Freediving PB testing the Apneaman Buoy

Last monday I went out diving with a buddy to properly test out the Apneaman Freediving Buoy. Or maybe it’s brand name is Apneautic; hard to say, but it deserves a mention here anyway.

I got the Apneaman Freediving Buoy a couple of months ago. I ordered the complete set with the buoy, inner bladder, 40 meters of rope, weight strap, carabiners and bottom plate. Mainly because it is very competitively priced.

I believe Apneaman is Martin Zajac’s company. Martin Zajac is a freediving athlete, coach, trainer and instructor from the Czech Republic and is competing at the Vertical Blue competition this year (held this and next week). I would imagine he can properly test (and stands behind) the gear he sells.

Since there is not a lot to find about this freediving buoy on the internet I decided to make an unboxing and first real use video about it (see below). “Firs real use” in the sense that I did use it once or twice before for some shallow and exploration dives.

As you can see in the video, the first buoy that arrived had a problem with the velcro. The Apneaman staff assured me this was something that happened rarely, if ever. Their service and understanding was exceptional and they sent out a new buoy within 24 hours. Not to mention that after I sent the faulty one back, they fully reimbursed my shipping costs. So… big props to Martin and the guys at Apneaman!

Now, to the diving. I took the complete set out; buoy, bladder, rope, bottom plate, weight strap, the whole lot. It was also a good opportunity to learn something about rope handing (line handling?). And well… that sh*t ain’t all that easy, guys! But I’m getting better at it and I plan to do a video about it soon.

My buddy (a PADI master freediver) and I swam to the furthest end of the dive zone at the Vinkeveense Plassen. We let down the rope with 9kg (+/- 20lbs) of lead attached until I touched the bottom. After we got the rope tight and right, we started warmin up.

We did some free immersion dives first, then some constant weight dives. In between we tried a couple of FRC dives. I tried FRC for the first time and went to 9.6m on it. It’s a strange sensation and you get to free fall very early. Also, FRC helps practising the right equalization technique, but comes with some risks and needs to be done with care and preferably with someone who can guide you through it.

IMG_1507

I did the final constant weight dives with full lungs again and managed to reach the bottom plate! With which I also set a new personal best constant weight dive to 18.8 meters (61.6ft) of depth!

If you’ve been following this blog, you might wonder how I fared with equalizing at that depth. If you haven’t been following the blog: equalization didn’t come easy for me, as you might also be able to guess from the titles of some of my previous blog posts.

As with lots of acquired skills I believe it takes some time for the brain and body to realise what is expected of it. In that sense the old adagium “practice makes perfect” holds true for anything you want to become proficient at in life.

When you train regularly and your mind and body are getting used to float about deeper and deeper under the surface of any body of water (even if it’s green, dark and murky), you get more relaxed, you start to have more time to feel what is happening inside. This makes it possible to process new things and adapt.

Together with my buddy I figured out it I was sometimes slightly opening my glottis and transitioning back to valsalva equalization at a certain depth. So focusing on not doing that and sticking to the frenzel I got deeper and deeper more comfortably, until I reached the bottom plate.

I won’t lie to you and say that equalisation didn’t become more challenging near the end (as before it became more challenging near the previous “end”), but I didn’t feel any uncomfortable pressure or pain. And that’s how going a bit further every time and getting used to it, relaxing into it, is how we will creep a bit further away from the surface every time we practice. Slowly.

Malta Two & Three

I’ve been on Malta since Monday. By now I have done three freedive sessions. In this blog post I want to tell you about the second and third session. You can read about my first night and first session here.

I write this post sitting really comfortably at Ghajn Tuffieha bay. Today I have been mountain biking around the North of Malta and ended up here for a while. I must say it’ll probably be a tough trip back. My legs are already tired and I have to cross the island again, with some considerable head wind to be expected. And don’t mind the saddle pains that’ll probably cut up rough (is that correct English?). Hashtag Yolo…

IMG_1005

So… let’s start with Wednesday. Malta Two. Together with AIDA instructor David Watson (remember him from Malta One?) I decided to just do some relaxed exploring this day and not bother with line dives. This was an good idea, since it took my mind of the whole equalization thingy.

