SSI level 1 – fourth course day (the deep)

If you are new to this blog, you can start with the first post here!

Here we come Dive4Life Germany!

It was a two-and-a-half to three hour drive away from Amsterdam, so I had to rise and shine well before dawn last Friday morning. At a carpooling spot south of Amsterdam three of us two drove to Arnhem in an old-school Volkswagen van. There we switched to a Peugeot (with sky roof) of a fourth member of our group of freediving-students.

A long drive is a great way to get to know people. We definitely had a special group of students, all with fascinating life stories, exactly like you’d imagine of a group of people trying out this niche sport. Talking about and listening to our background stories and the occasional sanitary stop in-between, time flew by pretty fast.

We arrived at the pool in Siegburg around 10 ‘o clock in the morning. Nanja (our instructor) was already there and guided us upstairs where the entrance to the pool was. I rented a wetsuit and walked up to the pool to scout it out.

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It looked so amazing I got excited immediately! The pool is 20 meters deep, decorated with caves and statues and there is a large (fake) shark hanging somewhere in the middle. I’ve truly never seen anything like it.

Before we slipped in our wetsuits Nanja guided us (and some other freedivers that joined this day to have fun and practice) through some stretching and visualisation exercises as a preparation for the dives we were about to make. This relaxed us through and through, but my state of relaxation evaporated pretty much immediately when I tried to get the rented freedive wetsuit on. What a terrible undertaking!

After a lot of hustle the wetsuit finally agreed to constrict my body and I proceeded a bit stiffly towards the edge of the pool to put my fins, weights and mask on. Here Nanja taught us how to check if we had the right amount of weight on our belts. Where I had 4.5kg on my belt in the pool (to be neutrally buoyant at a depth of 10 meters without a suit), I had to lose about 2kg to be (theoretically) neutral at a depth of 10 meters.

Then our group split up in two. The people that were expected to have some troubles with equalization joined Nanja and the others joined the co-instructor. If you read my previous blog posts you can probably guess which group I joined.

We started at the edge of the pool near a buoy that was attached to a 6 meter long rope. Here Nanja asked us to pull ourselves down with our arms and equalize after every pull. This immediately posed a problem for two of us, one being myself (of course, sigh…).

The whole morning Nanja spent figuring out our problem with the equalization. I even went down without a mask for her to see if I could get the pressure to my nose/nostrils, which didn’t seem to be the issue. In the meantime the equalization riddle was solved for my fellow “problem-child”. He was even able to equalize handsfree eventually!

Shortly before lunch Nanja gently informed me that if this equalization problem wouldn’t be solved soon I had to take into account that it might be necessary to come along to Dive4Life another time for a retry. I had already thought of this possibility beforehand to be completely honest, but it would be disappointing nonetheless.

During lunch we did our theoretical exam and all of us passed. So now we all were certified pool-freedivers. Great, I thought, but that’s not what I came to do this course for of course (no pun intended)! I want to master this equalization thing and not have it feel like a boundary to my fun in the water.

I decided to use some Otrivin (nose-spray) to maybe loosen some stuff up that was bothering me, but after a few tries it was clear this wasn’t going to be my day. Nanja told me to go to the 6 meter line where we started at in the morning and keep trying over there. The student that waited for his or her turn at their practice buoy then buddied in the meantime.

As my fellow students were practicing buddy techniques and rescue dives, I was slowly getting a feel for the equalization being head up. My middle ear squeaked and crackled some pretty impressive symphonies and I feel my Eustachian tubes were just very inflexible and rusty (if something like that is even possible).

Soon I went down with ease to the 6 meter anchor point of the buoy. Not too fast, but steadily. I got confident enough to try it upside down again, but no such luck… Back to my reversed free immersion again! With hindsight I think I can acknowledge that my Eustachian tubes need some practice and flexing up, because I have kept trying to dry equalize the last two days and now it goes way easier than last Friday. But now I also realize that I didn’t know how to recognize a successful surface or dry-equalization.

I could allow myself to get sad because I didn’t get the hang of dry-equalization before the deep diving day, but I just learned this last Friday how it’s done and what it feels like. So step by step in the right direction. You win or you learn. And now, hopefully, I have enough awareness to practice equalizing extensively AND upside down before I go for the retry.

Although it sounds like a day filled with problems and disappointment, it definitely doesn’t mean I haven’t had fun! I moved to a longer rope and started doing these free immersions deeper and deeper, successfully equalizing. At one point I borrowed a dive-computer to see how deep I went. Clearly the breath-hold or fear are not going to be issues, since it was a minute plus dive to a reasonable 11.3 meters and that with no stress at all.

Below you can see one of my dives that was possibly even deeper:

We finished the pool session of the day with some play like in the video above. All other group members passed their tests for the full SSI level 1 freediver certification and can now safely buddy each other. I congratulate you! Good work guys!

The adventure didn’t end there however. Back in the locker room I had an even harder time getting the wetsuit off! This is an essential skill in itself. With some help I got the dreaded thing off in the end, even though I almost drowned when it got stuck while I was pulling it over my head in the shower. Wow, definitely not looking forward to doing that again… Another one of the hardships of a freediver 🙂

We had a good dinner with the whole group at a nearby Cuban restaurant before driving back to the Netherlands. Everyone of us was totally knackered. The early rise, excitement, physical effort and amount of breath-holds took their toll.

Looking back it was a very instructive day that taught me a lot. Looking ahead there is still some work to do and I would actually like to practice some more in this awesome pool! It would be good to be certain I can do it when I come along with Nanja for the retry somewhere in the nearby future.

Obviously I’ll keep you guys informed about my progress and all the lessons I learn along the way. But thank god for the internet and Adam Stern:

If you have any questions, tips or suggestions don’t hesitate to comment below! And if you want to get to know a bit more about our freediving instructor, Nanja, you can listen to this podcast by Donny (whose podcasts are absolutely amazing if you are (getting) interested in freediving).

Peace!

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