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Opinion: Don’t Break That Record

The recent death of 41-year-old technical diver, Sebastian Marczewski, aka “Iron Diver,”
during a failed attempted world record scuba dive to 333 m/1093 ft in Lake Garda, Italy, highlighted the dangers of deep diving record setting. The tragedy occurred just after GUE instructor Dimitris Fifis had penned an opinion piece for InDepth exploring the nature and motivation of deep diving record setting. Fifis explained that he wrote the post in order to get a better personal understanding of what motivates divers to set deep diving records. His post was motivated in part by the deaths of two other technical divers attempting deep records. Here are his thoughts and suggestions.

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by Dimitris Fifis

It has always been in the nature of human beings to fly higher, to explore further, to dive deeper. It is this instinct that has been behind some of the most amazing explorations and discoveries. It is what pushed us forward to a better understanding of our planet, of our body and much more, and it will surely never stop. There will always be people trying to push further than before, people who are willing to bet their lives so that the rest of us may benefit from their discoveries.

The truth is I have the utmost respect for these underwater explorers who have offered us so much. On the other hand, I am sometimes deeply saddened by the loss of life of those in the pursuit of what they think is record-breaking and pushes the boundaries. That is especially true in our beloved activity diving. 

We have suffered many meaningless losses in our community. Losses that made us wonder why. Why did they do it? This is particularly the case when it involves breaking a record that has already been broken.

This is the “why” that I am trying to discover through writing these thoughts.

What drives someone to risk so much in order to break a record that has already been broken? What is the point of seeing your name in a world record book when you know it has been done before? Well, maybe not by a woman. Or, perhaps by a solo diver, but not by a team, or maybe by someone using a rebreather. But what difference do those things really make? 

One reason for doing it might be vanity, although I don’t think this is the main reason for most aspirant record breakers. Was is it really vanity that drove Guy Garman aka Doc Deep to attempt a record-breaking dive to 370 meters/1209 ft., though he had only been a diver for four years? Or was it the result of a culture that glorifies deep dives for its own sake, or for hopes of financial gain? 

Perhaps the reason may simply be trying to stand out and survive in our unfortunately highly competitive diving community and even more competitive professional diving industry. With the number of instructors constantly rising while the number of potential students continues to fall, it is perhaps normal for any dive professional to try to find ways to attract more students. Unfortunately, the strategy of lowering course prices and shortening course times is simply not sustainable and has helped create the problem in the first place.

Becoming a “diving hero” sounds like a good idea to attract more people that will surely want to get trained by the world record holder.

What is not a good idea is to try to perform “record-breaking” deep dives when ill-prepared physically and/or mentally. Also unwise is trying them without adequate financial support, allowing the diver to avoid cutting corners on safety in order to meet the budget. Most importantly, it is not a good idea to proceed without a team that can support the attempt and be able to help in case Murphy sneaks in. 

Of course, as educator Gareth Lock, The Human Diver points out, “Nobody shows up for a dive thinking what a nice day to die”. I am sure that is not what Theodora Balabanova, a Bulgarian technical diving instructor, thought prior to her fatal attempt to dive to 233 meters in hopes of becoming the deepest woman diver, but also the deepest couple, as her husband Mihail, who was critically injured, was diving with her. Theodora had much more diving experience than Guy, but still, the risks are always there, especially on a dive beyond the usual “envelope.“ 

It is only through knowledge, experience, meticulous planning, and a team of expert advisors and support divers that the risks of such dives can be reduced to a sensible level, if at all.  Unfortunately, most of the time, these factors are simply replaced by bravado and peer pressure, which reflects a lack of understanding of the real risks. 

What is more unfortunate is the fact that even if all goes well and the “record” is broken, the positive effects and advertisement will only be temporary. You see, as easy as it is to become famous on social media these days, it is just as easy to be replaced by the next social media celebrity, and the achievement quickly was forgotten.

So, what can instructors do instead?

Simply, take a slower path to success. Increase the quality of your teaching, choose a training agency that shares your values, study and gain deeper knowledge on the topics that you are teaching, and practice your diving and presentation skills. Carefully and honestly analyze the way you teach and try to improve in every course. Take courses from other experienced instructors and learn from them. Increase your experience by participating in demanding exploration projects, and actively participate in conservation initiatives. Finally, respect your students, yourself, your instructors, and the training agency you are teaching for. 

