Continental and National Records Broken By Egyptian Free Diver Khaled El Gammal At The Freediving World Cup

Since the dawn of time, philosophers have put hand to forehead contemplating the relationship between mind and body. There are those who summit the highest mountains in unbearable conditions, hold their breath for longer than ten minutes and walk on scorching fire, how do they accomplish these herculean tasks? Plato argues that mind and body are different entities, with the mind rationalizing our actions, however what happens when the two are synchronized and mind and body are one? Extraordinary accomplishments. Freediving is an extreme sport that illustrates the relationship between mind and body in the most vivid way. The extreme sport requires that the freediver using one breath, descends to a certain depth underwater using various disciplines. With the presence of a buddy, the freediver begins by relaxing the body and breathing slowly to slow down the heart rate then descends underwater making sure to equalize against the water pressure as it increases with depth. The juxtaposition here is that accomplishment comes by doing nothing, freeing the mind of thought and completely relaxing. The mind will voice out its objection, ‘you can’t do this’, ‘you need to breathe’, ‘get out’, therefore learning to be in control of your mind and allowing your body to have a say is a key ingredient in a successful freediver. Freediving international competition ‘The Freediving World Cup’ held in Egypt’s Red Sea jewel Sharm El Sheikh saw Khaled El Gammal an Egyptian freediver win the competition with 348 points.

Egypt is a freediving haven, with comfortable water temperatures, clear water, depth meters from shore, an array of world-known freediving instructors and international competitions. Freediving World Apnea Centre located in Sharm El Sheikh hosts international competitions throughout the year with their last competition successfully hosting over 14 freedivers from all over the world. Italian Freediver and manager of World Apnea Centre Andrea Zuccari has been in Egypt since 2005, beginning his freediving journey in 2009. The veteran freediver holds the second deepest dive in the world in the no-limits freediving discipline with a depth of 185m, “it’s all about consistency with your training, starting out with a good instructor so you have a strong base and you build proper habits and techniques. Safety is very important in order not to push yourself beyond your limit and you do that by having self-awareness.” Zuccari has encouraged these international competitions highlighting Egypt as the freediving go-to destination, “Egypt is the mecca of freediving, Sharm El Sheikh and Dahab have freedivers pour in from all over the world because the water temperature is mild all year round, you have depth meters from the shore and you have some of the best instructors. I would of course like to see the government take on the sport more seriously and ease logistics because this is really beneficial for Egypt and the freediving community.”

The competition spanning over ten days has seen national and international records being broken and a very proud Zuccari, “we started off with the Free Diving World Cup, we couldn’t take on everyone who wanted to compete because safety is extremely important for us and we need to make sure the organization would be smooth and we would focus primarily on the freediver’s safety. We then extended the competition by adding these four days and in these days, we have seen 5 continental records broken and 20 national records broken, I am so proud of everyone who competed. The freedivers were professional and there were no blackouts which is very rare in competitions. Of course, blackouts give this negative image to freediving and this is why I believe it is important to make it more difficult to become a freediving instructor. The students need to be self-aware and have the right base from the start. As for the competition, it was amazing seeing how things turned out; the athletes pushing themselves but at the same time maintaining protocol has shown that there is more awareness happening.”  

The competition has created strides for Egypt in the freediving world with one, Khaled El Gammal breaking one continental record and four national records, in the different disciplines. The start of the competition saw an excited freediver who trying to calm his excitement and slow down his heart rate and ended with a continental record of 88m, making it the deepest dive in Africa in the constant weight bi fin discipline (CWTB), included within the four national records of constant weight with monofin (CWT) making it to 94m, with no fin (CNF) reaching 66m and finally in free immersion (FIM) making it to 100m. El Gammal began his journey young, always having been connected to the water, “I was always connected to the water and yet I never knew freediving even exited till I saw Egyptian freediver Raghda Ezzeldin freediving…one week after I started taking my first course”. Currently living in Dahab, El Gammal is a freediving instructor balancing his time between teaching and training himself, “Dahab is perfect for training, you have the blue hole alone with a depth of 92m only about 30m from the shoreline, perfect weather and rarely any current. I find peace underwater, that is my trigger, for me it’s more about the sensations than pushing limits. I also want to raise awareness to the joy of freediving, it’s not only about the competition.”

As for the competition’s preparation, the dedicated athlete had all the components available to him, pristine waters and an encouraging community, “It’s not only practicing breath holds, I trained with local group Sharkfit Dahab on my fitness training and the last two months I was coached by world renowned trainer and founder of Touch Down Team, Gus Kreivenas who is also Lithuanian national record holder, with him I worked a lot on mental awareness through meditation. That’s the thing with freediving the variety in training techniques, a wholesome approach, so for me it’s been a beautiful journey.”

As for the big question of mind versus body, El Gammal believes that the sport is very much a mental one, “I would say the bigger percentage is mental, you need to believe in your capabilities and not have interferences with your thought process…the minute you doubt yourself that’s when the problems start.”

An arduous journey of mind and body the Egyptian freediver has come first place with 348 points making it the highest score achieved in Sharm El Sheikh in a single competition since three years.

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