I’ve been out of the water for the past three weeks due to work commitments, but made up for it this weekend with an eventful two days of freediving training with my instructor Suzy and training buddies. Our plan for the four sessions was to complete the open water skills and dives necessary for the AIDA 3 freediving cert, which is an intermediate level following AIDA 2.
I’d attempted to start this course back in July, when terrible weather plus food poisoning foiled my plans. I was therefore keen to have another crack at it.
Speeding out to our freediving spot at Basalt Island
Despite a pessimistic forecast, Saturdays’ weather turned out to be sunny and the sea calm. We headed out aboard Mandarin Divers’ boat to Basalt Island, where I’d had a training day earlier this year. In the water, visibility was, as is typical for November, appalling — but in theory this doesn’t matter too much in freediving training, where you aren’t diving to look at fishes. What it did mean was that at the bottom of our ~23 metre line, it was almost pitch black, the thick layer of low visibility water above filtering out most of the light. Suzy attached a little flashlight to the bottom of the line, so we’d be able to see it when we got there!
A couple of metres of vis also makes it hard for the safety diver to spot their buddy coming up from a dive until seconds before they zoom past, meaning I had to quickly get out of the way to avoid a collision a couple of times. It also means a lanyard — a short cable attached to the diver’s wrist and clipped onto the line — is essential in order to not lose sight of the line.
Training advice and encouragement
Our Saturday sessions focussed mainly on skills, including how to self-rescue if you get a leg cramp at 15 metres (swim up using your arms only), diving without a mask, doing a controlled turn in the water without touching the line and towing an unconscious diver on the surface. We worked on relaxation too, doing some slow-motion free immersions, which I discovered to be much more relaxing than with the energetic pace I had been using before.
We also did some constant weight (CWT) dives down to around 23m, mixed in with freefalling practice, by slightly overweighting ourselves in order to freefall over a slightly longer distance, and some variable weight dives for fun (VWT; an exhilarating and effort-free ride down holding on to the weighted end of the line as described here). The excellent weather conditions made Saturday a supremely relaxing and enjoyable day of training, and I felt confident about doing the required 24+ metres CWT the next day.About to go down for a variable weight dive (when he releases the looped section of rope, the weighted line will pull him down)
On Sunday, there was a mixed crowd of divers on board, with everything from open water scuba beginners to high-tech rebreather divers. the weather was, unfortunately, completely different. A force 4-5 wind made the sea very choppy and several divers were sick on the journey out to the Ninepin Islands. Our diving buoy was set up at a spot which had the required depth but little shelter. We decided to do a quick session only, complete the necessary CWT dives, and then retreat back to where the dive boat was moored.
The opposite extremes in diving: freedivers vs rebreathers (photo courtesy of Mike Belshaw)
Once in the water, bobbing around on the surface, I began to feel a little nauseous myself and my breakfast decided make an appearance as I started breathing up for my 24m CWT dive. On my second attempt, I somehow missed my equalization and got stuck at five metres. I gave it one more go but at that point I was no longer in a very calm state of mind, and got overwhelmed with unease as the darkness of the water closed in at 17m. Completely forgetting about the easy freefall ahead, I turned back.
Frustratingly, there was no time for another attempt in this short session and the waves seemed to be getting bigger. I was only able to do a quick VWT dive down to 24 metres to get a feel of the depth before the speedboat came to pick us up.
In the afternoon, we didn’t go back out to the morning’s deep water spot. In the shallower, somewhat more sheltered waters of the South Ninepin Island bay we covered some rescue skills: bringing up a blacked out diver from 10m and giving them rescue breaths on the surface. I was well prepared for this, having done it in terrible weather in Moalboal in July! Giving surface rescue breaths immediately after a breath-hold dive is certainly more challenging than in the scuba ‘rescue diver’ course, so it was a good confidence-building exercise that will be relevant to all kinds of diving.
Choppy conditions at the Ninepin Islands
I also got the chance to try out a new thing — FRC free immersion diving. Going down after a relaxed, passive exhale simulates in shallower water the pressure that divers normally experience at greater depth with full lungs. (FRC stands for ‘functional residual capacity’ — what’s left in your lungs after you breathe out normally.) It was an eye-opening experience of what lies ahead if I keep training. (Note: DO NOT attempt this without an instructor’s guidance as it is easy to injure yourself.)
Despite missing my chance at the 24m CWT, this weekend of training was very worthwhile with new techniques discovered, a personal best (VWT) and awesome buddies. I’ll be getting back out into the sea as soon as I can.
Awesome coach and training buddies!
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