Photo: Instructor teaches duck-diving technique; © Emilie Pavey
I think most scuba divers have a secret fascination with freediving. I personally have watched more than my fair share of freediving youtube clips, marvelling at the divers’ synergy with the liquid environment. So when a scuba diving buddy suggested we give it a try this year, I was more than willing to join her.
AIDA 2 star freediver
We signed up for the AIDA 2 course with Freediving Planet. This couse is an introductory freediving certification for those who are already experienced scuba divers (and therefore comfortable in the water, able to equalise, use a snorkel, etc.) The course consists of several segments: theory, pool training and open water. So far we have completed the theory and pool sessions here in Hong Kong, and we will travel to the Philippines to complete the course later this year.
Static apnea for beginners
Our first pool session back in January was for static apnea training. I had prepared for the course theory by studying the handouts from our instructor, Suzy, but I had not read a great deal about the AIDA 2 certification itself. I assumed that we would learn some techniques and safety procedures, but I did not realise I would have to demonstrate any kind of performance — so after some poolside warm ups, when Suzy said we would prepare for our two minute breath hold, I was quite taken aback! Two whole minutes seemed like a superhuman feat for a complete beginner. The last time I had tried holding my breath and timing myself I must have been about ten years old. I’m pretty sure just one minute back then was nearly impossible.
After learning how to practice safely with a buddy, we began building up to two minutes. It was a very curious experience, slightly marred by the fact that I felt too cold, even wearing a full-length wetsuit in an indoor heated pool. (Apparently, scuba diving wetsuits are no good for freedivers!) Other than that, I felt quite relaxed. After warming up with some one minute holds which turned out to be much easier in the water than those of my childhood recollections, I managed two minutes on my second attempt. I remember feeling that I was floating across the pool (when in reality I wasn’t really moving) and this feeling kind of lulled me into a semi stupor. When the urge to breathe became unbearable and I popped up, and my training buddy told me I had managed two minutes and thirteen seconds, I was very surprised. I had lost track of time.
Dynamic apnea with fins
Who has not, as a child, tried to swim the entire length of the pool underwater? I tried many times but I don’t think I ever made it. Then again, I wasn’t wearing fins at that time!
Our second training session consisted of learning the basics of the dynamic discipline, which is distance-based and practiced in a pool. At our basic level, ordinary scuba fins were suitable for us to practice. The training began with rescue techniques and buddy safety procedures, and then we started to prepare for a distance of 40 metres. I was better informed this time so this didn’t come as a surprise! Starting with single 25 metre lengths was not too taxing. However, when it came to the 40 metre attempt, I was caught off guard by sheer difficulty of the second part of the dive and how quickly my energy was drained. I managed it but it made me realise how important it is to train and build up an awareness of your body’s reaction during the dive.
Last week my buddy and I returned for an additional training session (see photo above) and we were both able to repeat the 40-metre distance. Suzy also diagnosed our weaknesses; I will need to work on my finning technique. Apparently experienced scuba divers tend have poor freediving finning, as a result of so much frog-kicking. Just when you think you have mastered one thing, you have to start all over again from scratch for another!
This taster of apnea has made me realise that a lot of dedication is required to improve in freediving. I suspect that it’s not enough to only attend sessions in the pool — if I want to improve, I will need a more holistic training programme to improve my cardio fitness as well as relaxation techniques. I will also have to invest in dedicated (and expensive) gear! While I have found the pool disciplines quite satisfying, and surprised myself at what it is possible to achieve even as a beginner, I am more eager to complete the ocean portion of the course, because that is where my heart lies. Watch this space for updates.
If you enjoyed this post, please do follow this site by ‘liking’ its facebook page to receive future updates, or subscribe by email (scroll down, bottom right). Thank you!