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Freedivers reach new depths at Hawaii Cup

  • A freediver goes deep during the Hawaii Cup at Honaunau Bay. (John Kowtiz/Courtesy Photo)
  • John Kowtiz/Courtesy Photo
    Kristin Kuba kisses her partner Daniel Koval after completing a successful dive during the Hawaii Cup at Honaunau Bay.
  • John Kowtiz/Courtesy Photo
    A diver descends with dolphins during the Hawaii Cup at Honaunau Bay.

KAILUA-KONA — Despite the threat of Hurricane Lane, the Hawaii Cup of Freediving, hosted by the United States Freediving Federation, took place over the weekend at Honaunau Bay with little to no effect from the wind or rain.

The Hawaii Cup kicked off on Friday at the Aloha Theatre with the U.S. premiere of “Dolphin Man,” a movie that explores the legacy of Jacques Mayol, a writer, sea researcher and famous free diver who held a dozen world records. He was the first man to dive to 100 meters.

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More than 200 people attended “Dolphin Man,” which came as a pleasant surprise to USFF president Jeremy Stephan.

“It was amazing and it just re-enforced the interest people have in the community here in freediving and ocean conservation,” Stephan said. “It is the waterman culture here.”

While Hurricane Lane did not affect Kona like it did the rest of the Big Island, it did play a small factor in travel plans, especially for Kailua-Kona resident Shelby “Shell” Eisenberg, who was in Oahu and canceled her plane flight back home due to the threat. She was one of four athletes to cancel their flights, most coming from Oahu.

“With the wind and rain, I decided not to fly over,” Eisenberg said. “The airline was allowing people to change flights for free so I decided not to go.”

Eisenberg is the United States women’s record holder in constant weight monofin with a depth of 85 meters.

Another Kailua-Kona resident, Kristin Kuba, did attend the event. Kuba is a member of USFF Team America and she took first place in all three events she competed in, which included constant weight bifin, free immersion and no fin. She reached depths of 68 meters, 60 meters and 30 meters respectively.

“All the divers were good. I was most excited about the bifin,” Kuba said. “It is my favorite discipline and was a really nice dive. I have a lot more fun with that dive.”

This was the first USFF outdoor freediving competition held in the United States to be sanctioned by the World Underwater Federation (CMAS). Because of this, every national record was up for grabs and Kuba now holds three of those records.

“It was an amazing event, and it was really well run and smooth,” Kuba said. “I earned a white card, which meant that I made every single one of my dives successfully, without any problems.”

On the men’s side of the competition, Ben Zions earned three first-place finishes to set the national mark in constant weight bifin (72 meters), free immersion (68 meters) and no fin (62 meters). Chris Funada set the mark in constant weight monofin at 46 meters.

A total of 16 athletes competed at Honaunau Bay.

“Quite frankly I can not figure out how things could have been better,” Stephan said. “It was a little dicey at the beginning, not knowing what the affects the hurricane would have on the bay. The first day it was a little choppy on the surface but there were no problems under the water. The next two days were perfect conditions.”

Holding the event was a dream come true for Stephan, but that isn’t to say he did not have his concerns.

“My biggest fear was wondering if anyone was going to be interested and show up, but as I was swimming to the beach after the competition on Saturday near Two Step, I heard one guy talking to another guy about the competition,” Stephan said. “When you hear an independent side conversation taking place organically, you know that the competition was held at the right time and the right place.”

“It was all about everyone coming together and having a great time,” Stephan added. “That is the big story and the most important thing to me.”

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Next up for the USFF will be the CMAS World Championships Oct. 1-7 in Turkey. The organization, through the Team America program, will be sending five athletes, including two from the Big Island, Kuba and her partner Daniel Koval.

Koval recently broke the national constant weight monofin record by reaching a depth of 102 meters at the Vertical Blue International competition at Dean’s Blue Hole in the Bahamas.