I am Pete Botman, “Triple Depth” Men’s national record-holder of the Netherlands in the sport of freediving. At 55 years old, I also happen to be the oldest competing freediver in the country.
Competitive freediving is where people compete to see how long or how deep they can swim underwater. They do so with various techniques, or disciplines.
In the open water disciplines, performed either in a lake or the sea, freedivers see how deep they can go. This is the area I specialize in. Pulling myself down a weighted rope—descent line—I have reached 75m in official competition. I have also swum with a monofin to 75m and to 61m without the help of any fins at all. All three depths are national records for men in the Netherlands, which is why I can call myself the Dutch men’s “Triple Depth Champion”.
The sport of freediving is currently becoming more popular. There is speculation it will become an Olympic sport. Currently most of the media coverage is online. With the development of Diveye, a drone that follows a diver to maximum depths on a parallel descent line (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCPKSYo-e79Cwu5u0ERms0cw
), spectators at home can follow the athlete as they descend to pressures as much as 10 times the atmosphere at sea level. Before this coverage, viewers would watch the athletes as they did preparation breathing, final breath and then disappear. After up to 4 minutes of suspenseful waiting, the diver would resurface pale and gasping, sometimes shaking in a hypoxic fit, sometimes blacking out. Now we can watch the entire dive and listen to commentators just like any other sports. Analyzing techniques of how athletes swim underwater to prevent hypoxic blackouts adds to the spectacle.
I have always loved swimming. It brought me through school, to coaching, to being a scuba instructor travelling the world and now, to teaching freediving. Swimming silently underwater, closely encountering colorful corals and fish, sharks, mantas—even whales—is as awe-inspiring as clearing your mind from thoughts and anxieties to overcome fear of death or lack of air. Freediving is about pushing yourself without going too far, observing yourself in a heightened state of awareness, using the mind to let the ego dissipate. The benefits have made me a calmer, more observant and grateful person.
It is difficult to train for depth while in the Netherlands. The deepest lakes have been dredged to around 50-60m, shallower than what I need to train. The warmest these lakes get in the hottest of summers is a surface temperature of 22C. At a ten-metre thermocline, it suddenly drops to 11C. When freedivers charter a boat so they can find adequate depth away from shore, they encounter another sudden drop in temperature to 4C at around 30m.
Freediving in the Netherlands is a new sport, administered by the volunteer-run Dutch Freediving Association. This year, one of the international governing bodies of freediving, AIDA, has invited national chapters to select teams to participate in the AIDA Depth World Championship in a seaside town close to Nice, France. I have been selected by DFA to represent the Netherlands. Motivated as I am, financing is an issue. The entry fees and accommodation are beyond my means, let alone the costs of training to maintain my level. There is also the cost of work I will be missing as I must travel to places with deep water where I must re-adapt my body to depths not found in the Netherlands.
With your support I will be able to compete at these championships. I have crossed paths and competed with some of the world’s best. The freediving community is a group passionate about their activity and friendships are forged between people on opposite sides of the globe that last lifetimes. It is always inspiring to be with such company. Competing as a national team delegate offers me greater networking opportunities to teach and coach people in an inspiring sport that balances determination with humbleness. Help me dive at these World Championships.