Diary of the Advanced Waterman Course

11 – 13 Feb, Mornington Peninsula

It was with much excitement that I met the 3 watermen that would be attending the course; Grady Fink, Luke Burnes and Russell Ord, at Personal Trainer Andy Dells training space at St Andrews in Victoria to deliver the first of two Advanced Watermanship theory lectures. These three lads are in the higher end of watermanship ability, with a great deal of experience and exposure to some heavy situations, I was really pumped to get into some super fun and intense mental and physical training and do my best to enhance an already extremely high level of ability.

We started off the lecture with a basic rundown in Anatomy and Physiology to refresh the mens memory of how their bodies work relating it back to the situations in which they may find themselves. With that out of the way we got into the breath work, which the team... I found out later was super pumped to get into! Practically learning about CO2 and O2 levels during breath hold is always quite confronting but the lads took to it extremely well, adapting amazingly to the warm ups, breathing techniques and performing dry statics from 2min30sec  -  3min10sec! Next was an extremely important part of the course… planning and SAR (Search and Rescue). With these three men surfing in very remote locations it is super important to have a plan of what to do if things go wrong, which they often do when you are not physically or mentally prepared…

All round it was a great afternoon of training which I very much enjoyed! Having Skeeta Derham there assisting with his wealth of knowledge and experience in surfing waves of consequence was great, helping to relate the freediving principals of breath hold to an intense hold down situation.



12th Feb

With the team working very hard to keep their fitness in check and always open to new ways of improving, the opening lecture of the final theory session was on training principals where we discussed ways in which to make their training more specific and proactive. Again I was so impressed with the teams approach to new ideas and theories of how to improve, such a pleasure to be working with positive and proactive athletes.

Again we touched on topics more related to the teams performance in the ocean… Such as Advanced Swimming Techniques; On this topic a great discussion took place on the best methods in which the men had found to maintain their strength and focus in intense situations, we then refined these techniques as much as possible introducing all the principals of Advanced Watermanship to ensure adequate recovery and maintenance of speed and strength. When I have discussions like this with watermen it always sends shivers up my spine because I can see the passion in there eyes and hear it in their voices when they discuss different situations that they have been in… God its good!

Next it was into some Remote Area First Aid to prepare the team for situations which occur often surfing in heavy waves and more often than not far away from help… Going through a Basic Life Support protocol contextualised to their needs, common injuries with signs and symptoms, treatments and evacuation etc... finishing off with advanced observation taking including circulatory, respiratory and neurological.

By that stage the team was well and truly ready to get into the ocean… and to be honest so was I!!! The ocean is were its at, its were the men will be using there skills and its crucial to get the team training in that element! 

Rescues, tows, fitness testing, swimming techniques, apnea training… it was a big afternoon! We even had a great swim with a few friendly seals! So good! And as i suspected the men were like fish in the water impressing me with great technique and strength! It was a very humbling experience seeing these three watermen in their element! We had Skeeta on his 9ft Gun as safety and it certainly added to the scene… every time i looked up at Skeet paddling that huge board it reminded me why these three men are here, to train their minds and bodies in preparation to surf waves of consequence, to push the limits of human endurance… to live life to the fullest! 


13th February

After epic ocean training the previous evening the team was pumped to get into the core of the Advanced Waterman Program… Apnea training, which is the final day and also the biggest day of the course… Over 6 hours in the water!

After running the team through a yoga practice and warm up we got into the pool for a series of apnea tests including static and dynamic apnea, this is done to set a base for the men to work off to gauge their progress and to install confidence in their ability.

(For those people reading this unfamiliar with these terms, Static Apnea is when an athlete holds their breath whilst floating face down on the surface of the water for as long as they can and Dynamic Apnea is when the athlete swims underwater for as far as they can with fins or without usually done in a 25m to 50m pool).


WOW! Thats all i can say! Static Apnea performances of up to 4min! Dynamic Apnea No Fins performances of up to 65m! And done with ease might i add, with all the men coming up fresh and performing their surface protocols perfectly! Very impressive! 

With the team doing so well in the testing and overcoming some mental barriers it was time to put their mental endurance to the test with a series of underwater disorientation drills in which they are tumbled, turned and pushed underwater with huge amounts of air getting blown in their faces to simulate a hold down… it is up to the men to push through the mental barriers which are encounted with high heart rates and limited breath whilst being held underwater. This is where the perceived limits of mental endurance are smashed! Now... during the first high heart rate performance i have found it common that all watermen with no previous training hold their breath for about 10 seconds… we tripled this easily! Amazing work team!! Putting theory into practice in a functional way!  


A well deserved lunch of salad wraps, fruit and muesli bars were ravenously eaten with big smiles and lots of laughter! Its amazing how fatigued the body gets from breath hold work alone.

Next…. Into the ocean for Sea Survival and Rescue!

With life jackets on and fins in hand we headed up the Blairgowrie jetty to practice vessel abandonment and sea survival. After the men started to get a bit close with legs wrapping around one another in the group huddle we decided that was enough and got into the other drills. Its so important to maintain a good sense of humour in survival situations as it increases moral and instills a strong will to survive.

Having the ability to freedive to at least 10m to retrieve an unconscious casualty is very important as a lot of the offshore breaks these watermen surf are in deep water and only break in large swells… so thats what we did and the men did it amazingly! Easily freediving the 11m to retrive the casualty (me) and swimming to the surface to carry out the protocol.

To finish off i thought it necessary to teach the men a swimming technique we used to do all the time at the Navy Dive School… group finning, preparing the men for the event of the ski breaking down and having to fin ashore whilst staying together, we swam the long distance easily and in good time with only a bit of lactic buildup! ha ha!

As we walked up onto the beach i ran through my head what we had done over the last three days and felt satisfied that i had done all that i could to have trained these three watermen to the best of my ability in all the aspects of ocean awareness that is applicable to there safety. I am very impressed with what they have achieved and would not hesitate to put my life in their hands if the time came. 


I must again take this time to thank Skeeta Derham for all his help in running the course and making sure the men were safe during their training also using his knowledge and experience to fill in the gaps in the translation of the training principals into a functional and practical way applicable to waves of consequence.

A big thanks to Grady, Luke and Russ for attending the course, it was a pleasure training with you and i learned a lot myself just being in your company. Best of luck with your training and I hope all your ambitions in the big wave surfing arena come to fruition. I look forward to getting in the ocean for an adventure with you all soon.

Also a big thanks to Andy Dell for the use of his training space and a massive thanks to  Russell Ord for the photos that he so kindly supplied for the blog.