Respect them by delivering the best possible course you can, and they will respect you back by choosing you as an instructor, by recommending you to others, and possibly even by making you an instructor trainer. They will respect you for what you do, not for how deep you once managed to go.

This article is not about pointing fingers, disrespecting, or criticizing people who made mistakes and paid a very high price for them. On the contrary, this article is meant to remember and honour these fallen diving heroes and, more importantly, to emphasize the most valuable lesson learned from them. I am sure both Guy and Theodora would agree that no record is worth dying for.

Additional resources:

Tragedy Strikes Multiple Scuba Record Attempts – DeeperBlue.com

The Last Dive of Sebastian Marczewski


Born in Athens, Greece, Dimitris Fifis started diving in 1991 and became an instructor in 1998. In 2009, after 23 years of service in the Greek Navy (most of them in the aviation branch), he retired and decided to pursue a full-time career in diving. Since then he has managed diving operations in various diving centers in Greece as well as on mega-yachts. Dimitris discovered GUE in 2007 and never looked back. He currently lives and works in Dubai, and is involved in various wreck exploration and underwater filming projects in the area. Because of his strong interest in increasing dive safety through quality education, he also produces training videos for GUE.

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A Journey Into the Unknown

Sailor, diver, and professional software implementation consultant turned adventure blogger Michael Chahley shares his quest to discover the unknowns of our world by stepping out of his comfort zone. Are you ready to take the plunge?

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By Michael Chahley

The engine roars to life, launching me out of a deep slumber and into reality. “That’s not good,” I think out loud. Rocking in my bunk inside the sailboat, I realize the wind is still driving us against the ocean swell. We do not need to be using the engine right now, so why is it on? Bracing myself, I climb into the cockpit as Paul, the captain, swings us over hard to starboard while staring wide-eyed ahead into the darkness. We are on a collision course with an Indonesian fishing boat shrouded in darkness, and it’s close enough to violate the ceiling of a safety stop. Rubbing the sleep out of my eyes, I count a handful of men staring back at us as they also take evasive action. One of them is standing at the railing brushing his teeth while we run parallel alongside one another for a moment. 

Anchored in an isolated atoll in Wakatobi, Indonesia. Photo courtesy of Amanda-Sailing.com.

Luckily for us we didn’t collide. I went back to sleep with another adventure to share. If you were to meet me today, working a full-time job in Canada alongside Lake Ontario as it freezes, it would not be obvious I spent two of the past four years traveling. Balancing a life of adventure with one of responsibility, I feel fortunate to have explored some very remote places in our world–both above and below the water. But before I was able to explore the Pacific Ocean, I first had to navigate a personal path of conflicting identities in order to find the confidence to jump into the unknown. 

Water Baby

For my entire life, I have been more comfortable in the water than on land. My childhood memories consist of watching my parents dive under the water for hours at a time and swim in the currents of the Thousand Islands in the Great Lakes region of North America. I followed the predictable path of our society. I worked hard, achieved an engineering degree, and secured a job. Fortunately, I was able to continue exploring the outdoors with this busy life. Long weekends were spent diving in the Great Lakes or camping in the back-country. I was comfortable enough; however, there was no real satisfaction in my life. As the years ticked by, the gap between my reality and dream world grew. Something had to change, but I did not know where to find the catalyst. 

Going for an afternoon swim in the Marshall Islands.
Photo by Emma Goudout.

Like any other armchair traveler, I idolized the explorers from the Age of Discovery. Adventure books weighed down my bookshelf while travel documentaries glowed on the TV screen in my room at night. I understood what made me happy, but I was unsure of what I stood for and believed in. I was living a life in conflict with the trajectory I wanted to be on, but I had no idea of how to become an ‘explorer’ who lived a life in pursuit of the unknown. While commuting to work each day in a crowded subway, I daydreamed of sailing the oceans and exploring the underwater world. As I grew increasingly more frustrated, one day I unloaded my concerns on a friend. They had the nerve to say I was ‘living in a dream world’ and needed to focus more on my real life. This hurt to hear at first, but then it dawned on me! If dreaming was a part of my life, then why couldn’t I make it a reality, too? This was the catalyst I needed. 

I finally understood that even though others might see my dreams as frivolous, it was okay for me to follow a path that was meaningful for me. Like a weight lifted from my shoulders, I discovered it was okay to be uncomfortable with the status quo. With this in mind, I quit my job, packed a bag, and with no concrete plans, bought a one-way ticket to go halfway around the world.

