Freediving @ Vinkeveense Plassen #2

I’m up 36,000ft in the sky while writing this blog update; barely having survived a Serbian wedding and now halfway a full day of travel to get to my girlfriend in Spain. 

It’s been a while, and I wanted to let you guys know what’s up before reporting on this coming holiday where I hope to do some nice Mediterranean dives and hopefully film some.

Don’t think I went for a freediving break up until now. No, no… I have been training at least once a week for the last couple of months. All in the green, murky waters of Vinkeveen. 

We might have found the deepest spot within the diving area over there. That I know, because I touched bottom and took some mud back to the surface. And by doing so also setting a new personal best of 23.7 meters! 🙂

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Dives of around 18 meters come more easily and regularly now. I found out that as to go deeper I have to focus quite a bit on keeping the glottis (or is it the epiglottis, still don’t f**king know) closed, but also not forget to equalize the mask at some point. Slowly and steadily I’m getting to finetune this whole Frenzel equalization process. Next goal is to get super comfortable between 20 to 25 meters.

Every now and then we still hang around the buswreck though. A backdrop like that is a bit more appealing for the images, since it is absolutely pitch black down around those 18 meters and deeper. On one of our training sessions a scuba diver (from the dive school of my regular buddy) came along. He was interested to shoot some freediving stuff and ended up editing this short movie:

By now I’ve also introduced some friends to freediving. They all seem intrigued but everyone seems to struggle with equalization, even the guys with some prior scuba experience. Which makes me wonder why equalization has not yet really been made a part of the level 1 freediving courses. I would definitely make it part of one if I’m ever to become an instructor. Pinky promise. 

As for my travel today I can say that carrying this huge bag that can hold all the gear (including fins) is plain hell… They should give these things good straps and maybe a back carry possibility like the North Face duffles do. But let’s just assume it’ll be all worth it 🙂 And I do sincerely hope it arrives at Malaga, because it’s been turning around on the Paris airport luggage belts for four hours during my overlay. 

For now I will leave you guys with this and my latest video:

Hasta luego!

PS My luggage with gear arrived!

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:

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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 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

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:

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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!

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.

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:

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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:

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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!