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July 10, 2010


American Freedivers Compete in Ancient Greek Stone Diving Exhibition

Two US freedivers, Robert King and Matt Souza, challenged the depths in a traditional Greek diving exhibition on the island of Rhodes, Greece.  The ancient stone diving technique, used by sponge divers in the Mediterranean for thousands of years and known by the Greeks as “Skadalopetra”, has recently been revived in Greece.

To most Americans, the Greek Isles mean beautiful beaches and late-night partying, but Greece is also home to one of the oldest diving traditions in the world.  For thousands of years, Greek divers sailed the Mediterranean and out to the Atlantic coast of Africa in search of sponges (then a lucrative commodity).  Lacking modern SCUBA equipment, Skandalopetra divers wore neither gear nor clothing (muy loco!), riding disk-shaped stones to incredible depths. 

Today’s recreational SCUBA divers can dive down to 130 feet.  Ancient stone divers went much deeper, often in water as dark as it was numbingly cold.  If the diver was lucky, his buddy pulled him and his catch safely to the surface.  Many weren’t so lucky—fatalities were commonplace, Skandalopetra the ancient world’s version of Deadliest Catch.

In the 20th century stone diving rapidly declined due to the advent of SCUBA and the invention of synthetic sponges.  But, in the Greek Isles, a group of traditionalists has kept the tradition alive focusing on safety and fun rather than sponges.  Divers wear nose-clips (for equalizing ears) and swimsuits, but no other equipment is allowed.

Neither Matt or Rob got close to their personal-best depths--Rob’s 130-foot dive falling a bit short of his current 296 foot PB—both were satisfied with their first attempts at stone diving.  “It’s a pure form of diving,” explained Rob, “and you feel exposed without the wetsuit.  When you’re hitting progressively colder layers of water (from a comfortable 80 degrees at the surface, to the low 60s at depth) all your good intentions about relaxing and equalizing pretty much go out the window—rather like being hit with buckets of cold water in the shower.”

Matt, looking to continue his diving adventures, will be in a wetsuit this October in Baja, Mexico, diving cage-free with great white sharks with Ocean Encounters.

Images available upon request. 


Contact Information:

Grant W. Graves, President
United States Apnea Association, USAA

3642 Seahorn Dr.
Malibu, CA 90265
Phone: 310-560-6104

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Pictures provided by Rebecca Garrett, Deron Verbeck, Tec Clark and Jon Zeaman.