A great fighter, a fine spirit
On 21 June 1931, he was brought into this world in Syracuse, Sicily. Today, he has been laid to rest in his southern Italian hometown. A legend has passed on.
Enzo Maiorca, the great sports pioneer, died on November 13th at the age of 85 in his birthplace in the southeastern region of the island, where he spent his earliest childhood close to the sea.
Maiorca was one of the greats of the free-diving world. By the 1960s, his sporting performance had caused a sensation and he became the first media sensation of the diving world. His motto was “No Limits”, and this was something he demonstrated time and again with his individual best performances and incredible challenges with his competitors. Maiorca was always pushing the limits of his strength and endurance.
At just 29 years old, he crossed the 45-metre mark for the first time in July 1960, becoming the world champion, and defeating his Brazilian opponent Amerigo Santarelli. Just a few weeks after this momentous feat, in September, Santarelli reached 46 metres. But what a fighting spirit do the South Italians possess, as he again broke the record in November the same year by reaching 49 metres. Maiorca was a great fighter and he became the first man to break the 50-metre mark, setting a total of 13 world records during his career until 1976.
The Big Blue
Later on, the exceptional sportsman enthralled the diving world with his competition with French free diver Jacques Mayol. This rivalry between the two athletes charged the imagination of author and director Luc Besson, who went on to produce The Big Blu (Le Grand Bleu). The film, which placed the two athlete’s centrestage and featured outstanding underwater cinematography, suddenly cast the limelight on Maiorca and Mayol, giving a tremendous boost to the popularity of free diving.
Maiorca returned to the spotlight soon after. In 1988, twelve years after his retirement, the tremendous inner drive that exceptional athletes possess took hold and the champion that lived within Maiorca had a reawakening. That year, at the age of 57 years old, Maiorca achieved a personal best of 101 metres.
After that, he devoted all his energies to environmental and marine protection. From 1994 to 1996, he entered Italian politics when he sat for the National Alliance party as a Member of Parliament. Nevertheless, the bond and camaraderie he felt with the sea was so much stronger than what he felt within the corridors of parliament.
There is a story about Maiorca which explains why the ambitious athlete was so keen to protect nature and natural resources. In 1967, like many thousands of Italians, Maiorca was a spear fisherman. As an accomplished free diver, he had no problems diving to the depths of the ocean to pursue his prey. He was always successful in bringing bountiful catches to the surface.
One day, he harpooned a large grouper, and a fierce battle ensured. Eventually, the injured animal escaped and fled into a cavity in the rocks. Undaunted, Maiorca reached into the gap, and his right hand ran down the fish's belly. In that instant, as he held the fish in his hand, he felt the animal's beating heart, pounding in terror, pain and panic. Suddenly, he realised what he was really doing. As he told a Diver magazine a couple years later: “Something clicked in me and that was it, I never speared another fish because I felt like a terrorist.”
From that day onwards, the speargun disappeared from the cellar, and was never again seen in the house. Maiorca the hunter became an avid vegetarian and fundamentally changed his attitude towards the sea and its inhabitants.
Now, this great character of the diving scene and ocean protection has been taken from us. Although he no longer walks amongst us, through books and stories about him, his spirit continues to live on.