My duck dive wasn’t good but there was nothing I could do about it now. I kept my sight on the rope, avoiding the instinct to lift my head up and look at the, just visible, sea floor where I was heading. Remembering to equalizing my ears as I go before the pressure builds up.
Eventually, I reached the end of the line – 20 meters. The furthest I had ever been on one breath. It’s cold down there.
With freediving it’s not the going down that’s the problem, it’s the going up.
As I let my feet drop and my body right itself, I felt a spasm in my diaphragm. An instinct telling me I needed to breathe. This is the moment that most of us would come out of the water gasping for air. I glanced up at the others on the surface. They looked far.
This is where the training kicked in. I knew I still had 50% in me. I knew the techniques to preserve my energy and oxygen usage. Keep calm, don’t get stressed, and think about anything, anything at all, except holding your breath.
Back in the holy land and the land of the in-laws!
I hadn’t been back to Israel since finishing hiking its length last December, which meant it was time for one of our regular visits to see the in-laws. I just about managed to squeeze 2 weeks in, between finishing leading a school group in Swaziland and starting my next expedition, Paddle Pickup.
In between family meals, Game of Thrones on a Monday night and exercising, I worked. A lot. From 7am in the morning until 10pm at night. So I was really glad when our long weekend to Eilat (in the south of Israel) came about. Not just because it was a chance to get away from work, but because we were going there to do something really cool….a beginners freediving course.
I’ve seen freedivers before. Of all the water sports, they seem the ones most connected to the ocean. The ones least out of place in amongst the marine life and, quite frankly, the coolest! I was excited about learning a new skill and experiencing the ocean in a new way. And also couldn’t wait to meet the person delivering our course – Alon Rivkind
In 2013 Alon broke a record for the deepest any Israeli has ever been on one breath. 120 metres. For any divers that have experienced a deep dive, they can probably picture the darkness and isolation. Now imagine that with no tank or diving buddy, all on the hold of one breath…..insane!
We were following the Apnea freediving syllabus which meant that after our 2 and a half day course I would be a Stage A free diver. Freediving is a simple concept: go as deep or as long as you can on one breath. And before I explain what the experience was like, I should say I have only ever tried duckdiving twice in my life, so I really was starting from nothing!
After a theory introduction covering what you would expect – variations, safety, form – plus practicing some relaxation techniques, we headed to the pool to start the practical sessions.
I have to say that I went into this course feeling quietly confident. Just for fun, a couple of months previous Gil and I had tested to see how long we could hold our breath. I couldn’t believe it when I passed 3 minutes. All that talking paid off!! Never in my life had I been good at a sport, so maybe freediving would be it. Hmmm…
As we got to practicing the relaxation exercises from the morning followed by a breath hold, I really struggled. I couldn’t get my body to relax. I felt uncomfortable in the water and failed to achieve the golden rule – think about anything but holding your breath. Each time a flicker of doubt popped into my head, my control was lost and I had to come up for air. While the others in the group saw big improvements, I couldn’t pass 1.30. My dreams of becoming a champion freediver, swimming effortlessly amongst dolphins, quickly vanished.
Alon didn’t seem concerned though. He gave me some pointers and his calm manner diminished my sulk. There was no competition in this class!
Something suddenly clicked. We’d moved on to open water practice which added a whole new dimension. We now had to incorporate duck diving (which took me ages to get!), swimming techniques, acting as a safety for your buddy and trying to relax and do you preperation breaths – a lot harder on the surface of the ocean than in a quiet pool.
While practicing a 10 metre dive though I experienced something amazing. I had taken a really good breath before and done a smooth duck dive. I reached the bottom slowly and without little thought. I held on to the end of the line and just stopped. There was no urge to breath. Just complete comfort. It was the first time I noticed the quiet. And the fish. This was it, the world I love so much when I am scuba diving, only better. I didn’t have a noisy regulator or heavy gear wrapped around me.
I got it then. Not just the addictive appeal of freediving but also what it feels like from the inside when you get it right.
I didn’t have another dive like it that day but the whole process seemed to become easier after that. It was like everything clicked into place.
I was nervous about today because I had the number 20 hanging over my head. I really wanted to reach it but doubted that I could hold my breath for long enough. My biggest problem I think is that I’m not a swimmer. Sure, I can stop myself from drowning but I’ve barely done any swimming in my life, especially in the sea.
Still….I did it!
As if reaching that epic goal of 20 meters wasn’t enough, the setting was amazing. On the seabed sat a sunken war ship. I came up to the surface, did 3 recovery breaths, signaled I was ok and gave Gil a massive high five.
The grin on my face didn’t leave me for the rest of the day!
Like my Facebook page to see more pictures and a vlog from my free diving experience.
New skill, new outlook
In amongst all the stress of the last few over-worked few weeks, I’ve forgotten something that is key to my happiness. Gratitude and mindfulness (by that I mean living in the moment). There is nothing that acts as a gateway to this state of mind more than doing something new. Something that challenges you and stretches your way of thinking.
That’s exactly what the freediving course did. This weekend adventure shook up my routine. It put me out of my comfort zone enough that I was fully there, engaged. And the satisfaction and joy I got from learning and achieving reminded me just how lucky I am to have adventures like this in my life.
As for my freediving future? I’ve got Stage B course well in my sights and the 30 meters that come with it. But first I need to practice. Keep up with my weekly breath hold exercises and also find time to enjoy this new venture.
How cool to say you have swum to 20metres!
Fancy giving it a go?
You won’t find a better teacher than Alon. You can check out the courses he offers on his website, or email him directly on firstname.lastname@example.org. With budget airlines EasyJet, Monarch, and Wizz now flying to Israel, you can return UK flights for as little as £100. If going to Israel for this course, you can either fly into Tel Aviv or directly into Eilat.
Huge thanks to Alon Rivkin for inviting me to participate in this course. As always, I write with 100% honesty and all text and photos are my own. Please note that about half of the links on my website are affiliate, meaning that if you click them and make a purchase, I will get a small commission at no extra cost to you.
Thank you for reading and for your support! x