Yesterday evening I arrived at an AirBnB from hell.
It started with kind of a dirty room in a shared apartment. Sticky cabinets. Blood spatters of squashed mosquitos scattered all over the walls. Then, when the only other present tenant, an Hungarian girl called Sonia, turned off her turbo-folk and I finally managed to fall asleep, I was woken up an tight hour later by two Lithuanian guys arriving ‘home’. After they shook up the shared living room they continued to play some loud house-music and smoke some ganja in their room (right next to mine).
I honestly tried to not be an ‘old guy’ and find a way to sleep through it; totally in vain. After a while I just couldn’t take it anymore. I put some clothes on to knock on their door and ask if they could keep it down. This – unfortunately – didn’t do anything to the volume of the songs they were invariably playing merely thirty seconds each. It did seem to lower the volume of their voices, but that CLEARLY wasn’t the issue… Sigh…
Somehow I fell asleep a seemingly eternal forty minutes later. Just to be woken up by some new activity in the shared living around 1:30am. And, of course, still the familiar house music from the Lithuanians room. After a nail-biting fifteen minutes I just stormed out of my room in my boxers to end this once and for all.
It took a while to get my heart rate down, but then finally some proper night’s rest. Until I heard a mosquito – that clearly wasn’t promoted to a blood stain on the wall – zoom around my head. FML…
Gadangadangadang… Krrrkrkrkrkrkrkrkkrkrrrrrk… 07:25am today. Construction work exactly above the AirBnB apartment I’m staying in! Really?! Yes, really…
That’s it… I just won’t waste any more words on it. I’m changing accommodation tomorrow. So… quick change of subject! This was the dive-spot this morning:
What you see is the outlook from the North West corner of Malta (see image below). The land across the water is the island called Gozo. I chose to start diving sooner rather than later, because the conditions are best first half of the week.
Today I joined AIDA master instructor David Watson (onebreathfreediving.com) for some training dives. All in all it was not a bad day of diving. I found out my equalization is more effective doing a constant weight dive as opposed to the usual free-immersion warm-ups. We kept the depth manageable and focused on finding out what works and doesn’t work when diving head down. Mainly because my right ear sometimes refuses to play ball equalizing.
Tomorrow we’ll continue training and probably spend some time doing an equalisation-workshop. David pointed something out for me to keep in the back of my mind: struggling with equalization is not uncommon in the beginning, not even under some of the most elite freedivers.
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 (read on for some tips that might help you if you’re dealing with head down equalization challenges).
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.
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!
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.
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.
It has been a while since my last post. But don’t fear, I have not been sitting still!
Before the last deep diving day in Germany one of our group members bought all of us some lead grain to make our own neck-weights. There is still a market for those things, because you can’t really buy them anywhere.
So I watched this video by an old bossman called Aharon Solomons and bought the rest of the necessary materials:
It looked something like this when I started out:
The vaseline and the balloons were for a different method of making the neck-weight, as shown in this video:
But… because I’m pretty lazy and the lead dust that came with the lead grain made me freak out a bit (sure, I’m also a bit of an hypochondriac), I decided to follow the Solomons method. Nevertheless, the end result was something to be proud of:
So now all I had to do was find a place to train!
If you have read my previous blog post, you know I have to practice my head-down equalization technique. It might be a partly mechanical and partly physiological problem, but nothing that can’t be fixed. Browsing the internet you can find loads of freedivers (even instructors) that struggled with the same problems when they started out. They are usually keen to share lessons they learned during their journey to eventual success.
What I needed was a pool with decent depth, where I can easily feel if my equalizations are working. Turns out I have a swimming complex nearby with a pool for competitive diving. You know, for the kind of salto diving they do at the Olympics. Those pools need to be a bit deeper than average and this one is 5 meters deep. Should do the job, right?
Last Thursday I took the car and drove there. Walking towards the locker rooms I saw some old fellas (and obviously one grandson) snorkelling in the diving pool. Yes(!), I thought, this means I can go in there (for the website of the swimming complex mentioned the diving pool was usually not open to the public). Once changed into my swimming shorts I immediately entered the area of de diving pool and started going about my business, legs hanging on the edge of the pool and pushing my head down to practice the upside down equalization (slowly). When I managed to do so in this position I let my legs go to slowly drift down to the bottom, meanwhile trying to keep equalizing. Unfortunately I only managed to get half way.
I was trying and doing all sorts of exercises when one of the old guys came up to me to tell me they were from an association of divers that rented this pool for the hour every Thursday evening. He was very interested in what I was doing and I was free to stay and practice, but he also tried to plug me a membership. It finally started to dawn on me why the pool was not completely filled with people having fun jumping from the diving platforms.
I kept practicing until I got too cold to continue. The necessity of a wetsuit became quite clear. I definitely wanted to continue, but simply couldn’t. I did a couple of fast laps freestyle to warm up a bit and ended this evening of practice.
In the meantime I found out how it works with the diving pool and I found some associations that use it for training purposes in the evenings. They are mostly open to new members and have reasonable prices, which means I might still find a good place and time to train this winter, all before I go for the retry to get my SSI level 1 freediver certification at the beginning of next year.
PS For the people new to this blog: you can start with my first post here!