After taking my AIDA 2 cert, I was still intrigued with freediving and keen to start preparing for AIDA 3. My recent disaster trip to Moalboal didn’t put me off. So when my instructor Suzy (of Freediving Planet) posted a local open water training session for this Saturday in Sai Kung, I signed up straight away. I spend a lot of my weekends underwater in Hong Kong but I am normally equipped with a tank of air, so I was pretty curious to see my local waters with a different perspective!
Weather conditions were great as we headed out aboard Mandarin Divers’ boat: 30 degrees, blue skies and calm water. Forty-five minutes later we reached Basalt Island (火石洲), a site I have never had much luck with in scuba — invariably the vis has been poor. When we gathered around the buoy at the start of our morning freediving session, one of my buddies stuck his head in the water and exclaimed, ‘I can’t see my fins!’ No surprises there then.
The four of us started off in the typical way, taking turns to do free immersions (pull-down dives) as warm-ups. We soon discovered a strong thermocline a few metres down. It was like plunging head first into a fridge. The water changed from avocado to dirty emerald to spinach with the depth. We also spotted some of Hong Kong’s big, raggedy jellyfish lurking around our line at various depths and leaving bits of tentacle attached (see no. 2 in this post if you don’t know what I’m talking about).
None of this sounds very reassuring but I am so familiar with Hong Kong conditions that I was surprisingly chilled out. The low vis and green light had a calming and rather cocooning effect, and the result of the session for me was a couple of constant weight (i.e. self-propelled, no rope-pulling) dives to 22 metres, my deepest so far (or in freedivese, my ‘personal best’). Light levels dropped dramatically in the last few metres to a kind of olive-tinged twilight. It was actually pretty cool.
The afternoon session contained two novelties for me. The first was freefall. Up until now for my dives in the region of 20 metres I had been finning all the way down. For the AIDA 3 cert I will need to do a little bit of freefall (where the body passes the point of neutral buoyancy and starts to sink). To practice the feel of this and the correct body position, Suzy slightly overweighted me so that I would begin to sink at a shallower depth. It was odd but fun to stop finning and just let myself drift down.
The other novelty was the thrill that is the discipline known as variable weight. This is a technique where your descent is assisted by a weight, though you need to make your own way back up (see here for more info). To achieve this we used a very simple setup: Suzy pulled up our weighted line so that there was about 12 metres of slack, and 8 metres still hanging down. When I released this slack, holding on to the rope with the other hand, I zoomed down to 12 metres using no effort at all (just focusing on equalizing). When the rope ‘stopped’, I then used freefall the rest of the way to the bottom of the line.
This video is an example of this kind of variable weight dive (although in far deeper and clearer water!):
The effect of this is quite remarkable: reaching a depth which would require a fair amount of finning energy in a constant weight dive became literally effortless, and once at the bottom, I found I had loads of energy to fin back up, making the entire dive very easy! What’s more, the descent is exhilarating, like a high-speed elevator going down.
With a new personal best, and the discovery of two entirely new techniques, the day was nothing less than a huge success for me and I had loads of fun! While Hong Kong’s underwater topography is not deep enough for intermediate and advanced level freedivers, for a beginner like me it makes a great training ground, and I look forward to more opportunities to practice in local waters.
Left: stunning rocks of Basalt Island; Right: snorkelling with Suzy.
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