Moalboal – Freediving Course – Day 1

Tuesday 27th December 2016

Ross arrived from the Frankie’s place, the hostel he had moved to, to ‘our place’, the Bamboo House where Inaki and I were waiting. The day started with seeing a pale rainbow which was great.
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At 9am, Wolfgang and Drew picked us up and we drove a short 15 minutes ride North to Club Serena Resort.

Here is a map giving an idea of the area.Where the red dot is is where there office was from which they had left with all the materials, they had picked us up half way between the Sardines and White Beach and just above White Beach was the Club Serena Resort where we would spend our first day of freediving course.

We started with a long 3-hour session of theory only reviewing the content of the AIDA 2 Freediving book.
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We went first through meditation techniques needed to hold the breath and slow down the body consumption of oxygen. Any thought we have consumes oxygen. The more meditation we can do, the less oxygen consumption we do which means we can hold our breath longer. Then we went through the breathing technique. Something I had not been across until I read the book was the fact that when we take one deep long breath to hold we should start by ‘filling our belly’ with air first and then the lungs. We need to breathe in 2 steps. So we went through this in depth and also went through videos showing what happens when one breathe. Of course we all learn that at school, the air enters through the mouth or nose then goes through the trachea then arrives in the bronchiae which finish into small bronchioli which have millions of small alveoli in which the gas exchange occurs. The O2 bonds with red cells called hemoglobin to be distributed to all various parts of our body while the CO2 released by our body is transported in the plasma, not bounded.

The air we contain in our body is made of 96 to 99% of oxygen. When we stop breathing, we don’t loose oxygen but we rather start increasing the CO2. This increase in CO2 is what causes ‘the urge to breathe’ as our body reacts to it by willing not to inhale more O2 but actually to exhale the CO2.

We also went through why the ‘hyperventilation’ technique is dangerous. It is a misconceived ideas among many people that hyperventilating before to go under water is good but actually what hyperventilating does is increasing the quantity of 02 but it doesn’t change the quantity of CO2 which means that it slows down the trigger warning signs of our body telling us to breathe. It is explained really well on Wikipedia and I will just copy paste the diagrams from this page here as an illustration:

Images Copyright: Wikipedia
On a normal dive with a slow and deep one breath before to hold breath:

On a dive with a hyperventilation done before to hold the breath:

Then we went through the meditation required during the breath hold in particular in the Freediving discipline of the Static Breath and then covered the final step which is the Recovery Breathing. When re-surfacing, it is important to exhale then inhale and hold half-a-second to give time to the body to do the 02-C02 gas exchange in the alveoli and then repeat this cycle two three times more. When you have hold your breath for quite a while and resurface, it is usually a natural reaction of your body to do this, but it is important to practice it systematically simply for the day where you get a blackout if that ever happens so that your body knows the resurfacing procedure and does it automatically that day.

After this long theory session, we lied down on our back on long chairs near the sea and Wolfgang instructed us to relax and do 2 minutes of belly breathing then he said do one last long inhale and now hold your breath. I was rubbish, I only hold mine for 1min15, while Inaki and Ross did something like 1min30-1min50.

Then we went into the pool where we practised first simply letting ourselves float with no mask and breathing through the snorkel, the eyes closed, the face towards the water. It was one of the most relaxing thing I have ever done. I could not believe I had never tried to just do that, ahah. So nice!!! Then we paired up and Wolfgang and Drew explained to us that the one who puts the mask on and their head under the water will have to give signs when asked that everything is alright. So the one at the surface monitoring the one under the surface taps on the left shoulder or right shoulder two slow gentle taps and the one under the water has to show one finger or towards the end it can be more specific to make sure the brain still works like ‘Show me three fingers please’. The aim is to ensure that no one blackouts under the water unnoticed. We did a few sessions and Inaki managed to stay 3min10, Ross 2min35 and me 2min17 at our best. We all experienced the urge to breathe and dealt with it in different ways. For example for Inaki who did a lot of yoga and meditation, he used a mantra he had in his head to distract himself. For Ross, I can’t remember. For me, my body reaction was to open my eyes and fix the bottom of the pool and also start contracting my body like a contortionist ahah. Reading this, you would think what we thought before the course: ‘Oh, me, no way. I would NEVER manage to stay more than 40 seconds (or even less) without breathing.’ Well, that is indeed what we thought. And we discovered during this course that actually, with the proper techniques, you can! The AIDA 2 certification requires that you can hold your breath 2 minutes in the pool and go down on the line 16 meters deep. We had at least passed the first requirement that morning.

