The Fazza Championship for Free-diving is just another one of the initiatives undertaken by the organization to preserve UAE’s intangible heritage and is a tribute to the pearl divers in the country, who were the driving force of the economy at the time.
Free-diving or breath-hold diving in UAE is designed to embody the traditional ways of diving in the Arabian Gulf and involves traditional diving techniques used by early mariners in the region to stay under water.
The divers do not use any underwater equipment but rely on traditional diving techniques used by early mariners in the region to hold their breath under water for as long as they can.
The Fazza championship for Free-diving is a crucial part of the whole tournament for the preservation of this fascinating sport.
For this year’s championship, there were a total of 30 divers from 12 countries competed in the final round, which came to an end last weekend on March 7th with Polish, Omani and Kuwaiti divers smashing some tournament records.
The competition is divided into three categories – International, UAE and GCC, and Juniors (for UAE and GCC nationals) – with 10 competitors in each category.
Polish free-diver Mateusz Jan Malina won first place in the international, while Omani diver Ibrahim Al Sulaitni showed dominance in the UAE and GCC category, winning first place and setting a new regional record of sevin minutes and 59 seconds under water.
In the Juniors category, 14-year old Kuwaiti diver Ali Hassan Al Sharrah won first place and timed three minutes and 45 seconds. In second place was Emirati teen Suhail Hashem Al Marzouqi, who clocked in three minutes and 15 seconds, while Abdul Aziz Hussain Al Marzouqi finished third at two minutes and 58 seconds.
Rashid Bin Markhan, Deputy CEO of Hamdan Bin Mohammed Heritage Centre, is very pleased with how the championship has evolved over the years.
“We cover all aspects of Emirati culture. We have desert sports which include the camel marathon and falconry, and then we have a strong connection with the sea and the free-diving championship is an extension of that legacy,” he said.
“It’s been 14 years since the championship and back then the best time was around four minutes, we are here doing the 14th edition and now the timing is over 10 minutes. This is a clear indication that not only the tournament is getting bigger and better, and the calibre of the athletes is also growing,” said Rashid Bin Markhan.
Sport360 caught up with some of the athletes to learn more about their journey and aspirations during the tournament.
Poland’s Mateuz Jan Malina, 34, is a seasoned contender at the Fazza Championship and this time he lasted under water for 10 minutes 10 seconds.
It was Malina’s sixth time taking part in the competition and his second consecutive victory.
He attributes his success to his wife, Ola’s constant support and the lessons his failures taught him.
“My wife has always been there and she is kind of like my coach,” he said. “My biggest advice is ‘always come with a loss’, when I started free-diving, first few years I was mostly losing. I think you learn the most when you lose because you need a challenge in your life. So, when you lose, you really look inside you and see what you’re doing wrong and you work on yourself to better next time.”
25-year-old Rowaida Al Erwi from Saudi Arabia was one of the first females to take part in the free-diving tournament and although, she was unable to qualify for the finals but it shows that both men and women from the gulf are actively involved in preserving and protecting their heritage.
“I am originally from the north of Saudi Arabia which is famous for pearl diving and this sport. I graduated from a nursing school and I was always interested in health care and wellness, so I got into yoga. I learned about the pranayama (breathing exercises) and from there on, I got really interested in free-diving.”
The Fazza Championship for Free-diving isn’t just a sport that enjoyed within the region, but the success of the international contenders shows the popularity of the sport abroad as well.