In the last article I emphasized the importance that your freediver-life should start by signing up to (and finishing) a certified freedive course. Why? A freedive course is mainly a safety training for yourself as a diver, a buddy and – in the worst case – as a rescuer. How long you can hold your breath and how deep you can go is actually of minor importance at that stage.
Now, after your beginner course, what is waiting for you? Similar to scuba certification systems you have now the option to take the next step in an “advanced” and then hone your skills to the max in a “masters” course. There are two main differences between “beginner” and “advanced” levels: You will learn how to train yourself as a freediver, and secondly, you leave the realms of positive buoyancy and start freefalling into the abyss. Sounds scary? To non-freedivers it must sound like a horror-scenario to fall deeper and deeper into the ocean, bearing in mind that you will also have to come back up sooner or later. But, as scary as it may sound, believe me when I say, THIS is the feeling that freedivers at this stage love most!
This is how freedivers approach this feat: Step by step! By learning the basics and building trust in your abilities it becomes quite easy to dive to around -20m depth. At this stage, the pressure of roughly 3bars will compress the air in the lungs to a degree that your body becomes negatively buoyant. During the advanced course, the instructor will now set the dive line to – let’s say – 23m. This will be a normal dive to -20m with fin-kicking, and then, then! you allow yourself to fall for another three meters to the end of the rope. The way back up to the surface will now not much different from what you already know so well.
Over a few days (or sessions) of training you will develop a sense of how much effort you have to put into your finning to keep up a good vertical diving speed. On the way down allow gravity to help you and on the way up buoyancy is your best friend. That way, dives to -30m become a very enjoyable experience in harmony with the ocean.
As much as you will enjoy these dives, they will also get you to your limit. Not your physical limit of performance per se, but of how much CO2 you are ready to take and develop a tolerance for it. For many, this is the not-so-fun part of advanced freediving. CO2 in the blood is a helper to time our dives right, it triggers what is called the “mammalian dive response” and it is completely harmless. The worst that can happen to you during CO2 tolerance training is a headache, which will disappear immediately after taking a few deep breaths. You might say now “hooold on, there is a thing called CO2 narcosis, I’m not taking any risks!” and you are right. But to experience CO2 as a narcotic you have to either be at depths of more than -100 meters or hold your breath for more than 20 minutes. We will talk about CO2 narcosis when you get there..
In the next article we will move toward professional freediving: The master level and instructor training – and how, in a way, they are completely different from everything you learned so far.
Images © Luca Vaime and Nestori Virtanen