“a pretty rare minute of your life where you will be asked to control doubts and fears and truly believe you are capable of doing something you could not do before”
– Anthony Duke
I think about freediving every day. Most of the time it’s similar to that daydream of ‘what would you do if you won the lottery’. Where would my fantasy dive be? Dreaming of improbable breath holds. Spearfishing at 30m, setting up an ambush for an enormous fish. Sometimes it might be previous dives or people I have dived with.
I will never forget my first freedive course and if you speak to most freedivers they wont have forgotten theirs. The reason for this is because your first dive is when two worlds collide.
I started freediving because of ‘you tube’. It’s that simple really. I’m a person who has taken up a lot of sports in my time. But when you are too exhausted to do any more or TV has nothing more to offer then ‘you tube’ is the place to let your mind wonder. I can’t say that any one video turned my attention to the ‘sport’ of freediving. I watched a film about William Trubridge and this really does stick in my memory as a turning point. Basically the documentary covered interviews with a man who’s mother was a mermaid and who’s father was a nuclear submarine. The guy broke many records in the no fin category and is basically Lord Lung. He’s an incredibly intense man. He’d be rubbish on a night out. If you asked him if he wanted a vodka redbull he might think it was a reef fish. I have no doubt that he has never worn a traffic cone on his head. That being said, he does what he does very well and he is right to take himself seriously. If he messes up he will die.
One of the problems with ‘you tube’ is that it is TV of the extreme. The most views will always be of people on the top of their game. People who push their body to the absolute limits. We have grown up to see these people as Icons. Or at least I have. Also it’s easy to watch all this stuff in front of you and forget that you are not experiencing what you are witnessing. Yes you are watching a video or film but that is all. To some people that’s enough but I needed more.
With my interest grabbed I simply opened a new tab and searched Freedive uk. There is the website , click, there Is the info, click.
So here we are then, if you are reading this then you are probably familiar with what I have described. You want to know more? There are two mantras that I use in my life when it comes to decision making. ‘Fear is not knowing the unknown’ and ‘people talk too much’. Our brains are designed to keep us safe. ‘Oh you don’t want to go down there mate, people drown’, ‘look how dark it is, you would be uncomfortable, claustrophobic’, ‘you would have trouble equalising’. But with these man up mantras in the back of my mind I booked the course. Easy.
People should stop to think how lucky we are to do this. This was not possible 20 years ago. The closest you would come to taking part in an ‘extreme sport’ would be watching trans world sport on a Sunday or maybe the extreme channel, two down from MTV. Now, everything is possible, if you want to learn or step out of the security of your daily routine.
My course was a weekend which combined 1 and 2 star AIDA freedive system. I found my instructor Ian was wearing his clothes in the ‘Newquay style’. For those unaware, this is full grown adult man wearing a 16 year old boys clothes. This relaxed me, as he had clearly, at some time in his life, worn a traffic cone on his head. Here is a man I can relate to! During our theory session however he was very no nonsense. Thinking about it, he had his reasons. Being a freedive instructor must be like being made to look after a load of lemmings near a cliff edge. In our joining instructions we had been told to read, and be familiar with, the entire course syllabus. I had not. And as the hour progressed the instructor could smell a lemming. On to the swimming pool which was an introduction to static breath hold and dynamic breath hold. With only one other student there was good instructor student ratio. I could also feel my natural competitiveness starting to kick in.
During the static I found the sounds underwater amazingly relaxing and naturally started to imagine an incredible tropical dive. Warm water, sea turtles, mermaids, the lot! This really helped. I beat my fellow student in static and dynamic breath holds, I obviously had a dolphin somewhere in my family tree. Confidence was high.
So it was off to the sea for our depth training.I must say at this point, I have been surfing may times and the sea has never concerned me, even in really rough seas. After driving to one of Cornwall’s many excellent bays with the sun out and calm waters, we grabbed an open kayak each and off we went (EDITORS NOTE – We do not use Kayaks anymore, all courses are conducted from a chartered boat). This is where reality started to make itself felt in the back of the mind. We paddled far out to sea, further than was comfortable for me really. ‘Its 20m deep here’ exclaimed Ian. I mean, it wasn’t as if I had expected to see the bottom but the visibility really wasn’t great. The seed of concern had been planted. In our theory books we had learned about meditation used in yoga to calm yourself before a dive. Thinking of colours changing in your mind. If you are able to do this on your first dive I applaud you. The line was set up and we were able to practice duck dives and have a few attempts diving down the line. I was rubbish. I missed the line, which ruined my bearings and became disorientated. Plus my ears were not ‘working’. Returning to the surface Ian had taken on a Dali Lama like stance as he seemed to hover above us in his Kayak. He gave instructions to his lemmings but the overall attitude was that of someone who knew that we were all going to have to practice and also deal with the things in our own time. My fellow student meanwhile found the whole thing quite easy. A natural in fact! It took him no time to get to grips with the duck dive and he could equalise easily. He achieved his target depth in about 15 min and was even comfortable with attaching himself to the line via lanyard. By this point the thought of attaching myself to the line which I could not find would only ensure that my brain would collapse from stress. More dives, more failures.
It was not meant to be like this. Mr Trubridge could rest easy. After having some lunch inland we did some shallow snorkelling and to my relief my ears began to equalise. Shallower dives were easier on the senses too. I began to enjoy it. I tried the depth again. Ian coached and talked me through it. ‘Just keep kicking, don’t stop’. Descending down into the cold and dark I reached the plate by surprise, I could see the sea bed too. As I ascended I felt comfortable with my breath hold. There was no panic, just a sense of calm, and after reaching the surface a massive sense of achievement.
This brief and honest account of my first dive should make a few things clear to people wanting to try freediving. Freediving is a great leveller. It doesn’t matter who you are, freediving will provide a challenge. And 9 out of 10 times that will be a mental challenge. Fellow divers you speak to my not be totally honest about their personal hurdles. And you may not be totally honest with them. That’s called pride. And it’s totally fine. It’s a human thing to do. Later it there will be techniques and then maybe fitness, or maybe mental questions will arise further down the line. I asked Ian how deep he had dived and how he got there. Basically, he said, you can dive 15m so you know you can probably dive to 16 right? And so it goes, slowly building your confidence and depth. How simple.
People who are land locked but love freediving will train their breath holds and work on their fitness. Fitness is a great person comfort cushion. The act of freediving and trying to dive as deep as you can is, in reality, a pretty rare minute of your life where you will be asked to control doubts and fears and truly believe you are capable of doing something you could not do before. This is why I love freediving. For all of the training, for all of the talking yourself up, or down, for all of the you tube videos or day dreams you have it really comes down to that moment where you have to be totally present and aware, safe and strong minded. And each time you dive you surface with a fraction more experience, a fraction more capable.
Freediving is a paradox. How can you be competitive at letting go? For me you can’t, you just let go of being competitive.
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