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Learning from my first STA Competition

by Alex Hale

The Value of a Red Card

Why I love Static Apnea

Most who have dived with me know how much I enjoy STA.

The search for calm before, the early stages of simple calm and a floating mind and body. Then again the challenge is to simply observe thoughts as they come to mind, let them pass, not follow them down the rabbit-holes into distraction. 
We all have our own strategies, to help quiet the mind mine is to go through song lyrics or count heartbeats until distracted then start again.
Then as the discomfort increases trying to turn down the self-doubts and impulses to take that next breath.

I count myself as fortunate to have a PB over 6min and with that come a certain level of both pride and ego, a shifting balance between a want to do better and a feeling of pressure of expectations.

For a couple of years I have considered taking part in comps but never quite made the decision. I struggled with my “reason” to compete, not wanting to go up against others but keen to “massage” my STA ego with an official ranking.

So this year I signed up for the AIDA Swiss Championships Indoors with the (internal) thought process to compete and do a new PB to impress myself and everyone else…

A Practice Competition

In February, I was keen to get some experience in a comp situation. Daniel (Kaluna Freediving) and I started to look at putting together a small STA competition in the school pool in Gossau where I am Badmeister through the winter. It was difficult to find available water time not yet reserved by the school or various swim teachers.

Once a date was set the next stage was setting up the Comp with Aida International, organising Judges, Safeties, helpers, Registrations forms, protocols, Start lists, checking memberships and Medical docs, official cameras, sponsors, getting another Badmeister for the comp so that I could also also compete. It was a lot to take on but between Daniel, Jan Buchmann (our lead Aida Judge) and myself, along with occasional support from others including Manou Maier from Aida and Daniel Schonenberg (Freediving 3-Seenland), brought it together.

Competition Day

The day of the Comp arrived and the set up began. Registration, checks, setting up Warm-up & Performance Zones, Cameras and Post-Comp-food Orders!

It was great to see so much support from members of the Kaluna Club and also from other Divers, some travelling all the way from Wallis! 

The atmosphere was relaxed, everyone was settling into their prep and warm-ups. 

In between taking a few photos, sending the food orders and helping other athletes, I stepped aside to buddy for a friend for the first OT, and she did a great performance.

Once that role was done I tried to start my own preparation. 

With the thought that for me a 5min STA is normal in training I had set that as my AP. As i began my warmup I began to realise what a bad judgement that had been.
I couldn’t find any calm. My heartbeat was racing and my mind felt like Tetris at Level 100. All the activities of the day were cascading and there realisation of how I had overestimated my ability to cut off, fueled my self doubt. I even began to shiver from the cold in the pool, something very unusual for me.

Hindsight is a beautiful thing. The right decision was to either step out or not push to my AP and accept a yellow card. But in moments of stress and pressure the ego has a dangerous way of taking hold of the steering wheel.
“ I know 5min is my norm…

  I’ve told everyone I will do it…

  Everyone is watching and expecting…

  What will they think of me if I don’t make it…

  Just pull yourself together and push through…”

I told my buddy I would be fine and to distract me.

The first minute or so was actually the first moment of calm, and gave me a positive start but at around 3 mins I already felt the need to signal to know the time. It felt like hours and only halfway through

At 4 min I needed some distraction and my buddy gave me small takes through to my AP, all of which I completed. 

Nearly at 5 and I could feel I was at my limit. I don't remember actually making the decision to surface (5:09) so a when I did it was already to late.

The Result:

LMC, incorrect surface protocol and Red Card, disqualification.
The Protocol was too slow and I repeated the "I'm OK" to many times. 

In those first few seconds after my OK sign waiting for the Judges to pick up the red card as I regained full awareness of all of the regrets and “what ifs" began to flood in.

I was, for a short time, extremely disappointed with myself, and I felt like I had let the Club down by setting a bad example.

Mindset: taking value from mistakes

But in my 45 years I have made many mistakes. Many, bigger, more dangerous or with much greater consequences than a red card. And as much as it hurts in the moment once a thing has happened, it can’t UN-happen. The only way forward is to learn from it. 

However what moved me most was the support I got from everyone that evening. From close dive friends to others who had never met me before. I felt empathy and solidarity, it meant a lot to me in a hard moment.

But that is really just what it was. A difficult moment that once passed can not be changed. And it is madness to dwell on what is impossible to change. 

I have gone over my mistakes and choices and learnt what I can. I will certainly make mistakes again in the future but my hope/intention is to not make the same ones twice.

Moving forward: The AIDA Swiss Championships

One thing that I have definitely learned from this experience is to not underestimate the effect of cumulative stress. One thing on its own in isolation can be dealt with but too many factors at the same time mount up to be unmanageable. 

For the Comp in April I'm taking that well into consideration. My goal is simply to correct this red card with a white card and a good experience.
I’m also trying out DNF for my first time in a comp and I will be aiming taking the same approach for that.


AIDA Kaluna Freediving Mini Comp 2025?

We are already brainstorming improvements for next year’s competition at Kaluna Freediving, hoping to build on what we’ve learned and enhance the experience for everyone involved.

To finish I just want to say a massive thank you to everyone involved in helping make this event possible. Organisers, helpers, Judges, sponsors, supporters and of course the athletes that took part.

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