In my opinion… No, it should not. 

Every so often, especially around large competitions covered by ‘Diveye’, this discussion takes place, with many voices on either side of the fence.

When reviewing ‘Diveye’ footage it’s very clear as to why it’s such a hot topic. For example, some athletes receive red-cards for taking 16 seconds to say “I’m ok” despite clearly being 100% ok from the moment they surfaced. Some received white-cards despite having massive LMCs and barely being able to get their noseclip off. Some athletes fumble with their noseclips turing a minor-LMC into a full-blown Blackout. Others emerge fresh, take 3 big recovery breaths are clearly with-it, but say “I’m good” because english is their 4th language and get red-carded. 

These are examples of the same issue. Some white-card-deserving divers get reds, and some penalty-deserving divers get whites.  

An uphill battle to remove the SP

Where I think most of the anti-SPers go wrong is by saying “the SP is too hard and too stressful”. As someone who would like to see the SP removed from the rules, even I can’t get behind this idea. 

Trained properly, the SP is very easy and the people who support keeping it know this. It isn’t too stressful, 15 seconds is a very long time, and it isn’t causing LMCs and BOs. Complaining about it in this regard isn’t going to have it changed, so what will?

I think that providing a better alternative to the SP is the only way to begin to have it removed. We need new rules that promote safer and more controlled freediving performances. We need rules that allow the diver to do nothing but breath upon reaching the surface, and that penalise divers for becoming uncontrollably hypoxic in the first place.

**Speaking as someone with a very automated SP, my last LMC (2 years ago in the pool) lasted 11 seconds, and I still made my SP without any issues in only 8 seconds. If it was a competition dive I would have been white-carded and awarded full points. Personally, I disagree with this.** 

A well-trained SP doesn’t discourage divers from exceeding their limits, it simply allows a margin with which they can exceed them and still receive full points. More strict rules are the only way to adequately discourage reckless diving in competitions, protect the public image of the sport and most importantly, the health of the athletes.   

Potential new rules for ‘surfacing’. 

In my opinion, this is where we (athletes, judges, and organisers against the SP) can make the most difference. We cannot just complain about the current rules and hope they get changed. Instead we should provide better ones that will improve the sport, provide better safety for the athletes, and further discourage irresponsible diving.  

Improved rules regarding surfacing, and fitness to compete; 

  • Surfacing
      1. To validate a dive, an athlete must maintain dry airways (no dip) for 30s after surfacing.
      2. To validate a dive, an athlete must be able to exit the competition zone under their own power within 1:00 of surfacing. 
  • Validation 
      1. A judge may only present a card (white, yellow, red) after the first 30s.
      2. (Depth only) A judge may ask for a tag after the first 30s. The athlete must be able to clearly present the tag to the judges.  
  • Hypoxia
      1. A Blackout results in an immediate disqualification of the dive: Red card
      2. An LMC with a dip (airway rule 1.a) results in a red card
      3. An undeniable-LMC (unanimous decision – both judges agree) in which the airways remain dry (airway rule 1.a) results in a 5-point penalty: Yellow card.
      4. A questionable-LMC (split decision – judges don’t agree) results in a white card. 
      5. An athlete may not protest the judges’ decision regarding BO and LMC.
  • Fitness to dive (hypoxia) 
    1. An athlete who suffers an LMC (rule 3.b, 3.c) must be examined and approved by the competition medic the day-of (before) their next dive. The medic may deny fitness to dive, with no protest. 
    2. An athlete who suffers a mild-surface-blackout (was not retrieved by safeties) is disqualified from the remainder of the competition. 
    3. An athlete who suffers an underwater-blackout (was retrieved by safeties) or was unconscious for more than 30 seconds receives a 90-day ban from competition. After the 90-day ban, the diver must receive a medical exam to reinstate eligibility to compete.
      **In MMA fighting for example, fighters who suffer a knockout cannot compete for 90 days or until cleared by a medic. Deep and serious blackouts should have similar consequences for the health and safety of the diver**

Better than a Surface Protocol

I think simple rule changes along these lines can make judging more fair, and more objective. I also think that increasing the penalty for hypoxic-events (BO & LMC) is the only real way to ensure that athletes do their best to emerge clean from a dive, and perform dives that are within their current capabilities. 

