World champion freediver William Trubridge, who holds the world record for the deepest dive in one breath, has achieved another first – swimming underwater, like a dolphin, across the planet’s second-most-difficult open water channel.

Trubridge emerged exhausted and hypothermic from the frigid waters of New Zealand’s Cook Strait on Friday 15 February evening after spending nine hours 15 minutes swimming 32km across the notoriously unpredictable and dangerous stretch of water.

William Trubridge

“We had strong currents, cold water patches, and rough seas,” Trubridge said. “It was like being in a washing machine at times. I was getting leg cramps, cold, blisters, the usual stuff. But I still feel like I got off lightly; there were so many things that could have gone wrong, and if any one did I probably wouldn’t have made it. I’m feeling a lot of relief and jubilation to have made it.”

The Cook Strait separates New Zealand’s North and South islands, and is considered one of the world’s most-unpredictable and treacherous stretches of water. At its narrowest points, it’s a mere 23km across. But what it lacks in lengths it makes up for in fierceness: wild unpredictable weather and powerful currents, chilly water that can cause hypothermia, stinging jellyfish and a healthy population of sharks. It is ranked second in difficulty in the Ocean Sevens marathon swimming challenge.

William Trubridge

Trubridge used his unparalleled breath-hold diving ability to swim under the surface with a monofin before surfacing, and diving under again, all the way across in what he calls the world’s first ‘human aquatic crossing’. During Trubridge’s swim, his Suunto D6i Novo dive computer recorded an incredible 943 dives. He followed conventional channel crossing rules, such as not resting on his support boats, except for two changes: all propulsion had to take place underwater on a breath-hold, and the use of a wetsuit and fins/monofin was permitted.

Struggling against a powerful current and a bracing 14°C sea temperature, thoughts about the plight of New Zealand’s Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins, and wanting to save these precious and intelligent animals, kept Trubridge moving forward. “The main reason for doing it has always been to bring more awareness to the situation with the dolphins,” says Trubridge, a vocal ocean conservation advocate. “These are the two subspecies of New Zealand dolphin that occupy the North (Maui’s dolphins) and South (Hector’s dolphins) islands. Both subspecies are threatened by extinction.

“I made it across about five times slower and with five times as many dives as it would take a Hector’s dolphin to make the same crossing, but it showed that if we can swim like a dolphin between our two islands, then they too should have the freedom to do the same.”

William Trubridge

Trubridge is calling on the New Zealand Government to act quickly to save the dolphins. The fishing industry must be better regulated to protect the dolphins. He invites divers around the world to pressure the New Zealand Government to act before it’s too late.

A population of a few thousand Hector’s dolphin remain, but only around 50 Maui’s dolphins are left. Experts say there is enough genetic diversity for them to repopulate if they are protected. For this to happen changes to commercial fishing regulations must be made.

Photo credit: Suunto / Kane Grundy

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