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…

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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!

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Freedive gear drying in the yard of my apartment

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.

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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!

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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.

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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.