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.

A place to train

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:

IMG_0506

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:

IMG_0512 kopie

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?

2trert08Last 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.

Cheers!

 

PS For the people new to this blog: you can start with my first post here!