Jackson Byrne is 17 years old, in his final year of school and working as a lifeguard, competing for an AFL club and racing at state level for Enduro mountain biking! All of this combined with his somewhat surreal passion for freediving and spear fishing keeps Jackson’s feet firmly on the ground and helps him stay calm. There is never dull moment in Jackson’s life and he has learnt so much about looking after himself and life generally through sport. Here is an insight into what got him into such a mixed and diverse combination of activities, all in the heat of 45 degree sweltering heat of Western Australia!
Hi, my name is Jackson Byrne and I am 17yrs old and live in Karratha, a town in West Pilbara, 1600km north of Perth.
I have lived in Karratha for about 12 years and it is where I call home. Living so far away from most things, you learn to create your own fun. For me, this involves mountain biking in our amazing hills, freediving in our beautiful blue ocean and playing football during our cooler months.
Out of all three sports, mountain biking has been my go-to sport. I have trained hard with the local CrossFit gym and also with the Pilbara Sports Academy (PSA) for several years, as well as specific MTB coaches and club members here in Karratha. I have developed my skills, fitness and strength to be able to fly to Perth and travel the Southwest to compete in the WA Gravity Enduro Series. I love the experience each race brings, whilst being with the people you know and meet!
With freediving, you are literally in a different world – a world that some never experience to this level. Whether I am freediving for a new PB time or depth, or to hunt fish and crayfish for our next meal, it offers me a complete escape from reality. If you haven’t tried or heard of this crazy sport, also known as spearfishing, you should definitely have a look at what it involves!
HOW DID YOU GET INTO ENDURO RACING?
I got into Enduro racing mainly after watching and meeting other people doing the sport. I used to watch the World Cup races with my uncle and cousin, then a local guy here started a group called ‘Dirt Masters,’ where you could go along and give mountain biking a crack, nomatter your age or experience. So, I turned up at the track with my BMX bike and went every weekend when I was 9 years old, then bought a mountain bike. I learnt how to look after my bike, how to fix it, clean the chain, change the tyres and do basic mechanical things.
I learnt more about how to train for a sport and how to eat healthily, then I got a job at the local bike shop. I learnt so much, met so many more riders and this was when it started taking off. I got a different bike and in 2018/19 started training properly. I went to Perth to race in the WA Gravity Enduro Series with our coach from Karratha and have been doing it every year since then!
TELL US ABOUT YOUR EXPERIENCES IN FREEDIVING
They started off with spear fishing, then I ended up doing an internationally recognised free diving course. I got into the sport through a combination of spear fishing and snorkelling. We have a little house here on an island and have a boat, so what began as snorkelling off the beach soon became diving for crayfish, learning how to hold my breath, then diving down deeper.
Most of the time I go out to catch fish, or crayfish. When we go out, my mates and I make sure there are always a few of us for safety reasons. This is because, when diving down to depths of 20-30m, there is the risk of losing motor control or consciousness. Safety is paramount.
Doing the freediving course taught me about the technical aspects of the sport and how to measure the depths I am diving to. In the sport, you use a rope with a weight, which is labelled in metres, so that you can measure how far down you go. I haven’t done any free diving competitions, but freediving and breath control work really help spearfishing.
Freediving also helps me relax, simply because your whole body must be totally relaxed to do it properly. It has helped me in team sports and mountain biking too, as before races and matches I try to get in that Zen zone, which I need to be in when diving.
WHAT DEPTHS HAVE YOU DIVED TO?
I have been down to 25m and probably could go further, but it would take time to adjust and train for it. There are two different elements of free diving: holding your breath for a long time and going down to spear fish. If going down to fish, I can go to up to 25m, but when simply doing a pure free dive, without focusing on fishing, I can go slightly further. To improve on this, it is simply a case of practising more breath holds. As knowing that you can go down as well as make it back up before running out of breath is crucial.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR BACKGROUND IN AFL
I started football when I was 8 years old and learnt how to kick, tackle and score goals. I used to go and play every Sunday morning, then only in my second year, I started helping the new kids and learnt so much more from teaching them too. I started playing matches in 2013, in the under 11s team. I was the youngest but because I was slightly taller than some of the others, I was allowed to play. So that’s when I started playing for a club and I have played every year since!
Initially it was about having fun. Now after 9 years of playing competitively, it has become just as much about winning and performing as a team. I have learnt so much about strategy, team selection and putting your best team forwards. I now train 3 times a week, do running and skill work, and work on my strengths and weaknesses. My fitness from footy has helped me with spear fishing and running and I am also a lifeguard at the pool, so have some swim fitness too. I find doing so many sports and being so versatile has really helped me get to a decent level in each of them!
WHAT LIFE SKILLS HAVE YOU LEARNT FROM DOING SO MANY DIFFERENT SPORTS?
The main thing I have learnt, especially from freediving, is that when you put your mind to something, you can achieve it. This is because sport is very mental – for example, if you think you aren’t going to dive to a particular depth, you won’t.
Footy and mountain biking have taught me how to look after myself. When traveling to Perth to race or compete as a team, there is a lot of independent living involved. So I have learnt how to be self-sufficient.
I have also met so many people through sport and through travelling to race or compete, that if I hadn’t been doing sport, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to connect with all these amazing people and form so many valuable friendships.
I have also learnt how to follow a programme and a schedule. This has helped me with organisation and time management, and has probably helped me with my schoolwork too. Learning how to stay calm even when under pressure has been an invaluable skill.
WHY DO YOU CHOOSE BINDI?
I had seen other athletes using Bindi products and found Bindi is used by genuine people who care about their health and want to improve their performance. I have tried a lot of electrolytes from other brands and found them less palatable, so I tried Bindi and it worked well and I loved the taste. When I am outside lifeguarding, I take the Bindi Sports Hydration to work and notice a huge difference between the days I do and the days I don’t have it with me!