The AIDA 2 course is described as ‘the most challenging and rewarding’ freediving course by Freediving Planet. On 1–2 of May, my diving buddy and I flew to Moalboal, Cebu in the Philippines, to complete this course that we had started earlier this year in Hong Kong. The dive shop’s description turned out to be a pretty accurate one.
Our Hong Kong pool-based sessions with Freediving Planet instructor Suzy had covered the static and dynamic with fins disciplines, as well as essential theory regarding, physiology, safety and buddy practices. As complete beginners, we had learned to hold our breath for two minutes. We had also swum 40 metres underwater in a pool, using basic scuba fins. All of it was very eye-opening: I was amazed at what could be achieved, even as a complete newbie. However, this was all in a clinical swimming pool environment. It was the third portion of the course that I was most looking forward to — diving vertically down into the ocean.
On our arrival at Moalboal, we discovered the fairly new and very chilled-out dive centre. The fact that such a centre can exist at all is a sign of an increasing awareness and rise in popularity of recreational freediving in Asia. We received a warm welcome from the owner, Jean-Pol Francois, a Belgian champion freediver and former world record holder. He is also currently the education officer on the board of AIDA, so we were in pretty good hands learning to freedive at his centre.
The next morning we went for our first of three open water sessions. In the water, the long freediving fins I had rented felt wobbly and extremely odd, accustomed as I am to stiff, short rubber ‘tec diving’ fins. I felt like the long fins had a mind of their own. Our instructor, the very laid-back Jussi from Finland, got us to warm up with some ‘free immersions’, pulling ourselves head first, hand over hand, down the line. As scuba divers, we never descend head first so equalizing in this position can be challenging for beginners. Then Jussi showed us how to do a proper duck dive — much less of a right angle and more of a fluid s-shaped movement. By the end of the session I was getting the hang of it and I dived down to around 10 metres, following a weighted yellow rope but not touching it, finning all the way. This discipline is known as ‘constant weight’. The fins, which I found hard to control at first and kept sending me into the rope, eventually started to behave themselves as I got a feel for them.
Attempting to take a photo together underwater
We resumed our training in the afternoon with a chat about equalization techniques. All scuba divers know about equalization, i.e. balancing the pressure on the inside and outside of the ear whilst underwater, but aren’t usually aware that there are actually two common methods used: Valsalva and Frenzel. In the former, the diver pushes air from their lungs into the ears using the diaphragm muscle whilst holding their nose. In the latter, only air from the mouth cavity is used, and the diver closes the throat using the back of the tongue and throat muscles. For freediving, Frenzel is the preferred method. Valsalva won’t get you very far without the ‘unlimited’ air supply of a scuba tank: your lungs get compressed as you go down and the diaphragm has less room to move. By chance and luck, I seem to have been using the Frenzel method already for scuba diving so equalization was no hurdle during this course. My buddy, however, who naturally uses the Valsalva method, struggled to descend.
As the second open water session progressed, Jussi kept letting the line down a bit between dives. He didn’t tell us the depth, but at the end of the day, I discovered to my surprise that I’d already made it to 16 metres, the depth requirement for the course. I was so entranced by the shifting and shimmering walls created by the huge, resident school of sardines that I wasn’t really thinking that I had to meet any kind of target.
The third and final session, the next morning, was a lot of fun. Once again, Jussi kept letting the line down little by little. I floated relaxed on the surface. Then, the fins propelled me downwards at quite a pace and the rope whizzed before my eyes. It soon changed from yellow to green and then black where it was wrapped in tape to indicate the bottom of the line. To one side, the reef wall loomed. I paused for about a second and thought how odd it was to see the familiar sight of a reef wall without any scuba gear on. I felt like some kind of impostor. Then a tug on the rope and back up, with the sardines as a backdrop and our instructor coming to meet me in the final part of the ascent for safety. I dived to 20 metres — an easy depth for an experienced freediver but one which would have seemed inconceivable to me a few months back.
With clear warm water, a deep drop-off, the amazing sight of the sardines, and a wonderfully relaxing location, I feel very privileged to have completed my AIDA 2 course in Moalboal. I’ll be back if I can help it!
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