We dove at the same dive-spot and swam along the reef where he showed me some beautiful spots under some rocks. The most amazing organisms grow away from direct sunlight. They have colours ranging from greyish blue, green, orange and bright red. At two spots there were some swim throughs he pointed out, both around 10 meters deep. After David swam through them and I prudently scouted them out, I managed to do the same. It’s awesome fun! And isn’t this what we all do it for: being in the water, seeing beautiful things and having plain fun?

The dives went pretty well and I reached 14.3 meters at one point with a 1:02 minute dive time (I do tend to hang around for a while to see what’s to see). Around that depth equalization becomes a bit more challenging. Towards the end of the session David tried to spot us some octopuses or cuttlefish, but unfortunately he didn’t. And my eyes are definitely not trained to do so (yet…).

In the afternoon we took some time to do a short equalization workshop. After warming up all the required muscles for a while, we mainly followed a video by Andrea Zuccari and tried to re-enact the explained exercises. I wasn’t too impressed by this workshop, but I guess it did give me some exercises to take home with me.

Malta Three. David is not the most talkative guy out there. He is quite calm and non-intrusive. But in the water he’s in his element for sure. I guess it is also a lot about personal preference, but I don’t mind somebody being a bit more extrovert. That’s why I didn’t mind we were being joined by Denis on the third session (yesterday).

Denis was fulfilling his last requirements for the AIDA three star certificate, which is sort of the equivalent to the SSI level 2 Freediver certificate. Also, he turned out to be a Serb (and half Russian). Which got us talking all the way to the dive-spot. Actually… yesterday was all about the Serbs. I saw some typical Serbian graffiti (samo sloga Srbina spasava) and when I went to have a coffee that afternoon I unintentionally ended up in a bar with a Serbian waiter. Rumour goes there are about 20.000 Serbs on this island… I guess it’s easy to get a working permit here, even if you’re not an EU-citizen (yet).

Anyway, this third dive session was about line dives again. Of course this automatically comes with some nerves for me, because time and time again I hope the equalization will somehow ‘click’ mentally and physiologically. Nothing to do but see what happens, right?

Since this was going to be my last session with David, I took my iPhone with me in a waterproof casing I got at the airport. I supposed it would be a sin to not shoot anything at all. Unfortunately the case of the GoPro had been leaking and the casing of the camera I took to Dive4Life last time has scratched in front of the lens which makes it useless for good underwater shots as well.

Unfortunately filming with the iPhone – through the plastic casing I got – was no real success… This is all I have to show you guys:

So, about the dives. Swimming in towards the buoy setup point Denis pointed out a small octopus. After this day I can honestly say he sees f-ing everything on the sea’s bottom. Then again; he told me he’s been spearfishing for a long time and sometimes even sells the fish he’s speared.

David set the buoy up at the same spot as the first day (above the P29 shipwreck at Cirkewwa). The three of us started out taking turns on the line, of course warming up with some free immersions again. I took it a bit slower and they went better. We did some hangs as well. I did my longest hang around 9 meters with 1:28 minutes dive time. IMG_0982-1

After the warm-ups we started to do constant weight dives. David put the line at 30 meters for Denis, who wanted to increase his depth. He eventually touched the bottom at 31 meters and was happy because this was the shirt number of his favourite NBA player Reggie Miller, haha…

For me, equalizing went better than before. Especially when I got it right from the start, with the right force and a proper rhythm. I regularly passed the 10 meters. I also set a constant weight personal best at 14.9 meters. This dive was amazing because I could see the shipwreck at the bottom from this depth. Pretty impressive, even though it was still at least 10 meters away 🙂

All in all I was quite content with these dives. I do still have some work ahead in order to figure out the equalization beyond the 10 meter marker. It is hard to focus on what I feel exactly and what is happening with the epiglottis and soft palate. Mainly because I’m still thinking about a IMG_0981-1lot of things when diving down. I think maybe my soft palate closes up at a certain depth, possibly because of negative pressure in the mask I didn’t equalize (although I don’t consciously feel it squeezing). Or maybe I lose the tong block somewhere along the way and when I put it back and open the soft palate I might unconsciously open the epiglottis at the same time as well, which might make the air from my mouth ‘escape’ back to my lungs.

These – of course – are things to figure out by doing it more and more and getting a better sense of what I’m doing (wrong) beyond a certain depth. There are a lot of mechanisms at play and controlling new muscles/bodyparts always takes a bit of time. Gradually these things will improve though, as they are already. And believe me: those 20 meters will come close quicker than even I might expect.

