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 #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 plan to do some nice Mediterranean dives and hopefully film some.

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

We might have found the deepest spot within the diving area there. I know this because I touched bottom and took some mud back to the surface, and by doing so also set 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 to go deeper I have to focus quite a bit on keeping the glottis (or is it called the epiglottis, I 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.

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’s 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 the huge bag that can hold all the gear (including fins) is plain HELL… They should give these things good straps and maybe a back (rucksack) carry possibility like the North Face duffles do. 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:

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 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:

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!