who took up residence on Long Island a decade ago to hone his freediving skill, founded the competition at what he considers the perfect location to train for the sport.

I was lucky enough to spend time with William last month, along with photographer Max Lowe and filmmaker Andy Maser, as part of a film that will be published on the Beyond the Edge blog later this month. Coming away from a week with him, I was transfixed by his devoted discipline and measured focus in the lead up to the competition. I had the chance to catch up with him to chat about his success this week.

Congratulations, William! How does it feel to have broken your own record? 

It was kind of unexpected in this event, because I hadn’t been planning on attempting a record and my form hadn’t been as good coming in. I’d had some ailments. It’s an experience I’ve had a few times now over the years, as this is the 17th record I’ve broken. But I haven’t set a world record since 2011, so it’s been about five years and it’s really rewarding.

When did you decide that you would go for the record?

About halfway through the event I did a dive to 116 meters in free immersion and that was super, super easy, that was one of the best dives I think I’ve ever done in that discipline. So after that I felt like, if I could do a little bit more and still have the same sensation then I could go for it. So I did 119 meters and that also was very comfortable, so after that I tried the 122.

There are some very specific protocols you have to complete when you surface in order to ensure a clean dive, which must be quite challenging after holding your breath for almost five minutes. Can you describe those?

It can be very challenging! The first one is to remove all your facial equipment, so if you’ve got a nose clip or goggles, all that has to come off. And only after that can you make the OK sign and say “I am OK” in that order. Some people come to the surface and do it in the wrong order, or they take the goggles off but not the nose clip. If you make that kind of a mistake it’s a red card.

If the dive is to the limit, then just doing those three things within 15 seconds can be really difficult and it will often lead to people slipping up—that’s why it’s there, to discern between people who are lucid and in control and people who just aren’t completely aware of what’s going on and can’t do basic things. And the deeper we go, the more the world record shifts, the more we’re going to be occupying that zone where it’s difficult to do that protocol after the dive.

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William Trubridge immediately after his 122-meter freedive with his longtime friends Igor Liberti and Marco Cosentino; Photograph courtesy Daan Verhoeven

Freediving is usually such a solo sport. What’s the energy like at the blue hole at an event like this, compared with most of your days here?

It’s like a family reunion, there’s a very festive element to it and that’s the really beautiful side of these things—everyone’s supporting each other. You can be right there on the water, around the dive line watching the divers go down and up. And for every diver, doesn’t matter who it is or what depth, everyone is cheering when they hit the base plate at maximum depth and when they come back up to the surface, and you don’t see that at other events.

You get a buzz from the dives themselves in training, but it’s a whole different experience when your training partners, your friends, your family, the crew, and spectators are all together. Then it becomes much more of a team thing and a celebration.

Why do you love Dean’s Blue Hole?

It’s an incredible place—you almost feel like it’s been designed for freediving, because it has all the depth you need, but it doesn’t have any of the obstacles of open water diving like current, big waves, thermoclines or jelly fish—all these problems we have in other locations. And the fact you don’t need to use a boat to get to it is huge, it means the expense of training there is so much less.

Don’t you get scared down there in the depths?

When I first came to Long Island in 2005, I’d never dived into the blue hole before and it’s a very ominous looking place, and especially back then it was pretty much not frequented by any locals and very few tourists. So the first few dives diving into that darkness where the light diminishes very quickly was a little disconcerting.

You can’t really see what’s around you and you’re conscious of there being a huge amount of space, a huge volume of water around you, but you have no idea what’s in that, because you can’t essentially see anything. So you have to trust in the water and your innate ability and not think about that volume or the distance back to the surface.

But I quickly became accustomed to that and now I enjoy it. I can see it on people who dive here for the first time, but I think you get used to it.

When does training start again and what’s the next goal?

The main event for me is a world record attempt on 20 July back here at Dean’s Blue Hole, and that’s for what I see as the more important discipline in freediving, unassisted with no fins, and for that I’ll need to dive to at least 102m. So I’ll start training tomorrow.