Swimming back to shore Denis pointed out a cuttlefish. I truly wouldn’t have spotted it. They are great at camouflage. Denis was able to catch it with his hands, because it moved in a predictable pattern. I tried to make a picture of it, but the iPhone was failing on me. I guess I pressed the sleep button so long it turned off.

The animal kept changing colour, at last even to red (it probably wanted to express anger), but it was really wonderful and the ‘W’ shape of its eyes is fascinating; as if you’re having eye contact with an alien of sorts.

And so this third day of diving ended. Don’t worry about the cuttlefish. Denis set it free and it swam off like nothing happened.

Before this holiday ends, I might do another exploration dive somewhere. By myself or maybe with Denis. If I do, you’ll hear about it here first!

Hasta la next apnea!

IMG_0980-1

Freedive gear drying in the yard of my apartment

Level 1 Freediver

Hi guys!

This blog post is written whilst sitting in the departures hall of Schiphol Airport, waiting for a flight to Malta. If you have read my last blog post, you might remember that between then and now an important day in my freedive journey has or (at least) should have taken place. Unfortunately it is just now that I’m able to come around and tell you about it.

The 29th of March I went to Dive4Life again to do my re-examination for the SSI level 1 Freediver certification. The road to the level 1 certification has been a bumpy one, as readers of this Blog know. This particular week hasn’t been any different.

At the end of the week prior to the re-examination I caught a severe cold. That bummed me out since I already had caught a serious cold earlier this winter and assumed that was going to be it. Now my nose was truly stuffed, and that going into the week of the re-examination. 

For a couple of days I couldn’t do any dry-equalization practice and I was starting to worry about the ‘end well all well’ scenario I had in mind. Even a little seed of doubt is quite disadvantageous in a sport like freediving that has such a substantial mental component. But I wasn’t going to give up that easily. 

My girlfriend told me to steam with Vicks Vaporub every night until the 29th of March; advice I followed up entirely. By the time judgement day neared, I could dry-equalize again, but not with the usual ease. I could still barely breathe through the nose, but a trifle of hope filled my heart and well, what the heck, let’s just try, was what went through my mind. 

Nanja van den Broek (my instructor) sent a pre-dive day e-mail with info and tips in which she advised the snotty ones to bring Otrivin Duo nose spray, just in case. Which I, of course, also did.

One of my buddies from the course last year, that also joined me to Diveworld recently, was coming with to Diveworld the 29th of March. Just to practice, now that she is doing the level 2 and 3 courses this spring and summer, but it was still quite nice to carpool with her (again) and two of the new level 1 students.

Once we arrived at Dive4Life in Siegburg, everything went pretty much in the same order as last time. We started with stretching and relaxation exercises. The first doesn’t seem to do anything but the opposite: stiffen me up (which might actually be a sign I should try it more often). So I just used the relaxation exercises to release the tension the stretching caused. That was that and then we suited up and got into the water.

In the changing room I did spray some Otrivin in my nose in the hope of opening up those airways and relieve the sinuses a bit. I have no clue if it actually worked. I was a bit nervous and nerves don’t help with being aware of all the (micro)sensations that occur in the body.

We started off immediately with head down free immersions. Those were the warm-ups and went pretty comfortably. The first few constant weight dives also went quite trouble free. But then suddenly I got trouble getting my right ear to equalize from ten meters and beyond. To this day I don’t know whether it was the cold I caught that bothered me or something else… Maybe I tensed up because I wanted it so bad and feared to fail again. 

Now, I know what you guys are thinking… It’s not going to happen that he didn’t manage again! Practice makes perfect and if it doesn’t work with the amount of training and time this guy put in, how can anyone with equalization troubles expect to overcome them and properly freedive to a respectable depth? 

Well… Let’s not keep the suspense going until it starts boring us. I have good and bad news. The good news is I did manage! I am officially an SSI certified freediver! The bad news: I’ll have to come back on that last question. However, as you’ll read below, that might be sooner than later.

For an SSI level 1 certification you have to dive between 10 and 20 meters of depth and (we had to) do all the required (rescue) exercises at the 10 meter marker. Luckily I still managed to reach that depth, albeit with variable degrees of ease (or difficulty). Otherwise the execution of the exercises themselves were a walk in the park, as I practiced them effectively at Diveworld.  

