A 20 year journey in two paragraphs…
In 1994 I was sitting in a dimly lit Melbourne club house, it had the smell that all sporting clubs had in Melbourne at that time; stale beer, cigarettes, moth balls and oiled timber. It was an unlikely place to hold a meeting for a freediving club, but there i was, bright eyed and mouth agape listening to an epic story from this old salty dog of the sea. He told me that he was freediving off a remote beach on the east coast of Victoria and whilst on a dive, a huge shadow passed over the top of him, blocking out the sun! His eyes were wide and his voice sounded like thunder as he re-enacted his adventure. He said he had to hide in a cave from what he thought was a Great White, but when he saw a huge eye appear at the entrance of the cave and peer at him hiding inside, he realised it was a massive Orca… I was 12 years old, full of courage and boyish naivety. I was in! I wanted adventure and i wanted to dive deep! I had been freediving for just over a year with 2 of my closest friends, but now i had the opportunity to learn from the salty sea dogs! Learn the old school way.
Egypt, 2014; I sat in a classroom with 50 or so other instructor candidates. I had never suffered from this feeling I was feeling before. It felt like i was waiting to meet some mythical sensei or something, like Mr Miyagi off the Karate Kid or Chuck Norris.
I had grown up listening to the old boys of the club telling me stories of Umberto from the World Spearfishing Titles and the Freediving Championships when everyone competed using Plastic Bi Fins. And now to be taught by him personally and hopefully representing Apnea Academy was very surreal. It had taken 20 years to get to this point and it had been an epic adventure mixed with exploration, temptation, ego, fear, love, death and one huge realisation!
Sink or Swim!
But i cant equalise! My mate Drew could do it so easily past 25m, not even using his hands! I was 17yo and getting ready for the Australian Spearfishing titles. Myself, Grant Temple and Drew Fenney were training hard and we were feeling confident. We always looked to Drew for advice as he was the most talented of the three of us. Then if we had to, we asked the older guys like Brett Illingsworth and Rob Torelli. But we did not want to seem incompetent or piss them off with silly questions.
I was desperately trying to build up the muscles and co-ordination needed to equalise properly, Drew could explain how he did it but i still did not understand. There were no books back then or equalisation classes so it was all sink or swim.
All I knew was that when i was extremely relaxed, feeling warm and comfortable I could equalise no problems at all. But Why? It look me another few years to get my head around that one! Until then i was compelled to be trapped in the first 25m of water, I was a fish with a swollen swim bladder like a grouper that has been hauled up from the deep to fast.
The realisation that i spoke about in the opening paragraphs needs a tiny bit of explanation, i promise I wont bore you to sleep! Sorry if its a bit of an anti-climax.
All the equalisation problems, the equipment adaptions, the streamlining issues, the years of diving in freezing water, the hard learned lessons and close calls all led me to believe that it is a right of passage that all freedivers must go through and i’ll explain why.
The body is a very fragile machine, although extremely adaptable. The very slow increase of your dive times and depth is a crucial aspect in the adaption of your body to apnea and the deep. Push to hard to fast and your body will suffer. The natural progression that a student of freediving takes is one of small calculated steps, so as your knowledge and experience slowly increases so does your depth and time in apnea. It is a completely natural way that your depth and time are self regulated. This naturally eliminates most injuries caused by freediving.
I love my freediving journey, i would not change it for anything. It is a beautiful journey with no particular destination because when one reaches their destination, it usually means the end? I don't want it to end.
The realisation was the old cliché saying, “Its the journey not the destination”. It just took me 20 years to fully grasp its true meaning.
Zero to Hero
Freediving has evolved so very fast, i always knew it would happen eventually, but i did not expect such a boom. Unfortunately part of it has steered down a very dangerous path.
Freediving is much like martial arts. In the fact that you have a sensei or instructor and you have students. The instructor drip feeds their students information when they are ready, because the instructor knows that giving students information when they are not ready is dangerous and confusing.
It takes time to climb the levels of the discipline. Like martial arts uses the belt system and gradings, freediving uses levels. It took me 2 years to take my first grading in Aikido, my sensei was very old school and thats what i wanted. I wanted to really know my shit before i graded, i wanted to impress my sensei. And i knew that learning martial arts takes time and patience, i knew that if i tried to grade to quickly i would get my ass kicked!
Instead of a higher ranking belt kicking your ass if you grade to quick in martial arts, the ocean will kick your ass in freediving if you get pushed through the levels to fast, and let me tell you, i would rather a 5th DAN kick my ass than the ocean! Zero to Hero = Hero to Dead. I swear if Jaque Mayol was still alive he would be shaking his head like a sensei does when a student becomes impatient.
Tits and Ass
Running your own company means you have to be up with the latest social media crap if you want to be noticed, much to my annoyance!
I was updating the Instagram feed the other day and my eyes where suddenly raped by pictures of chicks wearing basically nothing, with a pair of freediving fins, a fart smell face and a caption saying, “Freediving is pure bliss”. Some things you just cant un-see! I have now finally developed a complete abdominal six pack from the laughing fit that i was trapped in for a week after seeing that post.
As is with the surfing world, the best athletes, more often than not, are passed by because of their looks. It takes allot of support and backing to compete in a world tour, and i can honestly say from conversations I've had with a few pro’s that the best surfers often miss out on the tour because of the lack of financial support from sponsorship because they are not pretty enough. It seems that a part of freediving is starting to follow the same path.
Follow the True Path
Freediving is the most rewarding, empowering, freeing, beautiful and humbling discipline i have ever studied.
I respect the discipline and its elders with complete dedication. If it was not for their sacrifices and hours spent perfecting techniques, freedivers would not be able to enjoy such a wealth of knowledge as we do today.
The most rewarding aspect of freediving is the journey, the egoless journey. The people you meet, the places you visit, the animals you encounter, the things you learn about your self are all part of it. So what if it takes you 10 years to get to 40m, who cares! You might of swam with Orcas, blue whales, bait balls and giant squid by then! You may have dove under the ice in Iceland, dove the beautiful blue holes on Belize, dove the crystal waters of the Cenotes in Mexico. After all this adventure, who cares if you can dive to 80m.
The strongest free divers that i have ever dove with have learned the old school way, like Davide Carrera from Italy and Julian Hansford from New Zealand.
All that you need to understand is that with trust in your trainer, dedication to the techniques, respect to the self and consistent effort the results will come, you dont need to chase them, give the ego a back seat.
Its all about the journey...