One-Way Ticket To Ride

Exploring a shipwrecked fishing vessel in the Marshall Islands.
Photo by Michael Chahley.

I found myself flying to the Marshall Islands with a one-way ticket to meet someone I had only communicated with over email. The customs officer did not find it amusing, but after some tactful negotiation, I was let into the country and even offered a free ride to the marina. It was 2016, and I was on my way to meet Tom, the captain of a 53-foot, steel-hull ketch named Karaka. Tom invited me to join his crew and help them sail across the Pacific. Even though blue-water sailing was new to me, for him it was a lifestyle. He was nearing the end of a 12-year circumnavigation after saving Karaka from a scrapyard in Hong Kong. Along the way, he would have crew join him as a co-operative, which is how I ended up spending eight months on his boat exploring the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, and Papua New Guinea.

Trying out the local mode of transportation in Papua New Guinea.
Photo by Chelsea Richards
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When not visiting uninhabited atolls, the outer communities we visited were so isolated that we were asked to help out by delivering fuel, cooking oil, and mail. During this trip, our daily routine consisted of free diving on pristine coral reefs, gathering coconuts, and sharing meals with some of the friendliest people in the world. From spearfishing with the local fishermen, exploring the shipwrecks and ruins of World War II, and partaking in long walks on the beach or up a volcano, it was a new adventure every day. As a shipwreck enthusiast, I am incredibly grateful to have had an opportunity to free dive to within sight of the HIJMS Nagato in the lagoon of Bikini Atoll and to dive on Japanese Zeros in waters of Rabaul. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined myself exploring these regions of the world; reality had transcended my childhood fantasies.

Visiting a village in Papua New Guinea.
Photo courtesy of Amanda-Sailing.com.

Just like diving is for many of us, once I started traveling, the passion grew and is now a core part of my identity. Flash-forward to earlier this year, and I am back in the capital of Papua New Guinea helping Paul and his partner repair their 34-foot sloop named Amanda-Trabanthea for a journey out of the country and into Indonesia. Adventurers themselves, they had just returned to their boat after sailing through the Northwest Passage. Over three months we managed to visit some of the most hospitable and isolated regions of Papua New Guinea and Eastern Indonesia. I was lucky enough to go diving in Port Moresby, the Banda Islands, Wakatobi, Komodo, Lombok, and Bali. By the time we survived the near-collision with a fishing boat, I had come to expect the unexpected and cherish the exciting moments in life.

Explore The Unknown

Day trip with some friends on Ailuk Atoll.
Photo by Michael Chahley.

Diving and sailing share a lot of similarities. Both are perfect for getting off the well-beaten track to explore places of our world few have ever seen. We must be confident in our abilities and have the appropriate training to safely handle the unexpected. A strong technical understanding of the physics and equipment required to operate safely is very important. Meticulous planning is essential for completing long passages and technical dives. But most importantly, it is the adventure from exploring new places that makes it so fun and gives us reasons to continue doing this. I strongly believe that communities such as GUE play a pivotal role in society by encouraging and promoting exploration within the individual. With time, I will combine my passion for both diving and sailing to help discover some of the most remote and beautiful corners of our world. If you have never sailed before, I highly recommend it.

I am back in Toronto where this journey began. I’m working full-time; however, this time with a much more solid understanding of myself and as well as a greater appreciation of the world we share. Only by stepping outside of my comfort zone to explore our world I was able to overcome the uncertainty that kept me from living an authentic life. Author Dale Dauten put it succinctly, “Success is an act of exploration. That means the first thing you have to find is the unknown. Learning is searching; anything else is just waiting.’’ 

My backyard swimming pool in Micronesia.
Photo by Michael Chahley
.

During my travels, I realized that we cannot let others define us. We must reach beyond personal boundaries, take a risk, and venture into the unknown. In doing so, we become explorers in our own reality, which is the only reality that matters. So, rather than daydream about future adventures, we need to believe we can incorporate those dreams into our lives. All we have to do is to dare to take that first step into the unknown. 


Michael Chahley is a professional software implementation consultant and an industrial engineering graduate from the University of Toronto. A finalist for GUE’s 2019 NextGEN Scholarship, he is a passionate diver, photographer, outdoor enthusiast, and an experienced traveller. Founder of the online blog Nothing Unknown.com, Michael is on a quest to discover the unknowns of our world and share them with you. He lives in Toronto, Canada, and can be reached at @NUDiscover on social media or his email mchahley@nothingunknown.com.

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