Unfortunately I don’t have footage of the course itself, but I do have some short clips of fun and play after we passed the tests. At that point I was knackered and not ready to push myself any further, but it’s still fun to show you guys a short clip:

After getting my certification my cold passed and I kept training and have confidence in my equalization again. The pressure is off and I feel I my Frenzel equalization keeps improving. I hope I can quickly conclude it was indeed the cold that bothered me the day of the re-examination. And the answer to that will also come soon. Why?IMG_5266

I sit here waiting for my flight to Malta. I’m not going there to just lay on the beach. I’ll be doing some training dives with an AIDA master instructor. No exams, certificates and what not. Just training and having fun. I’ll be practicing relaxation and equalization and later this week I hope to give an answer to the question I put in your mouths earlier.

The water is still quite cold though. I packed an extra neoprene body warmer…

Hasta Malta!

Practice makes perfect

As readers of this blog know, my challenge as a beginner freediver has mainly been equalization. This is nothing out of the ordinary as many beginners, scuba- and freedivers alike, struggle with this when they start out exploring the world beneath the water’s surface.

There is good news however and I’m the living proof of it: practice will help you!

If you’re new to this blog and don’t know what troubles I had with equalization, you can read all about it (and how to go about solving equalization issues) in previous posts on this blog. In short: I came from a place where I wasn’t able to equalize at all when diving with my head down.

I started reading about and practicing the Frenzel method for equalization (read more here). I did loads of dry training and to test my progress I went to a 5 meter deep pool every single Monday evening.

As promised before, here is a vid of one of those sessions:

It might seem we are mainly having fun, senselessly blowing bubbles. However, as I said before and probably so in slightly different words: relaxing and having fun is paramount to progress. And let me assure you, we definitely did practice equalization, a lot!

BUT… Of course I wanted to be sure the improvement in my equalization skills was not a fluke. And preferably so before the forthcoming 29th of March. That’s when I’ll be going to Germany again with World Record holder and Freedive instructor Nanja van den Broek to do my re-examination for the SSI Level 1 Freediver certificate. So… how to go about that? How to make sure I can equalize comfortably to the required depth and not go to Germany to be purely decorative again?

My initial idea was to go to the same pool in Germany where we did the deep diving part of the level 1 course (Dive4Life) and where I’d also be doing the re-exam. A great plan A! There I would be able to go deeper than 5 meters, even past the minimum of 10 meters and so be sure. Unfortunately there was just a small, tiny, itty-bitty, little problem…

I called Dive4Life to check if it was possible for me and my buddies to dive there in the near future. I turned out you can’t dive there without at least a level 1 certification. Even if you have two buddies with you that do. Even though I was (and am) bummed out, I must say: props for the strict safety standards they adhere to!

A great plan A doesn’t need a plan B, right? Wrong! Except… I didn’t have one. After discussing this impediment with the buddies that would join me, we decided to send Nanja an e-mail for tips. Turns out she has some good connections at DiveWorld in Enschede, a town in the East of the Netherlands, very near the German border, where they also have a dive tower. There, Nanja said, we’d be able to train with the three of us even with me being a “pool freediver” (already).

I gave DiveWorld a call and told them about our plan and situation. We were more than welcome. And Nanja’s name definitely carries some power! The DiveWorld pool has 10 meters of depth which isn’t as deep as Dive4Life in Germany, but it would definitely be deep enough to get some certainty about the state of equalization affairs.

I texted my two buddies and we decided on a date to go training. But let me not keep you in suspense any longer. It was pretty amazing and exceeded all my expectations! I had no trouble equalizing, we had fun, practiced some rescue dives and other drills for the level 1 certificate. I will truly go to Germany with great confidence. That’s what is was all about after all… and this awesome vid of the day of course(!):

Karamba! Keep you guys posted!

The Dawn of Upside Down Equalization

Almost an impressive movie-title, right?

Well, I can frankly say that there has been a dawn of sorts in my progression. And in this year-ending post I would love to tell you about it.

The first proper upside down (or head down) equalizations happened in a pool in (New) Belgrade, Serbia. I grabbed a couple of opportunities to keep up the training while visiting family in November.

Nearby where I stayed was a large facility called “SRC 11 april”. I think it’s been there for quite some time. It stems from communist Yugoslavia, run by Marshal Tito. And you do indeed get that kind of vibe, both walking up to it and inside: sitting up a hill, built in the days of red Yugoslavia it definitely once was an impressive new complex. Probably exemplary of some supposed superiority and one of the many structures that prided – or at least had to pride – every single Yugoslav citizen.

