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Apr 10

The Best Freediving Advice I Ever Got

Whenever I’ve reached some goal or broken a record I’ve been asked time and again what factors have helped me achieve my dives.

“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.

“When things get tough and it hurts and you just want to quit…it’s what you do in that moment that makes you a winner or just another competitor.” -Malcolm Doldron, my high school crew coach

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.

6 comments

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  1. Meredith

    What an arsenal of mental anchors … thank you !

  2. Louis

    Great Tips! If only I could set a calendar and the Ocean would play along! haha

    1. admin

      Haha! The only place that works for me is in Grand Cayman! Otherwise it ends up being a very loose calendar… :)
      Erin

  3. Steve Benson

    Thanks Erin. I am sure there are many divers out there that will be benefiting from these words. Thanks for taking the time to share.

  4. Jessie Cherrall

    About the last one: sure, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, but you don’t want to get pain until real dammage is done, do you? ESPECIALLY on a dive. How on earth do you actually know: ok, this hurts, but I still have room for more… I’m puzzled!

    1. admin

      Hi Jesse,
      First off, I’m sorry for not getting back to you sooner! My spam filter is having some issues on my comments and I’m working to get it fixed.

      To address your comment, yes you have a very valid point. I absolutely don’t mean that you should push until you physically get hurt, but you also don’t want to stop just because things are getting tough. And yes, you’re also correct that the line between those two things can be hard to find. But a few things that help are:

      1. Taking a freediving course from a proper school- this will not only teach you how to push, it will also teach you what is too far, what different injuries could arise and how to avoid them. Good schools will also teach you the safety for how to address those issues, because when you do start to push, that’s when you can run into trouble and need a buddy more than ever.

      2. Practice, practice, practice. For instance, after years of practice I can tell the difference between “this breath hold is starting to get tough” and “Holy $%#& I need to breathe NOW!” but that definitely takes practice. AND that being said, there is no way to tell EXACTLY when you’re going to black out, so relying on a trained safety 100% of the time is key.

      3. Train. Okay, this might go under the “practice” bullet, but in my mind it’s different. To me, training is practicing with a specific intention to push your limits. Gradually getting to know your own limits by pushing them will teach you how your body reacts to hypoxia, lactic acid build up, high CO2 concentrations, etc.. But again, this must be done with a trained buddy supervising.

      I hope that helps and let me know if you have any other thoughts, Jesse.

      Erin

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