Descending into darkness on a single breath of air was a serene yet intoxicating experience for professional freediver Ant Williams.
The Jan Juc father of two, who now holds the Guinness World Record for the deepest freedive under ice, successfully reached a depth of 70.3 metres in northern Norway earlier this year.
After three years of thoughtful planning and equal parts training, the dive of a lifetime was made possible on March 29.
“We had to get a team organised quite early on. There were a mix of Kiwis and Aussies… it took a lot of preparation,” says Ant, who was born in New Zealand.
“The air temperature was minus 36 degrees and in the Arctic Circle, the biggest challenge is to stay warm.”
Piling on layers of clothing and carting portable saunas to the dive site, it took a 10km journey via six snow mobiles to reach the location.
“I was trying to stay warm all the way out onto the ice,” remembers Ant.
“The saunas were kind of OK, not amazing, but sufficient. There was so much involved. It took us nine hours from start to finish to get everything done.”
While regulating his body temperature was a key priority in the execution of Ant’s dive, digging through the snow coating the ice’s entry point was another exhausting hurdle.
Ant says it took the combined physical effort of his entire crew to shape a hole in the metre-thick ice.
The most frightening risk in not accurately removing the cut ice is it taking its original form and trapping Ant beneath its hard surface.
Once the gateway was created, Ant was lifted into the ice-cold water which was about 0.2 degrees Celsius.
“When you first get in that water, the cold is so painful to your face, hands and feet. On the descend, you’re dealing with not only the really cold water, but the complete absence of light,” recalls Ant.
Ant says when he reached the halfway mark, he decided to close his eyes and submit to the water’s eerie gloom.
But an unexpected turn saw him question why he was swimming slower than usual on his return to the top.
“I made a mistake. I was diving into another spot a few days before and had made changes to my weight belt. When I got to the bottom, I had this enormous extra weight and I couldn’t figure out why. I thought I was at 25 metres, but I was still at 50 metres,” he admits.
“I had been out on the ice the day before helping to prepare the ice hole. I was very drained, and my legs were fatigued.
“I had to work even harder. You’re down there alone so there’s not a lot of comfort for you. It took me about two and a half minutes to make it back to the surface.”
When the dive was complete, a new world record was set. Ant says he was welcomed by a lot of commotion, noise and celebration.
“It’s an official world record, which is cool. Being based in Torquay allows me to do my sport well,” he says.
The dream to set world records isn’t over for Ant, but for the time being, he is taking a break from the extreme sport he discovered in 2001 as he thinks about his next ground-breaking quest.
For more on Ant’s freediving escapades, visit antwilliams.com.