Swiss recreational freedive meet 2004 (Vale di Maggia)

After myself and my girlfriend Patricia Ribas met Igor Liberti at last year’s freediving workshop by Umberto Pelizzari, where Igor was working as one of the Apnea Academy instructors to assist Umberto, we stayed in close contact. This resulted in Igor visiting us in Amsterdam to attend a Dutch organized recreational freedive meet, where he would give a workshop in Underwater Dancing and us planning to attend his second meeting, which he planned on organizing in Vale de Maggia this year. Since our interest lies more in the practical and recreational part of freediving and using competition only as a means to become better and more relaxed in doing the primary things, we did not hesitate for a moment. Even after as it later turned out the Dutch National Championships where held, I was not even thinking of changing my plans. We where going to Switzerland.

This proved to be a wise decision............

It was a bit difficult to reach the location, since there are no straight flights to that region. We ended up getting a cheap Alitalia flight from Amsterdam to Milano and from there take a connecting bus to Lugano followed by a train to Bellizona and another train to Locarno, where Igor was waiting for us at the station to take us to his parents home where we would stay. This took us about 8 hours but since we left very early in the morning we arrived on Friday afternoon at 13:00 hrs. After getting some home made spaghetti we decided that we had some time to spare before meeting the other freedivers in the evening and went for some freediving in the nearby lake. This lake was more then 300 meters deep so a bit better for doing some last minute Cyprus preparation in Constant Weight than our 20m Dutch Lakes. So this chance we could not skip.The weather was already great with more then 24C and water of about 14C so that was a nice unexpected extra.

That evening we met the other freedivers, some of whom we already knew from our last competitions in Lausanne and Berlin, and finished with an outside dinner. This was a very interesting experience because everybody was speaking there own language but understood most of the languages spoken, so while one spoke in French the other replied in Italian etc. Among us we spoke English, Dutch, German, Swiss German, French , Italian and Portuguese. Luckily we can understand all and speak most.

Next day the real meet started already very early in the morning, when the alarm bell went at 6:30 (after having slept the night before only 4 hours this was the lesser part of the meet). We went by car to the starting point and then our jaws dropped on the floor. This was incredible. Completely surrounded by mountains in 360 degrees, all completely covered by lush green forest and some of which with snowy tops. Then in-between a valley clearly created by eons of water flowing down trough it there was a crystal clear river inside with some inviting pools of water. At the end of one of these pools a white sandy beach and this is a bright blue sky with a sun generating a friendly 26C. After staring at this nature spectacle for at least 10 minutes it sank in : this is where we are going to freedive.

Then a couple of seconds later we where all squirming on our suits. A short briefing and off we went, up the stream as far as nature allowed us doing what we felt like namely ´free´diving. Most people had to get used to the water temperature , which was a chilly 8 degrees, but the enormous visibility coupled with the environment and the outside temperature made most of us forget about our face freezing of after a couple of minutes.

After being stopped by a natural barrier namely some high current and waterfalls, we bypassed these barriers on foot with some hiking in wetsuits (some Elios suits did not survive the trip without some small damage here, mine excluded) . After this hike the scenery was even more breathtaking and again we found ourselves freediving in some incredible scenery, which my photos can only vaguely attempt to show.

That night a great dinner with lots of food , beer and wine in an outside restaurant closed this perfect day. Falling a sleep was not a difficult task.

That was entirely different with waking up again the next day, but the eagerness of doing more of the same overruled my instinct to stay in bed.
Today we went to a different area called ´Versasca´ or something like that. Just while we where used to thinking that it could not get any more beautiful we where confronted by another jaw dropping scenery of a canyon flowing down from the snowy mountains underneath an old roman bridge followed by rapids that led into several waterfalls.

And yes we went of course freediving in here as well. Like yesterday the maximum depth was between 10 and 20 meters with a visibility probably of 20-30 meters. So looking from the top of the bridge you could see all freedivers in the river below as well as the bottom. Lots of spectators gathered around to witness these strange beings in black flowing effortless through the icy water, stooping just before the point of no return.

One of the highlight in this section was jumping just in from of a small rapid / waterfall, go fast down to 6 meters or so and experience the fastest dynamics with fins possible.

After this ( I am probably starting to repeat myself here too much) again something that overdid all previous experiences. A huge waterfall dropping down in a pool surrounded almost 270 degrees by rock walls. This was something very new. I did swim below waterfalls before but never freedived.

Imagine climbing first to this secluded pool and freediving to about 10-15 meters. There it is completely silent and you feel like you are in a cave. If you look up you see the sunrays shining through the water and see the waterfall drop all its power on the surface. Then you slowly glide upwards straight into the waterfall and you feel the energy increasing. When your head brakes the surface the sounds erupts and the violence hits your head. Then you glide on your back out the path of the waterfall while the water hits your body and face with full force, which get slowly less and less and less . And hen you see the sun and the mountains and the waterfall(s) from below and you dream away......................................

The last day we had to leave only at 15:30 so we had some time to spare and decided to go to the lake again with some freedivers, while some others who did not dive in the waterfall yet returned to the waterfall. The weather had turned a bit but the temperature and especially the mood between the freedivers was still 500% so we closed the weekend with some relaxed free immersion in the warmer lake.

Saying goodbye was the worst part of the meet after having met so many nice and interesting people. We will come back for sure !!!!!!

Many Many Many Many thanks to our great friend Igor Liberti, who made this all possible.

Here some info where you can find more about Igor, also you can download a movie clip from his underwater dancing from my download section. Igor Liberti


Glenn Venghaus

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