French freediver Arnaud Jerald broke a world record by a significant margin at the annual Vertical Blue competition in the Bahamas – then went a metre deeper three days later. The nine-day AIDA-circuit event, which finished yesterday (11 August), also saw a new British record set by 41-year-old Gary McGrath using an ill-fitting monofin.
On day 4 of the competition Jerald hit the 119m depth mark in the Constant Weight with Bifins (CWTB) category, surfacing in 3min 27sec, and on day 7 made his record more secure by reaching 120m (in 3min 31sec).
The previous record-holder had been Russian freediver Alexey Molchanov, who set his 115m record at last September’s AIDA World Championship. Jerald had held the inaugural Bifins record briefly in 2019 with a 108m dive but that same year Molchanov had been quick to come back with a series of deeper dives.
“He did 120m… it’s a line you hear in the movie Big Blue,” ran the statement on Jerald’s social media. “Today reality has surpassed fiction, because in Besson’s film Jacques’ diving was done in No Limits apnea (descend and ascend on a balloon). Arnaud Jerald went down to 120m and climbed back up with the help of his own muscle strength and his palms. This is the absolute world record of legend.”
Another world record that had been held by Molchanov since the 2018 Vertical Blue event was overtaken on the final day of the competition by Mateusz Malina of Poland. He reached a depth of 127m in the Free Immersion (FIM) discipline, taking 4min 32sec and beating the previous record by 2m.
In FIM the freediver is finless and uses the rope to both ascend and descend. Malina has also set repeated world distance records in Dynamic Apnea No Fins over the past eight years, as well as holding the Dynamic Apnea Bifins record.
On day 7 of the competition, British freediver Gary McGrath broke the British Constant Weight (CWT) record with a 112m dive. The previous national record, set by Michael Board at Vertical Blue four years ago, had been a metre less. Molchanov holds the CWT world record of 130m, also set in 2018.
McGrath achieved his record despite being having to borrow a monofin a size too small for his feet. The bag containing his own equipment, including fins and suits, was lost by the airline as he flew to the Bahamas.
He had overcome physical and mental challenges after contracting Covid while preparing for a previous national record attempt last year. “Diving below 100m is a totally unique environment, it’s my therapy,” he says. “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.”
The former tree surgeon from Twickenham began freediving in 2006, and competing two years later. A professional instructor since 2014, he and his partner Lynne Paddon run Yoga and Freedive Retreats in Ibiza.
McGrath said that his nerves on the morning of the record attempt had been overcome by Paddon helping him to focus on his breathing techniques and visualisation over the phone. And he thanked supporters who had helped to cover his travel costs through crowdfunding.
In total 59 national records were set at Vertical Blue by competitors from 17 countries: Belgium, Canada, China, Croatia, Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, Italy, Mexico, Peru, Poland, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Taiwan, Turkey and the USA. All the details can be found on the Vertical Blue site.