reaching world record

depths in Bonaire


Free diver Alexey Molchanov gave a breathtaking performance at the 2023 editions of BonAbyss, an exciting freediving event that took place in Bonaire this spring. He dived to depths of 153 and 156 meters in one single breath, setting not one but two Variable Weight World Records. For safety reasons, Elora and Robert, from the local water sports center WhatSup Bonaire, assisted Alexey on his diving adventures by taking him out on the water, and following his journey on the sonar equipped on their Axopar.


image000025 md

A relaxing extreme sport

Freediving is considered by many to be an extreme sport and it’s easy to see why. Free divers descend vertically into deep water with a single breath. The deeper they go, the greater the compressive pressure on their bodies.

Relaxation, however, is a key part of deep diving. It prevents carbon dioxide levels from rising too quickly, and conserves precious oxygen. 

Recreational freediving has been gaining popularity in recent decades, and there are now numerous annual events for divers with a competitive itch. The sport’s true challenge, however, lies within the divers themselves. Only by being in perfect sync with their bodies’ limitations and able to master their thoughts, can they test their limits, and in Alexey’s case, break world records.  

As new as the sport of competitive freediving may be, the practice of plunging toward the bottom of the ocean without breathing apparatus is as old as the world itself. People have been doing this, for pleasure and in search of food and treasure, for thousands of years.

Playing it safe

Divers competed in the variable weight discipline, considered one of the most challenging forms of the sport, at BonAbyss 2023. Competitors used a weighted sled to sink into the deep, and a monofin (a single fin like a whale’s tail, attached to both feet) to resurface.

Event regulations were in accordance with the world freediving governing body, AIDA, and its judges were on site to ensure its strict safety measures were applied. One such measure was the use of a safety sonar to monitor the divers’ descents and ascents, tracking their depths in real-time. A ballast weight to hoist the line and divers (attached to the line with a lanyard), and ready to be released in the event of an emergency, was another.

Robert, from WhatSup Bonaire, was responsible for tracking Alexey’s descents. He said there was no mistaking spectators’ tension as he called out increasing depths. Despite the sport’s regulations, competitive freediving is not without risks.  

“Every day we picked Alexey up with our boat. With its U-sofa and T-top roof for comfort and protection, the boat's layout was perfect for him,” explained Robert. “After performing breathing exercises and warm-up stretches, Alexey would sink into the water for his preparatory dives.”
1 / 3

Alexey and his entourage has all the reason in the world to smile. 

2 / 3

The whole thing was conveniently followed on the sonar. 

3 / 3

Life in Bonaire is picturesque both on land and on water. 

1 / 3

Alexey and his entourage has all the reason in the world to smile. 

Oxygen-less exhilaration

As safety divers watched Alexey disappear into the darkness, he remained clearly visible on the sonar that the boat was equipped with, even at a depth of 156 meters. However, seeing the shape of a human being that deep under water without scuba gear was an unnerving experience, recalls Robert.

“It was our job to prepare the sonar so that we could follow Alexey’s movements,” said Robert. “I spent the week prior to BonAbyss preparing for the task ahead: familiarizing myself with the safety sonar, maneuvering the boat to the perfect position, and adjusting the gain settings. It goes without saying that there was no room for error during the event.”

Below you can see a sped-up screen recording from the sonar to follow Alexey's journey.

A collective sigh of relief

On a dive, it’s the last few meters of the ascent which are the most challenging. Free divers frequently suffer blackouts due to pressure reduction. To ensure Alexey’s safety, Carlos Coste, the first safety diver, met him at a depth of -50m below the surface of the water. Carlos was then followed by other safety divers at -35m, -25m, and -10m. On terra firma, the gradual build-up of suspense ended when Alexey resurfaced. Spectators and organizers were heard to sigh a collective breath of relief.

Diving to record depths.

You could hear a pin drop as divers completed their final steps upon breaking the water. The rules state that they must remove their mask, take recovery breaths, and give the judges the “okay hand signal” within 15 seconds. Once Alexey had completed these steps, the judges signaled their assessment by holding up the “white card,” indicating a good performance without penalties. And with that, Alexey had performed an extraordinary feat of deep diving, setting a new world record that will be hard to beat!


“We are proud to have been asked for assistance by Blue Classroom Freediving, and we can confidently say that our Axopar is the perfect boat for freediving,” said Elora of WhatSup Bonaire. “We are already looking forward to BonAbyss 2024!”

"It's basically just exploring a new discipline... i'm really happy with how it was. IT was a challenge, much bigger pressure than I'm used to..."