Ever since the first deep diving competitions were organized, there has been debate about when the ultimate limits of human apnoeic performance will be reached, and which factors will determine these limits. Divers have thus far surpassed all former predictions by physiologists in depth and time. The common factor for all competitive apnoea disciplines is apnoeic duration, which can be prolonged by any means that increase total gas storage or tolerance to asphyxia, or reduce metabolic rate. These main factors can be broken down further into several physiological or psychophysiological factors, which are identified in this review. Like in other sports, the main aim in competitive apnoea is to extend human performance beyond the known limits. While a beginner may extend apnoeic duration by getting closer to his or her personal limit, the elite diver can only extend the duration further by pushing the individual physiological limit further by training. In order to achieve this, it is essential to identify the performance predicting factors of apnoea sports and which factors can be affected by training, work that has only just begun. This is the first of two papers reviewing the main factors predicting performance in competitive apnoea diving, which focuses on static apnoea, while the following paper will review dynamic distance and depth disciplines. Great improvements have been made in all diving disciplines in recent years and the 10-minute barrier in resting 'static apnoea' has been broached. Despite this, current training methods and the strategies employed suggest that duration can be prolonged still further, and divers themselves suggest the ultimate limit will be 15 minutes, which appears physiologically possible, for example, with further development of techniques to reduce metabolic rate.