After the pool session, we had some lunch then a bit more theory then we went into another pool where we practised fining under water. The requirement this time was to do 2 laps and half under water with fins. The pool length was 16 meter. At first, I understood a lap as a ‘go and back’ lap so I thought ‘Woo, 5 lengths, that sounds a bit tough but feasible.’ but what Drew meant was actually half of that ahah, so about 42 meters. With the long beautiful freediving fins. So it went alright. Where we struggled a bit was to launch ourselves the way he instructed us, holding our hands in front, kicking down in a certain way and staying kind of in the middle of the pool, not at the bottom and not exactly just under the surface either.

After that session, we went into the ocean, to a line where we spent a good 2 or 3 hours on the line just going down the line with feet first. The hardest thing at the beginning when you go down is equalisation. We had also gone through that in the morning, there are 2 most common equalisation techniques, Valsava and Frenzel. If you pinch your nose to equalise and you use your diaphragm and feel a pressure in it, then you are using Valsava. If you pinch your nose and you don’t feel your diaphragm but you feel your thyroid like if you were saying ‘kiki’ or ‘squeak’ being a bit tense, then you are doing Frenzel. Frenzel is actually a better technique because you are not moving your diaphragm much which means you don’t impact the air you are holding into your lungs. I personally still don’t manage to do Frenzel well! For some people, it is natural, for some it takes a bit of time and practice to learn! Saying that, going feet down first, Ross and I went down to 10 meters deep. Inaki had some problems with equalisation and went down to 7-8 meters. The key is to never ever force your ears anyway otherwise you damage them and can’t continue practicing afterwards until they stop hurting so we were making sure we didn’t push them.

We finished around 5pm in time for the sunset. We went back to the beach slowly, watching the marine life, some feather stars had started walking on the rocks. Those feather stars, I love them, they are soooo pretty. And when you see them in action walking with their fifty legs, delicately moving them one after the other, it is like an incredibly beautiful danse. I wish I had my go pro to film that as I actually had always seen feather stars immobile on a rock but never so actively moving! Here is a feather star, one my picture taken on Apo Island.
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When we reached the beach, I grabbed quickly my small camera to take a few snapshots of the sunset. Here was our playground for the day, we had installed the line next to the boat you can see on this picture, an area undisturbed, with no other snorkelers, no other boats, a very quiet place, perfect to spend some time learning to go down.
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Zooming in on the sunset.
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Beach to the left
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Beach to the right
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Back in the pool where we chilled for a bit, on the left Inaki, then Ross then the legendary Wolfgang Dafert who were really happy to have as an instructor along with Drew who was under the outside shower when I took this photo but appears on the first picture of our morning studies.P1090551 (Medium).JPG

After debriefing the day in the pool, we got changed and Wolfgang and Drew dropped me at the Bamboo House and Ross and Inaki at Frank’s place as Inaki had also decided to move to the dorm as it was cheaper. As I had booked the three nights before my trip, I couldn’t cancel plus I was happy to stay in one spot for 3 nights rather than change. When I came back, I bumped into Wim and Tony, an old English guy who had been in the Air Force in England and was in his late seventies, a really awesome funny cheerful character who was staying at the Bamboo House for a few weeks.

We discussed on What’s App with Inaki and Ross about meeting at the pizzeria again shortly after we all had good showers and met them then. The four of us spent this second evening as the first, chatting and chatting and chatting about travels but also about History. Ross had been to North Korea and was really knowledgeable about North Korea History and had an incredible way of telling that history like a story teller would. I can’t remember how Ross explained it to us sadly, but to give you a short version, Korea was under Japanese control from 1910 until 1945 and Japan developed heavily the industries in the North. A Korean guerilla emerged led by Kim II-Sung. During World War II, Russia declared war to Japan, conquered the North, the US meanwhile had taken over the South and were afraid the Russians would take more so they offered to divide the country on the 38th parallel. The Russians accepted and recognised Kim-II-Sung leadership and promoted him in the power at the cost that he would agree to the divide decision with the US. Kim-II-sung stayed in power until 1994, then his son Kim-Jong-il took over and then his own son Kim-Jong-un took over in 2011 when his dad died of a heart attack. At least, it is not too hard to know the names of North Korea leaders, there has only been three since 1948! More about North Korea here:
After Ross told us about the fascinating history of North Korea, we drew parallels with other regimes and Inaki told us about the Franco dictatorship which I didn’t know much about who was the dictator of Spain from 1939 until his death in 1975.

After these passionate conversations about History and great pizzas, and no phone on the table, we were super tired of our freediving day and had a second one the next day so we dropped Inaki and Ross at Frank’s place and walked back to the Bamboo House with Wim.

Next day, let’s continue the freediving course!

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