SSI level 1 freediver – 1st course day

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Last Wednesday night everything unsatisfactory about previous week’s introduction to static apnea was made good in the first session of the SSI level 1 course. I think a big part of this was caused by a conscious decision to let all expectations go and to rely on my natural relaxation. This way – I figured – I’d probably have most fun and have the presence of mind to learn the most.

I didn’t want to focus too much on breath-hold performance anymore and even decided to just have a gruelling kickboxing training the night before. This ment a rising muscle soreness in my legs when I left work for diveshop The Wave. Not ideal I guess, as muscle pains probably ask for their share of oxygen during the recovery process.

Mischa the dog recognized me as I entered the diveshop and was rewarded with a last bite of the dried sausage stick I was still chewing on. The owner of the shop also recognized me, but wasn’t rewarded…

This time the class (consisting of a group of six enthusiastic newbies and our instructor Nanja) did start around 18:30 hours; with some theory. Nanja was now clearly teaching within the confines of the SSI training program. The first powerpoint slide clearly displayed the SSI Diver Diamond with the SSI training philosophy and we had to fill in and sign some SSI forms before beginning with the fun part.

Nanja mainly discussed the equipment side of the Diver Diamond and she taught us the differences between conventional scuba- and freediving-gear. It helped we were in an actual diveshop that had some of the stuff. She made us guess at almost all the reasons for differences between scuba- and freediving-gear. The majority of the story sounded quite familiar, since I studied the digital course material over the weekend, but time flew by nevertheless and before we knew it we had to relocate to the swimming complex a couple of towns away.

“Look for the white VW Polo in the parking lot and come and get the gear you don’t have yourselves,” Nanja had said before we left the diveshop. And indeed, upon arrival at the pool’s parking lot there she stood, ready with the trunk of the white Polo open, totally stuffed with lead, fins, masks etc. I practically handbrake-turned my old barrel into one of the parking bays, grabbed a lead belt and anxiously rushed inside to get changed.

A bunch of waterpolo players were still training in the big pool. In the shallow kids-area (us Dutch call it: “pierenbadje“) there were some profi-looking people in black wetsuits doing something I (since last week) immediately recognized as static apnea’s. It turned out they were members of a freediving club that rents the big pool for training on Wednesday evenings. Nanja in turn rents a couple of lanes for these SSI courses from the club so she can guarantee the space necessary for our pool-sessions.

As the waterpolo players finished up their training, we started doing some breathing exercises while seated on our towels. The goal was to get a relaxed breathing rhythm going, all “through the belly”, where the exhale had to be twice as long as the inhale.

So, for example: you put one hand on your chest and one on your stomach to check whether you truly solely breathe with/through your belly and then you count the time of your inhale and try to make a passive but controlled exhale that takes twice as long. You should find a rhythm that doesn’t make you really-really-really want to breathe normal again after doing it for a couple of minutes or so. For most people the ratio is 3/6, 4/8 or 5/10 inhale to exhale.

Let Adam Stern explain you something about this:

Next up was practicing the full inhale. A full (100%) inhale is done in three stages, with pursed lips (as if sucking through a large (thick smoothy) straw) and is the last inhale you do before going under. The first stage being: totally filling up the lower part of the lungs with the inhale through the belly; the second: continuing or expanding the inhale to the chest; and the last: using the last bit of the upper lungs you have by kind of feeling as if you are filling up your throat on the last part of the inhalation.

The notorious recovery-breath was last but not least of the breathing exercises. The recovery-breath is the way you have to execute your first three in- and exhales when you surface from a breath-hold dive. It is hugely important to re-oxygenate the right way after surfacing, since it prevents blackouts and loss of motor control. So extremely important even, that Nanja keeps telling us: “Merely learning a decent recovery-breath is worth the course-fee.”

And then Nanja said: “Put three kilograms on your weight-belt and wear it cool, like a teenager does his trousers.” Followed by: “Fins and mask on and jump in the pool!”

Now we came to fine-tune the amount of weight we needed on our belts to stay under without too much effort. I had to put on an extra kilo to make it doable, but I still felt a bit too positively buoyant. It might be some remnant of fat here and there, but for my ego I’ll keep carefully maintaining the big lungs theory.

As soon as everyone was weighted properly we started doing dynamic swims to the other side of the pool. Meanwhile Nanja swam along above us and gave us (physical) tips to (also) fine-tune our techniques. Sometimes I felt hands pushing my head in a different position or pulling my arms more alongside my body than I had been holding them. It’s quite a strange experience to get these kind of directions while being under water, but it works wonders for your awareness of what you’re actually doing (wrong).

Of course every now and then I made mistakes even before disappearing under water. It provoked some hard laughs from Nanja and the group when I did an awesome, highly focused, huge motherf*cking full inhale and dove under to realize I forgot to put my mask on! Sigh… Start over.

It’s safe to say that properly using bi-fins is not as simple as it might seem, nor is holding your head in the most hydrodynamic position. But the arm stroke Nanja taught us next was even more challenging. Without using our legs we had to swim to the other side of the pool using this newly-learned technique and do so with the least amount of strokes possible. The whole group laughed when I asked whether we had to do this with our heads under or above the water. “What did you sign up for here!” I guess you can blame a guy for thinking that you might practice a technique on the surface first 🙂

After practicing this arm stroke a couple of laps and getting some efficiency pointers, I managed to swim one length in the 25 meter pool using about eight to nine strokes. Which is still quite a lot, but not all too bad. Of course my talented buddy from the previous week (remember her?), who was also the only familiar face in this new level 1 group, managed to do it in a stroke or two less…

Unexpectedly Nanja decided to end the first pool session with a BANG and made us race (yes, again, underwater of course!), which was great fun! And we definitely have some competitive spirits in the group!

Back in our regular human clothes, we gathered around a table near the bar of the swimming complex. We still had to log our first (free)dive in the SSI-app and hadn’t completely finished the theoretical part of this first course day. Nanja nonchalantly sipped from her well deserved post-instruction beverage, opened her laptop and finished the presentation.

Seemingly out of nothing Nanja dropped a big pile of old wetsuit parts on the table, so we could get a feel for the different materials and densities. This was the finale of the first course day, which ended with Nanja giving advice on the right suit to buy for Dutch open waters (brrr…) – after she made us guess, obviously!

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