Photo credit: Julian Kingma

Dawn is breaking over a car park on Victoria’s Torquay beach, a light breeze rakes the ­caramel sand and the man I met 15 seconds ago has just asked me to undress. Ant Williams eyes me up and down and then slides a two-litre bottle of clear ­liquid across the bonnet of his car towards me. “Go easy on it,” he says with a wink. “This is high grade sex lube.”

It’s not easy wrestling a dry body into a wetsuit. Together we lube up and slide our bodies into our new skin. My skinny frame flops around absurdly inside the folds of the wetsuit; Williams fills out his in a more flattering way. The 47-year-old Kiwi sports psychologist turned freediver is carved from the finest marble but beauty isn’t skin deep. Beneath the overinflated pectorals lies one of the greatest set of lungs the world has known.

Freediving is about diving, often to great depths, without air tanks — just you, your lungs, your mind and whatever battle to the death is being fought between them. Williams competes in the ­“Constant Weight” discipline. Other disciplines allow a diver to plummet using a weighted sled and to ascend with the aid of a balloon, or by ­pulling on the dive-line — but in ­Constant Weight a ­diver relies only on fins (or a monofin) for ­propulsion, cannot alter his or her weights during the dive, and cannot pull on the dive-line.

Williams has won the USA National Freediving Championships and has been ranked third in the world for breath-hold swimming. He can hold his breath for more than eight minutes underwater and can store enough air inside that massive chest cavity to dive to a depth of 100m. (The Constant Weight world record of 130m was set by Russian freediver Alexey Molchanov last year in the ­Bahamas.) Next week Williams will call those lungs into action in the waters off Kirkenes in northern Norway, when he will attempt to dive deeper than any person ever has under ice. He hopes to reach 75m, beating the current world record of 65m set at the North Pole in 2015 by another Russian, Konstantin Novikov.

It’s a mission so dangerous, so on the fringes of what’s already considered an extreme sport, that the world freediving governing body won’t even recognise it. But Guinness World Records will. More importantly, Williams will recognise it. He’ll call on all those techniques he learnt while working as a sports psychologist, and what he teaches ­others now as a leadership coach: reframing, visualisation, thought-stopping. Only then, when he fulfils his dream to be the deepest man under ice, will he make peace with himself and recognise maybe what he used to believe was wrong. Maybe he’s not a fraud after all…

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Ant Williams. Picture: Julian Kingma
Ant Williams. Picture: Julian Kingma