Westmeath man secures place in diving record books

Pictured above: Westmeath native and diving star Dave McGowan proudly flying the Irish flag.

Westmeath man Dave McGowan has secured his spot in the record books and become the most successful freediver in Irish history.

At the end of September, in the Egyptian city of Sharm El-Sheikh, Dave attended the AIDA Freediving World Depth Competition, hosted by world record holder Andrea Zuccari.

On day one of the competition, McGowan already had his sights set on the Irish record. However, with this being McGowan’s first depth competition and held in unfamiliar surroundings, the Mullingar native announced a relatively conservative dive to 65 metres in the newly-recognised Bi-Fins discipline.

In order to be the first to set a record in this discipline McGowan needed to reach a depth of 61 metres. McGowan completed the 65m dive with ease, in a time of two minutes, two seconds.

On day two of the competition conditions seemed to worsen, with strong swell and currents felt down to depths in excess of 40 metres. However, with freediving competitions, each diver must announce his dive the night before and cannot change the discipline or the depth without penalty or disqualification.

A depth of 71 metres was McGowan’s target, his personal best depth during training. Nerves were building in the morning with a long wait before his predefined dive time. However, once the wetsuit was on, it was business as usual for McGowan.

During the warm-up dives there seemed to be a lot of commotion, with other divers having trouble with the conditions, some even blacking out and needing to be rescued by the safety crew. However, McGowan kept his composure and, at exactly 3pm, he started his dive to 71 metres, returning to the surface in two minutes and 16 seconds, looking strong and fresh. Even a depth of this magnitude seemed almost just a formality for the new Irish champion.

The plan for the final two days of the competition was to continue with the Bi-Fins discipline, increasing the record depth even further. However, with the challenging and changeable sea conditions, McGowan consulted with his coach and training buddies, and having already achieved far more than he set out to do in his very first depth competition, he decided that it would be sensible to finish with four successful dives. And so, the final two days would be conservative dives in other disciplines.

The last two days saw McGowan complete a 66m dive in the Monofin discipline and a 70m dive in the Free Immersion category. Both of these just happened to be personal best performances for McGowan, but because his training was focused on the Bi-Fin discipline, they were relatively easy dives for him.

Having only competed in three out of the four disciplines, McGowan was not holding out for a podium position but to his surprise, due to the strength of his dives and his avoidance of penalties, he narrowly missed out on third place, finishing a respectable fourth overall.

With four strong dives logged in this competition, two new national records added to McGowan’s previous Irish record, he had secured the top spot as the most successful Irish freediver of all time.

McGowan had been training hard during the Covid-19 lockdown in Dahab, Egypt and in order to raise the funds to attend this competition, had organised a GoFundMe page.

“Without the help of all of the contributors to this fundraiser, these record attempts would just not have been possible. Even though freediving is an individual sport, this has very much been a collaborative effort,” he said.

“There is no way I could have achieved this without help and support from everybody – friends, family, dive buddies, mentors and everyone that was rooting for me over the last week and for that I am eternally grateful.”

As a gesture of thanks, McGowan added the names of each and every contributor to the fins he used to break the Irish record.

McGowan’s next big target is to continue his training over the winter, with the ultimate goal of representing Ireland at the Freediving Depth World Championships next autumn, and potentially setting some more Irish records along the way. He is hoping to get some Irish industry backing to help him with this colossal undertaking.