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The pool at the Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Sports Complex

2011 Fazza podiums: 1. UAE, 2. UAE, 3. Qatar | 1. Croatia, 2. Russia, 3. Canada

From left to right, Amro, William, Goran, Alexey, Adel - © Sara-Lise Haith

Holding One’s Breath for Ocean Conservation

Dubai, UAE | April 3-10, 2011


Granted, static apnea is probably the least spectacular of all competitive freediving disciplines. However, the Fazza in Dubai is a static apnea contest with a twist.

Unlike AIDA-sanctionned static apnea events where athletes push their breath-hold limits within the confines of a wetsuit, goggles, nose clip, dive watch and the guidance of a coach, the Fazza static competition seeks to challenge divers in the most simple conditions therefore forbids all modern diving aids. In an way, contestants pay tribute to the ancient traditional art of pearl diving, which represents a large part of the heritage in the UAE. Indeed, for hundreds of years before the oil boom, the waters of the Persian Gulf yielded the finest pearls in the world. The elders used to dive for shellfish from the depths of the sea. By essence, those who could hold their breath the longest underwater and gather the most oysters would provide much wealth for their family and region.

Open to participants from all nations, the Fazza offers an incredible setting for this static apnea contest: a 5-meter deep swimming pool at the breath-taking (pun intended) Hamdan Bin Mohammed Sports Complex in Dubai. The complex, inaugurated in October 2010, is jaw-dropping. In December 2010, it hosted the 10th World Shortcourse Swimming Championships, an event which left the FINA (the swimming international governing body) lost for words, because the venue and event organization were beyond exceptionnal.

During the Fazza, breath-hold contestants were spread into two groups (UAE/GCC countries vs. the rest of the nations). During the qualifying event, groups of four contestants resisted the urge to breathe for as long as they could in order to make the top-10 for the finals. Indeed, in addition to its stringent rules, the Fazza is the only static apnea competition with prize money. Breath-hold divers had to immerse their body fully before the judge chronograph started counting. They also had to hang on to the line which was stretched to the bottom of the pool and attached to their float and not let go, for that would disqualify them. A safety diver was assigned for each contestant.

With its 27°C, the pool may be just right for swimmers but is rather chilly for the Fazza contestants who had to hold their breath without moving for several minutes. Of course, under these conditions and without the use of modern equipment, divers cannot achieve as long a breath-hold as they would in AIDA-sanctionned competitions. Nonetheless, the top three times ranged from 5:58 to 7:01.

Croatian diver Goran Colak took first place with a best time of just over 7 minutes. Then came Alexey Molchanov from Russia who won the second place a few seconds short of 7 minutes. With 5 minutes and 58 seconds, Winram placed third in the finals.

“I hadn’t really trained for this as I have spent the last few weeks doing depth training at the Only One Diving Center in Sharm El Sheikh. I figured it was a short trip to the Emirates from Egypt, so I came to check it out. It was great fun to participate and meet new people. Everyone from the organization was most welcoming and friendly. I plan to train for this event next year, as it is certainly a great way to raise funds for the ocean conservation work I am involved in.”