Kurt Chambers, a freediving instructor based in Kailua-Kona, set two new U.S. national records in the sport of freediving—swimming to depth on breath-hold. He accomplished the feats at the Asian Freediving Cup, which was June 9-11 in Panglao, Philippines and organized by the instruction agency Freedive Panglao.
On the first day, Chambers dove 98 meters (321 feet) in 3 minutes, 7 seconds in the “constant weight bi-fins” discipline. Among the four disciplines in modern depth competitions overseen by AIDA (International Association for Development of Apnea), this is the only one that allows the use of standard bi-fins — the same long-blade fins most recreational freedivers and spearfishermen rely on.
This is the first year the use of bi-fins has been distinguished from monofins by AIDA, which have instead been employed for nearly all “constant weight” dives in competitions for the last 20 years. This new development has prompted a resurgence of interest in depth training with bi-fins and has allowed for a slurry of new national and world records to be set in the new discipline this year.
The previous U.S. mark of 78 meters (256 feet) was set in April by Kauai resident Elijah Aasand at the Xibalba competition in the cenotes of southern Mexico. Aasand was not too sore about losing the record to Chambers, who was Aasand’s first freediving instructor in 2013, so the two have been long-time colleagues.
In the female division, a new world record of 92 meters (302 feet) was set the same discipline by Slovenian Alenka Artnik. Chambers’ mark of 98 meters is the third deepest bi-fin performance in competition in the world this year behind the shared world record performances of 108 meters (354 feet) by France’s Arnaud Jerald and Russian Alexey Molchanov just weeks ago in Egypt.
Chambers followed this with another national record dive on the second day in the discipline of “free immersion”, which allows pulling along the line but without any aid of fins. He descended to 100 meters (328 feet) in 3 minutes, 19 seconds, improving on his own record of 96 meters (315 feet) set in November in Dominica.
Weary from the back-to-back deep dives of the first two days, Chambers opted to be conservative and “just have fun” on the final day of the competition, in which he had to perform a “constant weight no fins” dive, generally regarded as the most challenging of all the disciplines for no assistance being allowed from either grabbing the line or wearing fins (a modified breaststroke is typically used).
Chambers was actually in the overall lead by total points among all 61 athletes in the competition after the first two days, but due to his conservative final performance he conceded to four-time champion of the competition, Sendoh Wang of China. Chambers placed second overall in his first competition in Asia.
“This result was absolutely beyond my expectation, in the face of some very strong international athletes as well as a massive field,” Chambers said. “I am stoked and proud that my month spent training in Panglao was rewarded with these honors. It is also a testament to how favorable the circumstances were and organization was by Freedive Panglao.”
Almost more challenging than the dives for Chambers was just getting onto the roster for the Asian Freediving Cup. It is such a popular event in Asia that when the entry opened in December, all 75 available slots were taken within two minutes. Chambers was fortunate to be in Dominica at the time for another freediving competition, where the time difference allowed registration at the reasonable time.
“I have never been able to sign up the last few years because I would have to try to register at 2 a.m. in Hawaii,” Chambers said.