I have been a Scuba diver and snorkeller for over 20 years. I met my first real Freedivers on a course in 2003 at the 28 metre deep SETT in Gosport. Howard Jones, Lee Donnelly, Hannah Stacey, Ann-Marie Kitchen-Wheeler and Matt Kitchen were amongst those who were there that weekend. It changed my direction forever; I just knew it was something that I wanted to get involved in as much as I could, an amazing sport with wonderful people at the helm. Very quickly I found the ‘Northern Contingent’ who went on to become some of the best friends I have – Alun George, John Moorcroft and Sam Still headed the group. I became part of this small, but dedicated group of Freedivers. Dedicated to training, and dedicated to each other.
The sport was so small at the time; many of the groups were polarised towards the South, especially London. Don’t get me wrong, they were great groups, but it wasn’t possible to train that far South regularly. Initially I had no interest in teaching the sport, but as the group stagnated as a few members left the country I decided to set up a school and club called Apneists UK. It was to be the vehicle to increase safety and education in our area, give me training opportunities to pursue my own goals at the time, to increase participation, and the general name showed my thinking even back then, to spread the word and our methods of training across the whole of the country.
Manchester numbers started to swell – we branched out into Liverpool, hooked up with Crewe and Birmingham groups, we made forays into Yorkshire starting sessions and gifting people the training opportunities I craved as a new freediver. As well as the main group line in Dorothea we set up lines in Vivian in North Wales, Capernwray in the lake district and Dosthill in Tamworth. Setting up these centres and pool sessions initially was a lot of work and a very hard process of convincing many pool operators and dive site owners what we were doing was safe. Nowadays those new to the sport enjoy a much easier ride as so much has been established before them.
In 2010 we started to get a trickle of would be Freedivers down from Scotland, and set up a small Glasgow club. I eventually made the journey up the motorway in 2013 for the first official Scotland Freediving course. It was great, and from that group William and Mick started a regular weekly Glasgow session and established a second evening more recently. The Groups North and South of the border meet regularly at dive sites in Scotland and the Lake district and we have joint trips to places like the Farne Islands in the furthest North Eastern area of the English coast. I have met many new friends from these trips, so every time I go up, I feel it is worth it.
The group is continuing to improve its skill set, moving up the qualification ladder, and we’ve just had the first Edinburgh Freediving course. There is a Glasgow course on the 25th July, where there will be four courses a year. We are running Basking shark trips on the West coast from Oban to Coll and Tiree, and are diving St Abbs on the Scottish East coast. We organised our first Scotland Spearfishing and foraging course on June 6th (to add to the North Wales courses we offer) and the group is arranging an endurance underwater charity event for the RNLI in June, so things are really looking good in the area.
There have been some notable Freedivers come from Scotland in the past; Mandy Buckley, our resident mermaid, and Ben and Fiona Gowland who were all National record holders. More recently one of our newbies Jason Kirkpatrick has podiumed in the UK Championships in Liverpool in March and will be representing the UK in the World Championships, and Katey McPherson, who has done Mono fin clinics and No Fins clinics with Apneists UK, did very well podiuming in the Stockport competition in 2014; so the trend for new talent coming through will continue.
I have a bit of Scottish blood in me myself somewhere in the family tree, so I am really looking forward to a great year in the land of bagpipes, deep fried mars bars and Haggis…. With great people.
If you wish to come and join us, please contact us via the www.learn2freedive.com website.