Freediving has been called the world’s dullest extreme sport but every second can be a breath away from failure.
And divers say surfacing from the deep and holding your breath for up to nearly 10 minutes can release a feeling of incredible elation.
Fifteen freedivers have gathered at Lake Taupo this weekend for the national championships. They include national record holder Guy Brew, who can hold his breath for more than nine minutes.
Competitive and recreational divers from around the country and Australia, France, Britain and South Africa will compete in the Depth Nationals 2013.
The group includes Jonno Sunnex, of Auckland, and Wellington’s Dave Mullins, both 100 metre-plus divers.
Last year’s top three finishers, Australian Ben Noble, Wellington’s Phil Clayton and Sam Barnes of Auckland, are back to defend their placings.
World record holder Kathryn Nevatt is a judge.
Anchored off Motutaiko Island, in 92 metres of water, divers will compete in three disciplines – swimming to a nominated depth with and without fins, and swimming without fins using a competition rope to pull on.
Divers will reach depths of 20-80 metres, descending at about a metre per second, in water temperatures of 10-20 degrees Celsius.
At 100 metres, divers have about 10 per cent of the lung capacity they would have on the surface.
Each dive can take between 70 seconds and four minutes, depending on the depth.
The event, run under International Association for the Development of Apnoea (AIDA) rules, has strict safety requirements, event co-ordinator Phil Clayton, of Wellington, says.
“This is not a stunt but an athletic sport.
“It’s about setting personal goals and achievements.
“You have this incredible feeling of elation when you surface after having reached your goal.”
The event attracted intense competition but also a lot of camaraderie among the divers, he said.
Rules are complex and safety standards are stringent.
Each diver is allowed only one dive per day and must follow strict procedure before and after surfacing to avoid disqualification.
A lanyard is attached to each diver from the wrist to the competition rope, as well as counter-ballast.
Two safety divers are present underwater, with a medic on the control boat.
Observers and judges follow the diver’s progress from a depth finder on board the competition boat.
“Most divers have an affinity with the water so we enjoy what we do,” Mr Clayton said.
Event organisers said the championships were not a commercially run event and no charge had been imposed by lake owners Ngati Tuwharetoa to host it at Lake Taupo.
Tuwharetoa Maori Trust Board sought to charge a levy for Ironman New Zealand competitors to use the lake for the swim leg of the international triathlon.
Taupo Ironman event organisers reached a confidential settlement before the triathlon was held earlier this year.