I’ve done loads of scuba diving, and I love it. I have, however, always been curious about free-diving. Every now and again, when I snorkelled, I would take a dip down, and I would be thrilled by the feeling of freedom that I would experience – only for a short while though, because after a few seconds I would come shooting up to the surface to take a few gulps of air.
At some stage though, I realised that I am spending more time swimming underwater in my pool at home than above the water, and after watching a TED-X talk about free diving, I decided to do a course in free diving.
Now, to be honest, I was a bit scared. I imagined myself fighting my urges to breathe, and I thought I would really have to push myself in an excruciating way to be able to hold my breath for longer. The breath holding part didn’t sound like fun, but the feeling of freedom that I’ve experienced in my duck dives had me hooked.
I did my course with Hanli Prinsloo, and she has a really calm way of going about this, which helped me a lot. We started off with a short theory session, during which she explained to us what happens in the human body when you hold your breath. You know that, when you hold your breath, at some stage you get that “mmppuugghh” feeling, when your diaphragm contracts, and you have that feeling that you desperately need to breath NOW? Well, in this theory session I learned that at this point I was apparently not close to dying, or passing out, as I had previously thought. Apparently, you can go way further than this!
Next, we did some Yoga (Yoga!? I’ve never done any Yoga before!). During our Yoga session, Hanli (who also happens to be a Yoga instructor) taught us how to relax, and how to breathe. When we were all relaxed and stretched and warmed up, she taught us how to recognise certain “flags” in our breath holding experience. Step by step, she gently took us past these various flags, and we learned how to almost look at yourself from the outside, recognise these flags and feelings, and to move on past them. Then came the moment – to see how long we could hold our breath, using the techniques we learned. (By the way – hyperventilating has nothing to do with it, and is dangerous). Before, I could hold my breath for 1 minute, and I’ve managed to do 1 minute 5 seconds pushing myself. Without realising it was that long, I held my breath for 2 minutes and 50 seconds in this session! All this from a session that took about 3 hours!
All excited about these new powers I have discovered, we headed out to Blue Rock Quarry, to go practise some free diving.
We swam out onto the lake, and Hanli set up a buoy with a rope hanging down form it. At the bottom of this rope, there is a tennis ball – when you reach this ball, you know it’s time to turn around and go back up.
We started with a depth of 5 meters. Easy, for all of us. Then, we went down to 8 meters. Everyone went down, and came up, and then it was my turn. I went down, and just as I started reaching the point where I started getting uncomfortable, I reached the ball. Glad that I made it, I turned around and went back up. “How was that? It was easy hey?” Hanli asked as I came up. Everyone agreed that this was super easy, except for me. Next stop: 10 meters. Again everyone went down and up, easy-peasy. Then came my turn, and when I reached approx. 8 meters, I had reached my limit, and I turned around and shot up back to the buoy. This is that point where everyone in the group tries to act like nothing is wrong, that you’ll make it just now, and I realised that I was “that” guy – the one holding the group back, the only one struggling, etc. So, I breathed up again, determined to reach that ball, and went down again. Again, I came to the point where I was sure I was out of air, and I turned around before I hit the ball. As I turned around however, I saw the ball hanging about a meter below me – so I quickly went down further feet 1st, touched the ball, and shot back up. Mission accomplished – I touched the ball.
Hanli next lowered the ball down to 13 meters, and again everyone did it super-easy. From here on my story was the same – I would get down to around 8 meters, turn around, and shoot up, convinced I am out of air. The rest of the group did 13 meters, 15 meters, and then 17 meters – all without a problem!
That evening was a bit of a low point in my free diving. I had done 100’s of scuba dives, but there was no regulator to breathe from down there – how could I not do it if everyone else did?
Next morning, I have managed to convince myself that I can do it. I spent the morning imagining how I glide down the line carefree, how I feel and recognise the “flags” we learned about, and how I casually see them go by as I continue my dive. It went a bit easier to start with, but the maximum I could do was 12 meters (while the rest did 19-20 meters). And then, it happened. Hanli told us how she keeps her eyes closed when she dives down a line, and I decided to do the same – and what a difference that made! All of a sudden, I would glide way down the line and hit the ball, almost with a feeling of disappointment that I had gotten to the ball that quickly. It was all in my mind! The moment I closed my eyes, I couldn’t see myself going deeper and deeper, and everything was fine. I have since done 20 meters.
What did I learn? Free diving is one of the most relaxing things that I have ever done, and I would definitely recommend it to anyone. It is a feeling of freedom, and of peace. What goes on in your mind becomes so quiet – there is only space for one thing to focus on, and that is your journey down and up in the water. It is really a mental thing – staying calm, and trusting your body and what you know, even if it’s against your instincts.
I am completely hooked, and free dive now as often as I can!