So, what is a freediving competition like?

You will never know unless you have a go, or someone writes a blog in the hope that you get curious and register for the next one!

Competition: Melbourne Freedivers Club Winter Championships 2023

Date: May 5th – 7th

Day One: Friday 5th Dynamics of choice (Aida Ranking)

Day Two: Saturday 6th: Dynamics of choice (Aida Ranking)

Day Three: Sunday 7th: Statics

Venue: Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre (MSAC)

Let’s go…as soon as I heard Melbourne Freedivers Club was hosting a competition, I knew I had to enter. A weekend of all things freediving – yes please! In my case it had been 5 years since my last competition and previous competitions were a long time before that…so I was feeling some nerves along with excitement.

We always imagine we need to train more, have better equipment and higher PB’s [Personal Bests], perhaps we worry that we will embarrass ourselves. Not to worry, as all freediving competitors will happily tell you, you compete only with yourself in freediving. In truth, we each improve as we compete alongside each other. In competition we learn about ourselves as we stretch our physical and mental limits in a safe and supportive environment; surrounded by trained safety divers, judges, and paramedics.

I was reminded of how different environments (mainly pool depth and water temperature) can affect relaxation and performance, but it is good practice to try different pools and not to become too attached to your regular training environment.  In saying that the venue was amazing and we were spoilt with first class facilities. In 2022 MSAC hosted the FINA World Swimming Championships! The dynamic events over Day One and Day Two were in the 50m indoor pool. It is not always possible for freeedivers to train in a 50m pool so it can be a psychological shift to compete in one, but in general most of us found it an upside to have less turns and longer lengths to get into flow in our dynamics.

TruDive were the major sponsors for the competition and very generously supplied wetsuits for each of the safety divers and prizes for the top 3 men and women overall. SplashBro also kindly donated multiple colourful, low-volume freediving masks for several spot prizes. 

The main differences between competitive and recreational freediving are understanding how to nominate your anticipated performance (the day before), checking in with the judges one hour before your performance, warming up appropriately so you take your final breath at your allocated OT [Official Top], dealing with competition jitters [can be a challenge to keep that heart rate down!] and most importantly being conservative enough in your attempt to manage SP [Safety Protocol] within the 15 seconds to gain the ultimate white card. It can be a lot to navigate and for this reason many free divers performances at competition are below their training PB’s.  There were many incredible performances over the 3-day competition and the 14 competitors were a mix of first-time competitors, seasoned international athletes, free dive instructors and everything in between.  There was a lot of flexibility with athletes choosing to compete in 1, 2 or 3 events. This was absolutely a great entry competition that catered to all levels.

Men’s Top 3 Overall Standings: 

  1. Jarrod Briffa 269 Points
  2. Scott Walker 226 Points
  3. Brenton Loh 189 Points

Jarrod Briffa was convincingly the overall men’s winner with 3 very strong performances. He displayed very efficient technique and is clearly a seasoned competitive freediver. His DYN (monofin) was 217m, DYNBF 189m and STA 5:30. Perhaps most impressive was the fact that Jarrod was one of the main organisers of this competition and continued to help coach other athletes over the 3 days as he balanced performing at an elite level and receiving 3 white cards. No mean feat! 

Scott Walker placed 2nd [representing New Zealand but a long-time resident and member of Melbourne Freedivers Club] and showed his competition experience with clean and impressive performances across all 3 disciplines. Scott did DYN 170m (mono) and DYNBF (157m) and STA 5:17. 

Brenton Loh won the bronze medal looking solid across all 3 disciplines DYNBF 137m, DNF 100m and STA 4:38. Brenton even managed some PBs, which is particularly inspiring as it was his first individual competition and he also helped organise the competition. Pretty sure Brenton has plenty more in the tank!

Women’s Top 3 Overall Standings:

  1. Justine Diacomihalis 220 Points
  2. Suzy Malseed 210 Points
  3. Ash Mercer 176 Points

Justine Diacomihalis was overall women’s winner and showed her strength and potential in all 3 disciplines; particularly her impressive DYN swim of 181m with her monofin on Day Two. She also did DYNBF 161m and STA 4:05. Justine maintained calm and poise throughout the entire 3 days and she is a pleasure to watch in the water. She is certainly one to watch in the future as this was her first competition and she is clearly just warming up!

Suzy Malseed was second women [representing New Zealand but based in regional VIC] and was happy to be back in the water after a long break raising twins DYN 121m, DNF 126m and STA 5:48.

Ashleigh Mercer had very strong, very clean dynamic performances and was also able to pull off some PBs in this competition – very impressive! Ash did DYNBF 150m, DNF 112m and STA 2:20.

The extra pressure of performing and conducting SP explains the gaps you will see in the points for some of the athletes (particularly Angus Mcleay and Rocky Liu). Although they did not finish in the top 3 both are very talented freedivers with bright futures. Angus did 3 very impressive attempts 161m DYNBF (white card), 200m DYNBF (red card) and STA 6:38 (white card). Rocky also went big  with 159m DYNBF (white card), DNF 138m (red card) and 6:16 STA (red card) – incredible for Rocky’s first competition. Note red card performances are not observed and zero points are awarded, however these were impressive attempts. As they say all experience is good experience, especially competition experience! Both athletes learnt a lot and I am confident we will be seeing a lot more of these 2 names in the competitive freediving scene. 

A brief explanation of the AIDA judging system – after the athlete surfaces they must complete SP (removal of face equipment, give the OK hand sign and verbal “I am OK”] and be monitored by the judges before being awarded a card:

White card = Clean Performance, full points 

Yellow card = Clean Performance with some penalties 

Red card = Disqualified – zero points awarded.

SP is not always easy after a maximum attempt, however, it is in the best interests of the sport overall and the individual athletes that we all find that sweet spot between pushing past our barriers, but staying safely within our limits. Not easy to judge in a competition environment where everything feels so different to your training environment but if it was easy we would get bored right?!

Joey, Bill, Sachin, Maggie, Emilia and Hao also competed well and learnt a lot over the competition – no doubt about themselves and about competitive freediving. Hao was recipient of the traffic light award, given in good spirit (1 red card, 1 yellow and 1 white). For sure he learnt a lot about competition rules and will no doubt never forget to check in with the judges one hour before his OT again!

Thanks again to Melbourne Freedivers Club for hosting this amazing well-run competition and to Australian Freediving Association for their support. This competition was made possible because of the large number of people that helped out including Judges [Ying Zhang, Alan Maddick and Lisa Borg who was to be Head Judge but sadly fell ill but still worked hard in the background], Safety Team [Niko Smi, Danny Hurst, Cici Ng, Casey Quek, Voon, Jonathon Coles and Morgan Kurrajong], Paramedics [Ross Barefacts, James Cini and Luis Rai] and all of the other volunteers who helped video, organise and coach.

Also, good luck to the following competitors who used this competition as a warm-up to the World Pool Championships in Jeju, South Korea, starting June 10th 2023.  

Jarrod Briffa [Representing Australia]

Ashleigh Mercer [Representing Australia]

Angus Mcleay [Representing Australia]

Emilia Tjernstrom [Representing Sweden]

Suzy Malseed [Representing New Zealand]

Enjoy that Kimchi and don’t drink too much Soju! 

I can’t think of another competitive sport where athletes help each other, trade training tips, eat meals together and generally have such a great time hanging out together. Thanks again Melbourne Freedivers Club and to all who participated…see you all at the next comp!!

Written by Suzy Malseed @noairsuzy

Mum, Freediver, Farmer & Friend of MFC

Photo credit – Scott Walker,Ashleigh Mercer,Avi Rotstein and Sach