by Xinhua writers Liu Kai, Yang Yunqi
PANGLAO, Philippines, Sept. 16 (Xinhua) -- How deep can a person dive underwater without any breathing equipment, just holding one breath? It's the ultimate answer that freedivers strive to find out. As one of the world's top female freedivers, Chinese Xu Tongtong's answer is "beyond the limit".
Freediving, originated from the Mediterranean region, is now gaining popularity across the world. Divers have to adjust their breathing through lung capacity to reach as far as they can. The event has two disciplines: depth and pool -- the one who dives the deepest in the open water or swims the farthest in the pool wins.
Since this year, Xu, 35, has successfully dived into 100 meters underwater in both games of constant weight (CWT) and constant weight bifin (CWTB), becoming the third female freediver on the planet that reached this breathtaking achievement.
"When I dived into 100 meters and grabbed the depth tag, I knew I had done it. I swam back to the surface even with a smile," Xu joyfully recalled the moment when she made history.
Xu was a swimmer from east China's Anhui Province before becoming a freediver in 2014. "I was able to enter the three-dimensional world from a two-dimensional space. That is why I fell in love with freediving," she tells Xinhua in a recent exclusive interview.
"The greatest charm of freediving lies in facing and overcoming the fears. The training is a process of constantly knowing oneself," Xu said, adding that darkness and the unknown are the main sources of fear for most people, while freediving can help overcome the fear through science-based training.
Xu had hit a block in her career and could not dive deeper due to the fear of the unknown depths. "Now my fears are gone; there is nothing to be afraid of anymore."
After three months of training and competing this year in Panglao, an island town in the central Philippines' Bohol Province, Xu decided to stay on the island, continuing her training and coaching, a major source of income for this world-class freediver.
Panglao, just an hour's drive from the well-known tourist attractions Chocolate Hills and eyes-featured monkey tarsiers, is becoming a significant freediving capital in the world due to its good sea conditions and pleasant tropical weather.
The island, with excellent sites for divers and snorkelers, has become home to an active freediving community. Over 100 freedivers worldwide live in Panglao for daily training, including some top divers like Alenka Artnik, a national hero freediver of Slovenia.
Local residents, mostly fisherfolks, show their hospitality to these newcomers as they find some similarities between freediving and their traditional fishery.
Lu Qing, a former ICT engineer from China, now runs the largest freediving training base on the island. He is also the organizer of multiple international competitions, including the Asian Freediving Cup, the champion of which is a major title that all freedivers dream of.
Lu had a dream to be a career freediver, leaving everything behind in China's metropolitan Shenzhen and moving to Panglao in 2017, devoting himself to this "love it or hate it" sport. But he failed the career dream, turning out a freediving event organizer, and occasional safety personnel in competitions.
As Lu explained the fascination of this niche sport that changed his life, "Freediving is somehow a way of life with a sort of magic that makes many fans and divers give up their original life, come to the island to live a simple, self-disciplined life."
For Lu, keeping relaxed is the first principle of practicing freediving. "It is necessary to completely relax the body while maintaining absolute control of the body. Therefore, age and experience are, to some extent, advantages to freedivers."
In May, 31-year-old Italian freediver Alessia Zecchini set a new world record for women's CWT in a competition in Panglao, pushing the limit to a depth of 123 meters.
Four years older than Zecchini, Xu said the record is a goal that all divers look towards, but freediving is more of a contest with oneself than running after the others.
"I enjoy the process of adjusting my breathing on the surface before diving into the water. At that moment, I feel like I was the only person in the world," Xu said.
Based on her daily training, the champion freediver has set her goal to reach 120 meters next year. However, she does not rule out the possibility to challenge Zecchini's record.
"It's not about competing with anyone; it's just that my target can be ranked in the world," Xu said. ■