Editor’s Note: A few weeks ago, we visited New Zealand for The Ultimate Waterman competition and got to know some of the world’s most accomplished ocean enthusiasts better while traveling around the nation’s coasts. We’ll be releasing a video profile each week for the next three weeks on a handful of those inspiring individuals, and we’re kicking things off with freediver Ant Williams. We hope you enjoy. This feature has been made possible through the generous support of The Ultimate Waterman, Tourism NZ, and Auckland Tourism, Events, and Economic Development.
Ant Williams can hold his breath for eight minutes underwater. Eight minutes. Underwater.
Using just one, single breath and no tanks, he can dive 100 meters down, into the black folds of the ocean and safely return to the surface. One breath. For reference, many proficient free divers struggle to make it even 30 meters down. The pressure is too great.
The pressure crushes your body. It crushes your head, making it nearly impossible to equalize. The way he describes it makes me think that the mission of a free diver is to come as close as possible to physically experiencing what death feels like. Completely dark. Alone. Your body compresses, crushed by the weight of the world above. To complicate matters further, Williams says every ten meters a diver reaches beneath the sea is like drinking another martini. So at ten martinis (100 meters) below the surface, emotions and perceptions enter an altered state. Only individuals with supreme confidence and composure can safely engage, or even aspire, to reach such depths.
That’s Ant Williams.
The New Zealand native didn’t even begin free diving until he was 30. He was working as a sports psychologist, coaching big wave surfers, race car drivers, rock climbers, and other risk takers on how to break through mental barriers when he realized, according to him, he was a fraud. He hadn’t done anything risky in his life. So after mulling a few options ranging from bullfighting to freediving, the latter struck his fancy. Something about growing up in New Zealand’s wild waters gave him a sense of confidence.
A few years later, Williams was the US National Champion and ranked 3rd in the world for his breathhold in swimming. He maintained that ranking for five years and still competes alongside a dynamic career as a motivational speaker.
We’re at our happiest when we set a challenge, and we have to work so hard to overcome that challenge,” said Williams. “Always asking yourself, ‘What if? What am I capable of?’
With Williams, it’s hard to say. Maybe nine minutes?