Breathless in Ko Lanta!

Breath Holding Competition

Residents lounging by the deluxe pool at the luxurious Rawi Warin Resort and Spa on Koh Lanta last month were treated to the bizarre sight of a select group of enthusiasts, from a variety of countries, who managed to hold their breath underwater for up to six and a half minutes at a time.

After elaborate warm-up and relaxation rituals, the competitors lay face down at the edge of the swimming pool and focused on holding their breaths as long as possible under the watchful eyes of internationally approved judges Richard Wonka (Germany) and Sarah Whitcher (England).

Andaman Freediving Challenge Breathholding CompetitionIt was the second day of the Andaman Freediving Challenge, Thailand’s only annual competition for Freedivers, and followed a day out on the Blue Planet Divers’ boat in which competitors managed to reach depths of between 20 and an astounding 53 metres in the open sea.

What was most striking about this year’s competition was how friendly the competition was throughout the three days and how keen the divers were to help each other out with advice and tips to enable rivals to extend their time underwater.

Freedivers learn how to hold their breath for long periods without the aid of scuba equipment and the annual Koh Lanta competition, organised by Blue Planet Divers, is the only one in Asia to take place outside of Japan.

Eight male and four female divers took part this year, many of them competing for the first time, in six distinct events over three days.

At 52, Italian Andrea Richichi may have been older than the other competitors, but his breath-taking times in all disciplines – including an incredible 53 metre dive from the boat – saw him collect all of the major prizes.

Andrea grew up spear fishing and snorkelling on the island of Sardinia. Amazingly, he has never undertaken any formal courses in Freediving, despite his breath-taking times, including a six minute and 33 second breath-hold in the pool.

“I have never been a scuba diver, but I have always loved being under water. When I grew up, scuba diving wasn’t an option. I have never done any courses, but you really do learn a lot at competitions and you get to meet very good people.”

“I was in Thailand for work this month, but I decided to come to Koh Lanta for this competition. People make friends very quickly at these competitions and I get asked a lot of questions because I have been Freediving for six years and I have taken part in over 25 competitions. This competition has a wonderful atmosphere and it’s in a country that I love!”

He said that world championship Freedivers might not help each other out to the extent that the competitors do on Koh Lanta, but the whole ethos of the Andaman Freediving Challenge is to encourage beginners and intermediates to challenge others (and themselves) in an extremely friendly environment.

Ossien Pekkala, from Finland, was thrilled to reach 30 metres on a single breath. He only took up Freediving four months ago, because he wanted to stay longer under water while snorkelling.

“The longer I can stay underwater, the more fun I can have!”

The women’s competition was won by Jacinta Colvin, from Melbourne, who was inspired to come to Koh Lanta after hearing about last year’s competition from friends in Australia. She was delighted to reach depths of over 30 metres in her first ever competition and managed to hold her breath for just under four minutes in the pool.

“I had never been to Koh Lanta before, I decided to come on a two week holiday, especially for the Andaman Freediving Challenge. It’s been really, really good and really friendly and I feel I have learned so much over the three days. It’s great to get to hang out with other Freedivers and I feel so much more confident now.”

Freediving Competition

One of the competition’s three Thai competitors, Petchrung Sukpong (or Aey), only undertook a Freediving course with Blue Planet Divers two weeks before the competition. She was encouraged to come back and take part by coach Richard Wonka, who told her it would be a great way to make new friends and improve her technique.

Aey works in Marine Conservation in Phuket, and was delighted she had made the short journey back to Koh Lanta for the competition. She was thrilled to reach a depth of 20 metres on a single breath, a personal best, and found that the experience was akin to meditation under water.

“I think Freediving is more relaxing than scuba diving because it is so peaceful and you don’t make any noise underwater, This competition is perfect for the beginner, because it’s so friendly, and I think I’ve learned a lot about Freediving over the three days. I’d never even thought about going into a competition before and now I’m thinking of going on and doing the Advanced Freediving course.”

Aey said that she would definitely be back next year to challenge her new friend, Jacinta, for the Andaman Freediving Challenge title!

Blue Planet Divers on Koh Lanta run regular Freediving courses throughout the diving season. Check out their website, www.blueplanetdivers.net, or telephone +66 (0)75 668 165 for details.

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