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Tuesday, 21 May 2019 04:35 am

The relief and elation of freediving 70 breathless metres below Pacific

BREATHLESS: Chris Marshall in training at Fryberg pool

Seventy metres below the surface of the Pacific Ocean, Chris Marshall felt surprisingly relaxed and tried not to dwell on the sheer distance he had to travel before he could breathe again.

Marshall was free diving in Niue and his ascension to the surface marked a new personal best.

He felt an immense sense of achievement; “It was an amazing feeling getting back to the surface, part relief and part elation for doing something I’d never managed before.”

Marshall recently returned from his trip to Wellington and with summer fast approaching he is preparing with other freedivers to venture back out into the harbour.

Free diving has become a popular sport both recreationally and competitively throughout the country and the capital’s only club is teeming with talent.

Lazy Seal trainees, Chris Marshall, 30 and Julia Cunneen, 31 came 2nd and 3rd respectively at the free diving nationals held in Porirua earlier this year.

They faced some stiff competition and both agree that New Zealand has some amazing free divers.

“We have some of the best in the world,” says Cunneen.

Marshall has his eyes set on the individual world champs next year in Serbia, and is looking forward to competing on the world stage.

However he says it can be difficult dealing with the sport’s psychological pressure

“It’s quite tough to push yourself to the limit because every part of your body is telling you to breath.

“You have to temper your desire to push with relaxation and finding that balance is challenging,” he says.

Cunneen held her breath for over four minutes at nationals and she says to achieve your potential you have to make a lifestyle choice.

“I know what I’m capable of but to push myself to the limit is a huge commitment,” she says.

Cunneen spent five weeks this year doing her masters training in Koh Tao, Thailand.

She is now one step closer to becoming an instructor, which she says is her long-term goal.

“Learning how to train other people really interests me and I would like to become an instructor one day,” says Cunneen.

She says many people plan similar trips outside New Zealand because of the greater visibility, water depth and temperature

“Its common for New Zealand free divers to train overseas because there is more opportunity to dive,” says Cunneen.

In comparison to popular locations such as Dahab, Niue and the Bahamas, Marshall says divers are more restricted in Wellington.

‘The water is colder and we are limited to about 25m of depth in the harbour,” he says.

However Marshall says free diving is growing in popularity and he welcomes the competition newcomers bring to the sport.

“We are seeing more and more people coming to Lazy Seals and there are new clubs all over the country.

“It’s important to have new people coming through and challenging,” he says.

An essential part of the training process is safety and Marshall says it is the first thing they teach beginners at the Lazy Seals.

“Safety and recovery are taught to everyone who joins the club.

“It’s a sport that is inherently unsafe but can be made extremely safe if the appropriate precautions are taken,” he says.

Cunneen says you should always dive with a buddy and know each other’s limits.

“Things can happen in an instant, especially in the ocean because you have to deal with atmospheric pressure and currents,” she says.

“The worse case scenario is you could have what’s called a loss of motor control.

“It’s where the oxygen levels in your body drop below 10% and it can lead to a blackout,” Cunneen says.

It’s your body’s last attempt to protect itself, however Marshall says it’s not as bad as it sounds.

“I’ve blacked out before but you are safe as long as there are trained safety divers with you,” he says.

The Lazy Seal free diving club trains at Fryberg pool and for further information visit

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is is a Whitireia journalism student
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