British freediver Gary McGrath has set a new national record at the prestigious Vertical Blue freediving competition in the Bahamas.
Using only a monofin for propulsion, Gary swam down a measured rope to a depth of 112m, returning to the surface to receive a white card from the AIDA International judges to validate his dive.
Gary, 41, held his breath for three minutes and 13 seconds to complete the dive.
Freedivers descend underwater on a single breath of air and the atmospheric pressure on their bodies increases as they go deeper.
At 112m deep the pressure is 12 times greater than the surface, meaning the air in Gary's lungs would have shrunk to less than a twelfth of its original volume – around the size of a golf ball.
Freedivers train to cope with the physiological strains placed on their bodies by their sport, and Gary uses his background of yoga and meditation to help his physical and mental preparation for deep dives.
He has also had to overcome physical challenges after contracting COVID last year during preparations for a previous national record attempt.
Gary said: “Diving below 100m is a totally unique environment, it’s my therapy. This year has been extremely challenging for my mental health and freediving has helped me overcome that for sure.
“At depth I have complete isolation from the everyday world we live in. Down there it’s just me and nature. It’s that escape that all freedivers crave.
“There are moments of extreme mental clarity and purity that I can only achieve when underwater. The flow state that a deep dive allows me to experience is unique and addictive.’
Gary, originally from Twickenham, began freediving in 2006 and has been competing since 2008. A former tree surgeon, he became a professional freedive instructor in 2014, and he and his partner Lynne Paddon run yoga and freedive retreats in Ibiza.
Remarkably, he completed his 112m national record dive in August 9 despite being forced to compete wearing a borrowed monofin which was a size too small for his feet.
His entire kit bag containing his monofin, bifins and two wetsuits was lost by an airline as he travelled to the competition.
Despite his careful preparation, Gary said he suffered nerves on the morning of his national record dive, and relied on a phone call to his partner Lynne, who helped him focus on breathing techniques and visualisation to calm his nerves.
Speaking immediately after his dive, he said: “That was all for Lynne – this whole week has been about her. I could not do it without her. I hope that everyone finds someone they can click with, it’s the most magical thing in the world.”
Gary also thanked supporters who helped him to crowdfund to raise the money needed for him to travel to the Bahamas and compete.
Vertical Blue is considered one of the most elite events on the freediving calendar and has been dubbed the ‘Wimbledon of Freediving’.
Owned and run by world-record freediver William Trubridge, the event takes place in a 202m deep sinkhole known as Dean’s Blue Hole, off the coast of Long Island.
The previous British national record of 111m was set by Michael Board in 2018, also at a Vertical Blue competition.
Photo credit: Daan Verhoeven