Croissants and static apnea

Start with my first blog post here!

Last Tuesday the day came! My first official, real-life contact with Freediving!

I prepared by listening to the podcasts by The Freedive Café and buying myself the Mares Viper freediving and spearfishing mask. So after work, being totally excited, I drove my old little car to diveshop The Wave. There we (being me and some other newbies) would get a pre-level 1 course introduction to static apnea. An example:

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The Mares Viper mask

Upon early arrival (18:00h) at the diveshop I immediately asked if there was any place nearby to get something quick to eat. I figured that going the rest of the evening without dinner would not be all too beneficial for my physical and mental state. I got me some croissants and a small bottle of water at the supermarket around the corner and returned to the diveshop, after all: Nanja’s e-mail stated we would start at 18:30 hours.

Sitting in the diveshop, eating my croissants and reading through some dive-magazines, time went by. 18:30… 18:40… You get the picture. Was I early or did the location change? The owner of the diveshop couldn’t tell me more than that he had indeed received a message from Nanja that she would give the introduction at the diveshop this evening.

Best thing was to text Nanja. It turned out she had made a mistake in the e-mail she had sent me and that the course would start around eight ‘o clock. Hmmm… now I had to entertain myself for at least another hour in a practically empty diveshop, already having eaten all my croissants and not really being grasped by the dive-magazines!

Well… let’s just say this way I at least had plenty of time to digest most of my makeshift dinner and luckily the owner of the shop was quite talkative. And he had a young dog called Mischa, that took a liking to me after I gave her a piece of ham from my ham & cheese croissant. This, together with checking out the freediving corner in the diveshop, made time go by reasonably fast.

Sauntering around the shop and putting some other freediving masks on my face I figured out the Mares X-Free mask fitted me way better than the Mares Viper I bought for this adventure. Just putting the X-Free against my face made it stick like glue and pinching the nose (for eventual equalization) was easy and effortless. So I guess I’ll order one of those in the near future and sell or give away the Mares Viper.

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Mares X-Free masks

Finally Nanja arrived and one by one the other students trickled in. Clearly they were correctly informed about the right time of commencement. In total we were with a group of seven students, consisting of two guys and a girl my age (30) along with a man and woman I respectively estimate being between his mid to late forties and her late fifties. Not all of us would start the SSI level 1 course in October. Some didn’t decide yet and just wanted to get a taste first. Others would start the level 1 course in November.

We took a seat in a small classroom with a large screen and started with writing down our estimates about our breath-hold times on a sheet of paper. Most of us did so conservatively. Then Nanja gave a kind of general presentation about freediving. She showed us a short film of her world record variable weight freedive and told the background story of why and how she came to perform this successful attempt. Next we did some breathing exercises to get us to be more aware of what we do when we breathe, how to get a relaxed ventilation going and how the recovery breath works.

After this “theoretical” part of the introduction we slipped in some wetsuits the diveshop provided and jumped into a small water tank in the back of the shop. It was not larger than maybe 2.5 by 5 meters and around 2.2 meters deep. The owner of the diveshop told us the waterpump hadn’t been working all day and therefore the water temperature would be colder than expected. It was around 21 degrees Celsius.

Nanja made us “buddy-up” and get the stopwatches out. The idea was that we didn’t focus too much on the breathe-up. Instead we had to spend as much time under water as possible. With our heads below the surface we would learn the most. Not only about all the sensations that go with a breath-hold, but also about how we deal with them, ergo: ourselves. To avoid too much focus on time or competitiveness we had to time our buddies, remember their best time, but not tell them anything about the time or how it compared to their previous breath-hold. We would get to know our best breath-hold times from our buddies at the end of the intro-class, so we had no clue about how long we stayed under water and how it compared to the others until the very end.

Beforehand, during the theoretical part of the evening, Nanja gave us some examples of usable mental techniques to enhance relaxation or distract from the urge to exhale/inhale. She suggested visualizing relaxing previous experiences, singing songs in our heads, conscious muscle relaxation and more. Before we started the water-session, I decided I would try to visualize myself reading a book while laying down. This activity usually makes me so relaxed that I pass out into a peaceful sleep without exception.

In the water however, nothing of the sort worked for me. The little pool was a bit cold, crowded and Nanja was checking on everybody and giving them tips. I was too distracted by the noises around me and couldn’t really shut them out. I realized afterwards that I did my breath-holds with eyes closed, while my personal best was done eyes open, no wetsuit, arms crossed over my belly.

