“How do you train?” “How can you equalize at that depth?”
The real answer, however, is always the same: I’ve learned from people who’ve been there before and take their advice to heart. I’m a huge fan of skipping the figure-it-out-on-my-own stage and of learning from others’ mistakes and experience. It’s almost like being allowed to cheat, skip the learning curve and move onto the next level without doing all the work on your own. So why not do it?
So my best piece of advice to up-and-coming freedivers is simply this: Take advice. Learn from constructive criticism and acknowledge your weaknesses. If you can be honest with yourself you’ll improve at a rate that some divers only dream of.
So that being said, here are some of the best pieces of advice I’ve received over the years that I can honestly say have impacted my dives as much as training and experience ever will.
“Never pick a number.” – Grant Graves, AIDA Level A Judge
Grant told me this before I reached my first National Record depth of 71m/233 feet two years ago. He means that if you set a goal maximum depth, it can start to seem unreachable and depths beyond it seem unfathomable. If you just take it slow and leave your goal open-ended you can often achieve more than you’d ever think.
“Make a dive calendar.” – Mandy-Rae Cruickshank, PFI Vice President and World-Record Holder
When you have a set amount of time to train and/or compete, it’s great to set-up a calendar. Pick a starting depth and write on a calendar the loosely-planned depths you’ll do each diving day. The schedule will often change, (and again, never set a max depth!) but looking at your plan on a calendar can make the unachievable seem attainable.
“Focus on what’s happening right now in your dive. Don’t worry about what comes next.” -Ted Harty, Immersion Freediving Founder and National Record Holder
This has helped me massively in my dynamic training. I’d always start a dive and think, “Okay, 5 more lengths to go.” Not only is that way of thinking distracting but it’s also really painful. When I’d get my first contraction I’d think, “oh no, I’ve got so far to go!” instead of evaluating how strong an urge to breathe it really was and continuing to focus on my technique. Now I just focus on each kick and each length and the dives come much easier and cleaner.
“If you want to equalize at that depth, you have to physically relax.” -Kirk Krack, PFI Founder and President
He didn’t mean this in some ethereal way. You actually have to relax your muscles, particularly in your stomach, to allow your diaphragm and chest to compress, which in turn helps you pull air from your lungs to equalize. When I’m past about 50m/160 feet I have to actively think about relaxing my stomach in order to equalize.
“For goodness sake, please just be safe.” -My mom
A safe diving environment has the obvious benefit of ensuring that you make as many ascents as descents, but it also improves your overall confidence for your dives. If I have faith in the safety systems in place around me, I can focus on my dive without the worry that if something goes wrong I’m on my own.
This quote runs through my head every time I want to bail on a dive. There were moments during crew races that my legs felt like they were on fire, I could barely breathe and my hands were sore and bloody from hitting the gunnels of the boat. All I wanted to do was stop rowing and lay down, but I’d push through because I told myself that the pain I felt now was nothing compared to the feeling of achieving something great. It’s the same in diving. The urge to turn around and abort a dive when it gets tough can be overwhelming, but the high of breaking a record or hitting a personal best is worth all the pain.
Without all these pieces of advice and without the motivation and support I get from the amazing people in my life I couldn’t do half of what I have so far and most of all, I wouldn’t be pushing for more.