PSi#21 Fluid States - Bahamas: Deep Anatomy, 'Deep Blue', by Tracy C Davis, Bahamas Correspondent

Deep Blue

by Tracy C Davis

5 May 2015

Psi #21 Fluid States - Deep Anatomy
Dean's Blue Hole, Long Island, Bahamas

PDF available here

Many of the global sports—football, rugby, cricket, lacrosse—emerged from one ethnos (a village, a school, a “tribe”) competing against another. As wider and wider networks of players emerged, codification set in: rules and timekeeping were enforced by referees and judges. Now, when we tune in to watch a match, we no longer think of these sports’ connections to pre-industrial communities, but naturalize the leagues and governing bodies that adjudicate competition and the logos that adorn uniforms. Village affiliations have been replaced by metropolises and nations. They’re not just big sports, they’re big business.

Diving is an ancient trade: there are pearl divers, sponge harvesters, and abalone fishers who from time immemorial have sought valuable quarry by going in the sea. Here, at Vertical Blue, there is barely the  faintest trace of this legacy. Instead, the divers are equipped with specialized gear and technological gadgetry. During dives they are traced by sonar. In this respect they may as well be going into the atmosphere as going under the surface of the sea. So what makes it a sport? One of my neighbours at the Gems at Paradise Beach Resort, where I write this, has an imposingly thick manual of freediving on his car’s dashboard. FIFA probably has such a manual too. There is juridical authority in a manual. And there is the dramaturgical imprint of Big Sport in the ritualized competition I watched today, even though this is defied by some aspects of scale and mise en scène.

Big Sport is announced by the Suunto banners that span part of the beach and bedeck the diving platform. But despite aspirations to attract sponsors, which are tangible, and notwithstanding the multinational field of divers and the legitimacy of operating under the direction of the international regulatory organization AIDA, there is more of the flavour of small-town rodeos I watched in the 1960s than an emergent sport seeking an audience. The site is accessed by a rutted sandy road. The concessionaire has a small BBQ and cooks to order. There are two small children with water-wings dashing in and out of the shallow surf. Spectators can swim out to the dive site and hang onto the square perimeter. At a small town rodeo you plant one cowboy boot on the fence rail and watch the bronc riders come out of the chute; clowns are in the arena to distract the animal away from its (inevitably) thrown rider; a timekeeper clocks the seconds and a judge posts the scores. Hey, I think I’ve seen all this before.

The athletes (or are they performers? competitors? participants? executors?) have a perceptible preparatory period. They must check in at least an hour before their appointed dive time. Most are there longer. One was twenty minutes late, and the yellow-shirted judge made a “kill” sign across his throat; after a muffled protest the thwarted diver headed back to the parking lot. The dives are scheduled about ten minutes apart, the diver’s aspired depth and time pre-announced. They suit up, progress to the preparatory platform a few meters from the dive site; execute their dive; emerge to be authenticated (or not), congratulated (or carded), and if necessary oxygenated; return to shore, and on a personal sense of the opportune unsuit and join the community as observers.

Meanwhile, Sam Trubridge calls the time from the dive platform. Here in the Bahamas, as I quickly experienced, time is mutable: you’re told to arrive two hours ahead of your flight time yet wait an additional 45 minutes, but this doesn’t mean the plane is late. Nothing is ever confessedly late, or busy, or quiet. There seems to be tacit agreement about this. But the time that Sam calls cannot be gainsayed. Everyone’s rhythm is set by Sam’s countdowns. And when the diver flips and begins their descent a new set of times, interpolated with distances, begins. Sam reads the sonar and a watch. Depending on what the diver specified as their goal we know whether they are on track. When the diver reemerges from today’s much-stirred and murky Atlantic water, and performs specified acts signifying health and mental composure, the judges determine whether the dive was successful or has demerits. The safety divers who have accompanied them on the last 35 meters of the ascent kibbitz and gracefully float in the pen.

Here, there is a single identity—freediver—each marked by allegiance to a political entity (a nation). Divers compete against themselves, many striving to set personal bests in the various disciplines, but they also compete on behalf of a nation. I wonder if their legislatures, sports ministries, or national media know they exist? Do they even know this sport exists? How does a pursuit, made technical, then codified and internationally regulated, become a sport?



Copyright –  Tracy C Davis (2015) “Deep Blue”, PSi #21 Fluid States: Performances of UnKnowing LOG, ed. Marin Blazevic, Bree Hadley and Nina Gojic, Performance Studies international (PSi), 1 January 2015-31 December 2015, available

Tags: Environment Ecology and Performance  Performance Studies in the Americas   Phenomenology and Performance  Space Place and Performance   

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