I felt the diaphragm contractions started (too) quickly, but of course I had no idea of time. I didn’t seem to have the focus to consciously do (or force) any of the mental exercises. The lack of focus also showed in the lack of control and right execution of the recovery-breaths. In short: in total I did four breath-holds, all purely on character (read: will-power). I guess this all also told me something about myself, but I’m yet to discover what exactly…

Meanwhile I was really impressed with my buddy! She nailed her recovery-breaths throughout and did a 3:14 minutes breath-hold in her last try!  Even though her last try was quite a chaotic affair, with Nanja talking to her and touching her quite a bit, even holding her hand at one point. But maybe that was exactly the magic freedivers-touch she needed, distracting her from the urge to come up and ventilate.

As the end of the introduction drew near, I got more and more curious about my best breath-hold time of the evening. How did I compare to others and did this older guy indeed hold his breath for over four minutes or did I just imagine so because of how distressed he looked surfacing a couple of times?

My buddy didn’t seem too surprised when I told her she had held her breath for 3:14 minutes. She did however hesitate to tell me my time. This was because it ended up being shorter than hers at a displeasing 3:03 minutes. My buddy probably thought I would be bummed out because I “lost” to a woman, but my disappointed mainly emanated from the fact I just couldn’t focus and didn’t improve on my hobbyist-holiday personal best of 3:10 minutes.

So what did the rest of the group do? The guy I imagined doing over a four minute breath-hold surprisingly had a best breath-hold time of 2:16 minutes. So overall my 3:03 minutes still amounted to the third longest breath-hold of the group. My buddy’s time being the second longest behind an impressive 3:50 minutes by one of the two guys my age. Especially since he estimated his initial breath-hold time at 1:30 minutes at the start of the class and claimed not to have any experience with (free)diving whatsoever. Hats off to you sir!

The evening came to an end after washing out the wetsuits, putting back on our earthly clothes and shortly evaluating with Nanja. As I drove home, even though having mixed feelings about the way this evening went for me, I looked forward to next week, when the level 1 course really starts and the small water tank at the diveshop gets traded in for a proper swimming pool.

“It might be good this whole apnea thing is more difficult than expected,” I remember thinking. I might actually find out some things about myself and the way I handle stuff outside the zone of comfort. After all, wasn’t it T.S. Eliot (sorry, don’t know too much quotes by freedivers yet…) who said: “If you aren’t in over your head, how do you know how tall you are?”

This weekend I’ll finish my digital learning module on the SSI app and you guys will hear more from me soon! Ad interim: don’t eat to many croissants. Carbohydrates are bad for you!

First blog post

Hi there!

So… coming Tuesday I’m starting a freediving course!

I won’t lie. I am a little nervous. I have my PADI Open Water license and I am usually quite comfortable in the water, but diving down at least 10 meters on one breath – which is required for the SSI level 1 certification – will probably have its own challenges and obstacles to overcome. Not only the breath hold itself, but also pressure reducing my lung volume and equalization will be things to deal with simultaneously, mostly being head down.

Okay then, so what motivated me to sign up for this stuff? I guess there a couple of factors that did so. First of all, and I guess this is a genuine prerequisite, I love to be in the water. Secondly, I want to improve my overall snorkeling skills, mainly because to me  scuba diving feels like a restricted way of being in the water and requires a shitload of gear. And last but not least: the act of breath holding has fascinated me as long as I can remember.

I have a decent breath hold time (3:10) for someone who hasn’t trained breath holds. Will that help me? I don’t know. We’ll see. I have no experience freediving. None whatsoever. Sometimes I have troubles equalizing quickly, especially descending the first 5 meters. And I truly have no idea whether I might have the least amount of talent for it. However, for some reason I feel I have to document this new, kind of exciting thing I’m trying out here. Hopefully it inspires or at least entertains some of you out there. Or, depending on my experiences, restrain you from ever trying freediving and/or reading this blog or anything about the subject ever again.

But let’s not get caught up in any hypothetical doom and gloom, because my teacher is a world class freediver. Her name is Nanja van den Broek and she is the world record holder in the variable weight discipline for women! So the guidance shouldn’t be the problem here. It does imply I’m embarking on this adventure in the Netherlands, where the water outside is too cold for these kind of adventures most of the year. In October this problem gets solved with swimming pool sessions and a deep diving day in dive4life, a 20 meter deep diving pool just over the border in Germany. Not as cool as diving down some open tropic waters, but cool anyway!

So… if you want to follow me on this journey, just press the follow button in the right column. More to come after my first day!