In July I had the opportunity to take part in the new PADI Freediver and Advanced Freediver courses. This training was amongst some of the most challenging and rewarding experience I had ever taken part in.
Enrolling in the course was a pretty last minute decision even though I had wanted to do a course with Jean-Pol Francios (JP) ever since I arrived in the Philippines. JP is the only PADI Freediver Instructor Trainer in the Philippines and is also the head of Education for AIDA. Lucky for me JP was happy to let me join his next course, which started that afternoon.
There and then JP handed me an access code to download the PADI Freediver touch materials, and a list of performance requirements for the two courses. Straight away I powered through the theory and read through the performance requirements. Three things stood out for each course; for the Freediver I had to be able to do a 90second static breath hold, a 25m dynamic swim (swimming horizontally) and a 10m constant weight dive (vertical), this all seemed pretty manageable. But for the advanced freediver certification; I had to be able to do at least a 2minute and 30 second static breath hold, a dynamic swim of 50m, and a constant weight dive to 20m, this felt like it would be a real push. Prior to having done any training I think I could hold my breath for maybe a minute and dive to maybe 7 or a meters. At this point I really had no idea how I would manage the course.
This was just a pretty chilled out afternoon session where we went through theory and the watermanship evaluation.
One of the key aspects to freediving is relaxation so before each session we dabbled in a little bit of yoga to bring down our heart rates and slow our breathing. With that over we made our way to the water to do our first static session. We made a series of breath holds each getting longer and longer. The idea being to adjust our bodies to the build up of carbon dioxide, and get more familiar with the convulsions that come with extended breath hold times. The first convulsion I had was truly awful. They are literally your body demanding that you BREATH! NOW! RIGHT NOW! WHY ARENT YOU BREATHING! And while all this is going on and your twitching and spasming in the water all you can hear is this almost irritatingly calm voice saying “relax, focus”.
After doing this for a while we moved on to the dynamic swim. This was actually a whole lot easier than I was expecting. Having the long freediving fins made a world of difference and on my first attempt I easily made in to 35m across on a single breath.
Today was my first Constant weight session (vertical dives). We started by making a few free immersion dives to warm up. This was simply pulling our selves along the line to whatever depth we felt comfortable. I was now starting to get a feel for how technical freediving really is. We talk about trim for SCUBA diving but I didn’t realise trim would be so important in freediving. Every dive I made if my body wasn’t in the right position I wouldn’t be able to make it past even 6 meters! After a whole lot of practice and readjusting my weight belt and neck weight I was starting to get the hang of it all and was comfortably making 15m dives. At this point I had past all I needed to for the PADI Freediver Course and tomorrow would be spent completing the PADI Advanced Freediver Course.
More Yoga! Don’t get me wrong, I like the idea of relaxing before a dive but today I was absolutely pumped knowing that I would be attempting to do a 3 minute static breath hold and a 20+ meter constant weight dive. We started with the static breath hold. I spent 6 minutes at the surface prepping for my 3 minute attempt. My face goes down. It started off easy. I stayed cool and calm until my first convulsion. My entire body jerked. I felt a tap. This was my queue to signal OK. Then another tap, this meant 15 seconds had passed since the last. And another. Then BANG! Another convulsion, followed by a tap and a soothing voice saying “relax”. The burn was starting to get to be too much for me now. I could feel my muscles screaming for oxygen. Then before my next tap I had another convulsion and I knew that was it. That was all that was safe for me to attempt. I lifted my head, planted my feet and breathed! A quick glance from up and I saw my lanky Belgium instructor JP staring down with a smile ear to ear. I knew I had done it. Three minutes and seventeen seconds. I had beaten the required time by 47 seconds! At this point we stopped for lunch (which I was told to keep light and healthy) and waited four hours until our next session to allow the food to digest properly (apparently digestion is one of the biggest energy / O2 burners in the body’s).
Now it was time for us to head out over the drop off and for me to complete my 20+ meter constant weight dive. I clipped my lanyard to the drop line and started my way down. Even though the visibility was over 15 meters, it was dark really dark. I guess with SCUBA our eyes adjust to the diminishing light but while freediving you’re going down so fast they don’t have time. This absolutely threw me off and I bailed on that dive. Only 17m. I tried again – I made it down as far as I could then turn up to the surface. This time 19m! Again I went down but this time I had rushed it! I turned back. ONLY 12 DAM METERS! My head just wasn’t in it any more. We took a little break and continued with some rescue skills to clear my head before getting back into it. This time I was ready. I had set my dive computer to Freedive mode and set an alarm to go off at 19m so I would know when I’m almost there. Down I went. It got darker and darker. I knew when I had made it past 10m because the compression of my wetsuit was so much I was freefalling deeper and deeper. I stopped kicking closed my eyes and tried to relax and let my body glide down. BEEP BEEP BEEP! 19M! My heart rate jumps! I know I’m there now but I am right at my limit. I grab the line give it one hard pull to turn me around and start to slowly kick back up. Once I past 10m my wetsuit started to pull me back to the surface. I had done it! I knew I had! I hit the open air and tried to do my recovery breathing but I was too overwhelmed. It had been such a push for me to make it down to this depth I was nearly crying with joy! I looked at my dive computer and there it was, 22.6m. That was it – I had completed the PADI Advanced Freediver Course.
These four days were some of the most challenging and rewarding days I have ever spent in the water. The PADI Freediver Courses have given me a new understanding and appreciation for what all those competitive freedivers and spearfishing guys do. I am still proud that I managed to complete the static apnea with a time of 3.17minutes and the constant weight dive to 22.6meters. The course was a great journey but I still have so much to learn.
Watch out Trubridge – I’m coming.