By removing the SP, it is impossible for athletes to blame hypoxia on a procedure. An athlete is either diving within their capabilities, or they aren’t. There is no grey zone between a clean dive with a double OK: Red, or a big LMC with a successful SP: White. 

Maintaining dry airways for 30s is a very clear and definitive way of judging a dive, and it also gives plenty of time for the athlete to recovery. A blackout is a very clear and definitive way of disqualifying a dive. A diver who cannot remove themselves from the competition zone has very clearly gone too far. 

In the case of an LMC, the benefit of the doubt is in the athletes’ favour. If only 1 of the 2 judges calls an LMC, the athlete gets the white-card, provided the airways remained dry. 

5-point penalties for definitive LMCs (both judges agree) will ensure athletes do their best to surface well within their limits. We (freedivers) all know what an LMC is, and what it isn’t. Both judges could easily agree on 2 small shakes being an LMC and this would mean divers doing their utmost to surface strong and stable. 

A ban system for blackouts would again discourage overstepping the limits. The aim is to make clean and strong dives the utmost priority for the athlete. Failing to do so would end their competition immediately, and potentially restrict their ability to participate in future competitions until medically cleared.  

For the sake of our sport, and our athletes.

The point here isn’t to be harsh. It’s to ensure the health and safety of the athletes.

Without naming names, there are a few elite freedivers (who I could name and give examples to AIDA rule makers) in recent history who seem to be showing signs of “damage” from frequent BOs and LMCs. Their ability to make a clean dive in a competition seems to be quickly deteriorating and the level that they can perform at is decreasing over time, not increasing as you’d expect. 

I liken this to having a “cracked chin” in boxing. 

**I’ve given a lot of examples from professional fighting because it’s a sport that also deals with brain trauma.. In fighting (mma, boxing…) a fighter who gets KOd often becomes more and more likely to get KOed in the future. Controlled bans, and medical exams following these bans help fighters recover properly after being KOed, and help protect their “chin”.**

The freedivers I have in mind seem to have ‘cracked chins’. They are getting more and more likely to BO, and I would be very inclined to say that this has to do with their recent history of having multiple BOs in a short time frame; the same competition, or a few months apart. This idea isn’t ‘out of the blue’ either. 

Freedive physiologist Frederic Lemaitre has put a lot of effort into understanding the long a short term effects of hypoxic exposure, LMC and Blackouts. His research shows that having multiple BOs and/or LMCs in quick succession is bad for a freediver’s brain. He talks about it during his freedive Cafe Podcast.

Listen here:

#56 – Frédéric Lemaître

In my opinion, the rules need to reflect the objective and subjective evidence that hypoxic incidents are bad for us. They are bad for the health of the athletes, and they are bad for the image of our sport. 

We cannot afford to have freedivers having multiple BOs or LMCs per competition. We cannot afford having the public watch former and current world record holders blacking out every single time they compete. We cannot afford to have the public see a massive LMC still be counted as a white card.  

We need freedivers surfacing clean, putting all of their attention on recovery breathing, being rewarded for diving within their limits, and penalized for going past them.  

I also think that judging could be more fair. 2 equal dives, 1 with LMC and 1 without, should not result in the same points. Anything less than a perfectly clean dive should be penalised. Under the current SP rules, ‘messy’ dives can still be rewarded full points, which in my view goes against the spirit of the sport. 

For the future of competitive freediving we want the new generations of athletes (I consider myself still in this group) to see world records and national records set by divers doing exactly what we were all taught on day-1. To only dive within our capabilities. 

The Surface Protocol is outdated and quite frankly, useless. It’s not doing us any favours and I would like to see it go. 

It’s time for better rules that promote safety-first. Rules that allow the diver to do absolutely nothing but breath upon surfacing. Rules that penalize exceeding our limits, and that protect the diver’s health when they do. 

If AIDA want safer competitions, AIDA need to consider these kinds of changes. 

If AIDA wants simplicity and fairness for their athletes, they need to consider these kinds of changes.