SSI Level 2 freediving course (Tenerife)

The first posts on this blog are about my first introduction to freediving and the (bumpy) road to completing the requirements for the level 1 certification. However, after you achieve one milestone, you need to aim for another. Logical… But before doing so, you better know you can meet the requirements. That much I learned from my first course…

A good one and a half year into my freediving practice I felt ready to start the level 2 course. But where?

I decided to do it somewhere near the sea and after a lot of Googling and YouTubin’, checking ticket and accommodation prices, I chose Atlantis Freediving on Tenerife.

Tenerife is a small island in the Atlantic Ocean, part of the canary islands, and under Spanish rule. It has multiple freediving schools. The most famous are Apnea Canarias, owned by Spanish record holder Miguel Lozano, and Atlantis Freediving, a school connected to the Freedive International franchise.

The choice between the two was based on a buddy’s advice. She had spent quite some time on Tenerife and had some experience with both schools. She liked the location of Atlantis Freediving better (sheltered) and even though she had not done an official course with them (just some fun dives) they had left a good impression. Also, they have a shipwreck very close to shore. Enough reasons for me 🙂

This was going to be my first course in the ocean. Sea even. And it definitely came with some nerves. The requirements for the SSI level 2 freediving certification are:

  • Academic (online course material, theorie classes and exam);
  • Dynamic swim of at least 55 meters;
  • Static breath hold, minimum of 2:30 minutes;
  • Safety/rescue at 15 meters;
  • Hands only ascent from 15 meters;
  • Mask off ascent from 15 meters;
  • Constant weight dive to 20 meters minimum.

None of these numbers intimidated me anymore, but when you ‘must’ to do them, it is a different story. One of performance under slight pressure.

The first things that will come to light under these kind of circumstances are your weakest points. Compare it to a tennis player and his weakest stroke. In tense situations that stroke will fail on him first, and will therefore be exploited first, as you have an opponent in tennis.

Luckily there is no opponent other than yourself in freediving. But then again: aren’t you always your own biggest opponent in doing/achieving anything? Clichés are clichés for a reason. Dealing with yourself; your abilities and your beliefs is therefore paramount in taking up any challenge, if you’d ask me…

As the avid reader of this blog knows: my weak point was equalization. And even though I have gotten a better understanding of it through my practice, ánd even though I’m (by now) definitely more proficient at it than the average person: there are multiple levels to equalization for freediving. True mastery of equalization is still a somewhat enigmatic feat.

One thing is for sure though: equalization and relaxation are linked together and influence each other in a big way. So… well…: my equalization worked sufficiently to meet the requirements, but it definitely was a negative factor for my relaxation (and the other way around probably).

Fortunately, the instructor at Atlantis Freediving, Pavol Ivanov, had been dealing with the same sort of problems at the start of his freediving journey. Which made him exactly the right person to do this course with. He immediately noticed how I tried to ‘help’ my frenzel with a valsalva like push as soon as it became more challenging in depth. This is an ineffective technique, disruptive to your focus and can cause problems with the trachea (hoarse throat) and lungs (possible squeeze).

With some pointers and a couple of exercises Pavol gave me (probably the most import things I learned this course), I slowly started to get a better feeling for it and unnecessary movements and sounds started to disappear. After the three days it ‘clicked’ even more. I feel Pavol left me with some tools to take the next steps in developing a potent and consistent frenzel equalization that can take me to at least 30 meters. Kudos Pavol!

So now you might still wonder: did you meet ALL requirements and get your level 2 certification?! I will no longer keep you guys in suspense: I DID meet all my level 2 requirements (even swam 75 meters dynamic) and am now officially an advanced freediver 🙂

Of course I got a hell of a lot of other pointers as well, concerning finning and freefall techniques, as well as possible improvements to make to my recovery breaths. Things that improved during the course and things to keep improving and paying attention to on my way to an eventual level 3 course. Basically it comes down to: keep finetuning every aspect of your freediving. That figures, if you want to become a master freediver, right? Yes. Yes, it does.

Below some footage to get a sense of freediving around Tabaiba:

If you have any questions or need some information, don’t hesitate and comment below or send me a personal message!

Hasta luego amigos!

Goals set, Goals met (NYE-post)

December 31st, 2018.

No better day to look back and contemplate a year of freediving.

