Taking a Freediving course: Part 1 – the pool sessions.
I love Scuba diving, but there are times I could do without climbing into the dry suit, under suit, five-hosed regs, steel tanks, torch, and all the other paraphernalia - including 12kgs of lead - that goes with the cold water diving available to me here in the UK, so, unsurprisingly, I have often been tempted by the apparent pure simplicity of freediving.
Unlike America or the Mediterranean there is no real tradition of spearfishing here in England, so finding the kit and advice my wife and I needed to try the type of freediving we had seen on youtube wasn’t as easy as I had expected. Fortunately organisations like AIDA and SSI have just started making inroads into UK waters and we were lucky enough to find that, quite near to where we live, we had an organisation called Scuba 2000; one of the very few UK based SSI Scuba schools who had a couple of instructors also qualified to teach freediving.
Once we enrolled on our level one freediving course we were furnished with a PADI-style DVD and a couple of, relatively slim, manuals – incidentally, the DVD features a lot of scenes depicting divers gracefully floating past colourful fish and coral, set to soft music, which put us both to sleep the first time we watched it.
As you might imagine, for a beginner, there is considerably less ‘class room’ stuff to be learned in freediving when compared to Scuba, but it’s worth remembering that – as with Scuba - the majority of incidents seem happen at the surface, so the info about waves, rip-tides, etc. is well worth reading up on. The main risks freedivers appear to encounter are black-outs, and a lot of the training revolves around rescuing and reviving unconscious buddies. The rescue training also includes retrieving unconscious divers from below the surface, and there’s other Scuba type stuff like equalising and clearing your mask. Obviously holding your breath is another crucial factor in freediving, but, once you learn a simple ‘breath up’ technique, it seems that breath holding is more a matter of practice than skill.
After a few hour long sessions in the short, shallow village swimming pool where we were training I could feel even my forty year old lungs becoming more and more efficient. One underwater length of the pool soon became two and in the space of a few weeks our breath holds increased from under a minute to over a minute, then to well over two. Soon we were ready to complete our basic training with a weekend of ‘open water’ dives.