Patxi Díaz does not lack merits in the curriculum so that his name is recognized in the history of Real Sociedad. He has been representing the shield as an athlete all over the planet for more than four decades, from Peru to Norway, and has been a European and world champion several times as part of the technical team of the Spanish team. However, the exploits of this 61-year-old from San Sebastian are unknown to the vast majority of fans. The reason? To have achieved all of them in a place as unusual as the depths of oceans and seas.
Patxi is part of the only sports section linked to a LaLiga team that does not compete on dry land, the underwater activities section of Real Sociedad. This was born in 1964, when a fan of the sea named Francisco Pizarro went to the then president txuri-urdin, Antonio Vega de Seoane, looking for help to set up a diving club. The Basque team, which today also has field hockey, athletics and baseball sections, agreed to lend them the name of the entity and vital financial support to open a first headquarters and pay for their first expenses. They began with a dozen members and, almost 60 years later, they have 187 athletes who practice scuba diving, underwater photography and video, swimming with fins or spearfishing.
At the beginning of the seventies, the section became known in San Sebastián because during that time they also carried out surveillance and rescue tasks on the city’s beaches. A little later, in 1976, it was when a boy who had two great hobbies found out about its existence: fishing in the sea and going to the old Atotxa stadium to cheer on his team. “More than going fishing with a rod like my father, which bored me a bit, I liked that feeling of getting into the water and being in another world, that feeling of weightlessness”, he explains.
This man from San Sebastian started competing at the age of 14. His discipline consists, broadly speaking, in being able to fish in apnea with the single help of a kind of crossbow the greatest number and the greatest variety of fish in a time (four or five hours) and in a delimited space (between eight and 12 kilometers of coastline). “There are limits of pieces per species and also of weight, the fishing of individuals that are not yet adults is penalized. Then all the pieces are donated to charity”, he points out.
Despite its modest budget – part of the financing comes from the annual fee paid by the members themselves – the club began to make a name for itself and have some regional and regional champions on its squad. Díaz himself, who combined training with his work in a local business, became champion of the Basque Country. But his greatest achievements were obtained as part of the trio of selectors of the Spanish team, since the 22 years that he was in charge of the team, from 1997 to 2019, coincided with the takeoff of what is today the most successful country in spearfishing both individual and team level.
In addition to enjoying his great passion, he was always proud to go from here to there, in competitions, wearing the tracksuit of the team he always cheered for. Although unlike his idol Arconada, the people who saw him on the street did not stop him to ask for his autographs, but to stare at him in a certain astonishment, without really knowing what a group that did not seem to be doing with the shield of a soccer team of soccer players
The ambition to sign Jacques Cousteau
The president of the underwater activities section, Asier Olano, believes that this trait, the pride in representing the colors txuri-urdin, is shared by the majority of members. “We feel like we belong to Real at heart and many of us are members of the soccer team.”
Olano emphasizes that the section works like a kind of small family – he, for example, signed up four years ago for his father-in-law – and has an important social and cultural vocation. In this sense, his great initiative is CIMASUB, an underwater film series where short films and documentaries compete that want to “make the bottom of the sea known and convey respect and love for it.”
The person in charge of this project is David Sánchez, also a fan of txuri-urdin. He says that it is the longest running cycle of this type in the world and that in recent years it has grown a lot. “In 2018, 60 works were presented and in 2022 there were more than 250 from 80 different countries. In addition, it was a great success with the public, with more than 9,000 attendees adding the events that we organize throughout the year”.
The cycle was born in 1975 and was the idea of the main promoter of the underwater section, Francisco Pizarro. Pizarro, now deceased, always had the great illusion of bringing the famous French explorer Jacques Cousteau as a great guest star. “He never made it, but at least he insisted so much on the City Council that he got a square in San Sebastián named after him,” explains the festival manager.
For Sánchez, a graphic designer by profession, the sea allowed him in a certain way to rebuild his life. After the death of his wife, he discovered scuba diving and has seized this activity as a great passion that he believes will never leave him. And it is that as the veteran Patxi Díaz says, whom many have already nicknamed as the old man because at 61 he continues to compete, this is a love that lasts forever. “I have lost many colleagues and I know that there is always a risk. But if you start thinking this you don’t go. Those of us who like this have a different mentality. It is a philosophy of life”.
From boxing to skiing: the extensive footprint of soccer in other sports
The Royal Society currently has four sports sections: underwater activities, field hockey, athletics and Basque pelota. However, throughout its centenary history it came to have athletes in a dozen different disciplines. Some of them as exotic as an ice hockey team, which would become champion of Spain three times in a row in the seventies, or even in individual sports such as boxing or skiing, the skier Lide Miner being the only one that the club sponsored in this terrain.
More than half of the LaLiga Santander teams have or have had sports sections, although only a minority of these are professional. Among the most notorious success stories, current and past, of teams that defended the same colors and the same shield as a football club in other disciplines are FC Barcelona in handball and roller hockey, which are number one in terms of titles national and continental, or basketball Real Madrid, which is the club that has been proclaimed continental champion the most times.
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