IMG_0635

SRC 11 April – JP Sportski Centar Novi Beograd

I don’t know exactly why it’s named “11 April”. I can’t find the explanation on its website, but searching the internet narrowed it down to a most likely option. Even though the facility was opened on the 20th of December 1979, it is probably named after the 11th of April in 1948 when the ground was broken on a huge construction project that would give birth to what is known today as New Belgrade. This is a part of Belgrade on the other side of the Sava river and also the part where this facility stands.

Now it’s in moderate to poor upkeep. It probably looks better than it did in the 90’s and right after, but it doesn’t look like it fares as well under capitalism as it did during the particular times of its origin. Be that as it may, it has a bunch of pools, including two Olympic (50 meter) pools. One inside and one outside!

IMG_0602

The Olympic size pool inside

At the pool I did some DNF warm-ups and then started to hang from the side to practice upside down equalizations. I started doing some Frenzel equalizations upright to later push my upper body below the surface and upside down to try it that way. If you read the previous post, you know I was already able to do it this way, but not get a lot further than that, unfortunately.

To help improve my Frenzel equalization technique I did a lot of dry training. It pretty much comes down to practicing your equalizations a couple of times a day, on dry land, wherever, whenever. There are three things that helped and still help me a lot. First is the Step-by-Step Frenzel Technique document by Eric Fattah. Second is a document on Freedive Equalization Training by Oli Christen (let me know if any of the links don’t work). And last but not least, also mentioned in the aforementioned document by Christen: the Otovent. Make sure you take a look at these if you have similar problems.

Starting out with the equalization practice at SRC 11 April I had pretty much the same disappointing sensations I had before, but quite quickly something just clicked! I was able to do an equalization hanging upside down the side of the pool, pretty much at will. This gave me the moxie I needed! I kept repeating the equalization in this position. Come up for air, breathe a bit, push the upper body back down, and repeat…

After a while I started to let myself go of the edge and float to the bottom to equalize. The pool wasn’t too deep at around 2 meters, but perfect to equalize at least once at the bottom. This now also went well and gave me more and more confidence. So I tried it on empty lungs (with a cheek-fill) a couple of times, which I managed off-and-on.

The second time I went to SRC 11 April I found out the previous visit was not (on) just a lucky day with once-only successes. I managed again and again, also on empty lungs, and felt increasingly pleased and positively excited to try upside down equalizations in deeper pools.

To finish off this happy session I decided to try to DNF the length of the Olympic pool. Since I had no buddy, I asked the lifeguard to keep an eye on me. I put my neck-weight on and after a two minute breathe-up I went under and swam the length of the pool without pushing myself all too hard. So I did it again and measured the swim time: a decent 58 seconds.

IMG_0595

Since the lifeguard wasn’t walking alongside the pool with me, I didn’t fully trust the situation to try an even further push. Nevertheless, I was quite happy with the 50 meters and it was a great conclusion to the day.

Back in the Netherlands I was quick to practice again in the 5 meter deep pool I told you about in my previous post. The first time back started out quite disappointing. I was not immediately able to reach the bottom equalizing head down. F*ck this man…, I thought. Somehow I tensed up. Not being relaxed clearly has a detrimental effect to whatever you’re planning below the surface of any body of water. It’s so incredibly contra-productive. And it’s probably also the most confrontational aspect of freediving…

Didn’t some freediver once say: “The scuba diver dives to look around. The freediver dives to look inside.” This quote was definitely not born out of thin air. To even become more than just a novice at this sport – if you can even call it a sport – it’s paramount to be able to look inside and find out what mental barriers hamper and bother you. Which, if you really examine them, they probably do as much on the surface as they do below it.

So… with hindsight it was no surprise that as soon as I started to focus less on frenetically training the upside down equalizations and more on just having fun, blowing some bubble rings and stuff, I suddenly managed! All the way to the bottom! All I had to do next time was to remember to have fun and not allow my high expectations of myself make me tense up again. Hashtag mental note.

In the meantime I have been back to train a couple of times now, with more and more succes. The dawn has solidified. As this winter crosses the border from 2017 to 2018 I’ll keep practicing and hopefully (finally) shoot a couple of vids to show you.

Guys! Have a great party tonight! Happy new year and hasta luego!

 

PS If you’re new to this blog, you can start with my first post here.