In October 2017 I started on a journey to learn freediving and took you by the hand as much as possible. It hasn’t all been smooth sailing, mainly because equalization of the middle ear didn’t come naturally for me. I had to grab every possible opportunity to learn about it and practice quite a bit. You can read about the whole process on this blog and hopefully it will help or has helped some of you out there.

When I first tried for my level 1 freediving certification I couldn’t equalize upside down at all. So I failed miserably. The bottom of the Dive4Life dive tower seemed very far away, reaching it so unattainable. However… in the back of my mind two primary goals formed: getting my level 1 certification one way or the other, and touching the bottom of the 20 meters deep pool in Germany.

After quite a bit of practice in between, in March of this year I went back to Dive4Life to do the re-examination for my SSI level 1 freediver certification. Luck was not on my side. I was having a proper nose cold that, together with the pressure to finally meet the requirements, had taken away all relaxation I so sorely needed. But all’s well that ends well. And so it did. Goal number one reached!

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to kill two birds with one stone. I’d have to return one day to truly conquer the pool by reaching the bottom.

In the meanwhile I have written about my summer practice in the Vinkeveense Plassen (one and two) and reaching new PB’s, but in my last post I left the readers at a Paris overlay ahead of a holiday in Spain, ending with a post scriptum hint that my luggage (full of freediving gear) did arrive at Malaga airport. Behold below the result of two good days of diving with my girlfriend’s brother who knew to find all nooks and crannies (watch in HD):

You can see the visibility was great and most beauty is to be found in shadowy places 🙂

I was really looking out for some encounters with octopuses. Which are a lot harder to spot than you might think. Especially if you don’t have that spear-fisherman’s eye… Unfortunately I got an ear infection soon after above images were shot and had to stop diving for a couple of days 😦 That was a huuuuge bummer.

The last couple of days I was able to enter the water again and I still kept on the lookout for octopuses. Sadly without having my camera with me, it was only on the last day of the holiday I had an encounter, but a long one that lasted maybe fifteen minutes. A small octopus in shallow water, constantly changing his colours, moving and settling, squirting ink when I came too close for his liking. What fascinating creatures.

After this holiday, going into autumn, regular diving had quickly stagnated. The outdoor waters of the Netherlands were still okay for a while, but the weather out of the water became too harsh to truly keep enjoying dives outside. Hoisting oneself in and out the wetsuit on the water’s edge became too cold a undertaking to keep it an enjoyable experience.

So what better to do than go back to Dive4Life and finally touch summit (read: bottom) there? Exactly: nothing… So when I was invited to come with some buddies I met at the Vinkeveense Plassen last summer, I took a day off work on the 7th of December and joined them for a day of diving in the pool in Siegburg, Germany.

What can I say… both goals were reached this year that day 🙂 I filmed it all (except for the shot of me freefalling) so best to join me in this predominantly POV-video and see for yourself:

And… you might ask, what about new goals? Any new years resolutions? Well… Next year I plan to get comfortable between 25-30 meters and possibly get my level 2 certification. I’ll keep you guys posted and I’ll keep the video’s coming. Oh yeah, and also, as a last but not least: I’m planning a couple of gear reviews for you guys!

Till next year! Best wishes, keep diving and keep safe!

Freediving @ Vinkeveense Plassen #1

In the Netherlands we have water. A lot of it. We have the North Sea to the west. We have canals, lakes, rivers, swamps and whatever else more that consists of water. And whether you believe it or not: this country is actually below sea level at some spots.

To the south of Amsterdam we have the Vinkeveense Plassen (equals/= the lakes of Vinkeveen). From the sky it looks something like this:

VInkeveen

I came here a lot growing up, because my grandfather used to rent a small patch of land with a caravan in Vinkeveen. He also had a small sailing boat which we took out on the lake quite regularly.

Now I (re)discovered this place as an pretty awesome (free)dive spot. It has pretty clear water for Dutch standards and there is a dedicated spot for scuba divers (no boats allowed). They sank some interesting stuff there. Most notably an old bus.

Of course, as most lakes do, it has a thermocline. And it does get cold. But, as you pass this thermocline you also enter a space where the visibility gets even better. It’s definitely worth the while.

In short: this will be a great spot to practice this summer! Here is some first footage:

Malta One

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:

Naamloos

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. Naamloos2All 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.

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!