“You can’t lie to the water. Whatever you are going through in life, whatever issues you are dealing with will come out in the water.” -AIDA Judge Grant Graves
I have been asked a lot lately how I made it from a 30-meter diver to a 91-meter diver in such a short period of time. I have thought long and hard about this question, yet haven’t really come up with any solid answers.
I hired Ted Harty as my coach, who trained my ass off. Doing apnea lunges and burpies until I poop myself are fun yet no magic potion. No any one exercise did it. My alkaline diet played a role but that too wasn’t really the key.
I did yoga in the mornings and prayed at night. I’d meditate on my dives. I meditated on nothing and focused on my third eye. I tried to get in touch with my inner dolphin and found myself with thoughts of birthday parties at McDonald’s or wondering about the laundry. I read through Breathology, took notes from Deep World Wide Magazine’s pool training articles, studied Youtube videos of the greats. I made sure that my equipment was adequate and up to date.
I did all of this and yet I feel like none of it really would have mattered. I feel like I could have done the 91 meters after a night of Coors light, hot dogs and Jai Alai. Of course it didn’t go down like that but after talking with Grant Graves, our head AIDA judge in Cayman, I was left with a nugget of knowledge that stuck: “You can’t lie to the water, what ever you are going through in life, what ever issues you are dealing with will come out in the water.”
At nineteen, I took a girlfriend to the beach I used to swim at as a kid. We watched the stars and dipped our toes in the gentle Gulf as the tide rolled in. She went further into the water until her corduroys filled with water. She lay prone on her back in ripples of the waves and allowed herself to be carried away with the tide. I was unsure if she would ever come back.
I bring up this anecdote to make a point about emotional baggage. This girl had been physically abused, faced the death of her true love, recently broke up with her last boyfriend, packed all her life into a U-haul and moved back to PA from NC, was jailed for a month at the RNC protests in Philly, and spent a whirlwind summer traveling Florida with me. She had so much emotion swirling around inside of her. It was an understatement to say she was holding onto a lot, but at that moment in the water she gave into a power greater than herself and let go. At the time I watched with sadness because I knew she would never allow herself to be carried away so freely by me. Looking back now it is liberating for me to know what she was feeling at that moment.
During my 91m dive I felt myself pass the 50m mark and I knew I was past the point of no return. I was unsure of the dive and said a little prayer, “Shepard me oh lord.” It was then that I let go completely and I made the dive easily with a clean surface protocol, which is amazing considering how ugly the dive was. I sank sideways, the lanyard tugged me the wrong way, my fin flailed overhead, but none of that mattered. I didn’t fight it, was completely relaxed, allowed the water and my body to do what they were going to do and before I knew it I was at the plate.
I find it hard watching the video because I am embarrassed by the poor technique. In the bottom footage it actually appears that I am floating up right towards the surface and when I reach the plate, oh brother! My head’s up, my neck is stretched out and I am looking straight at the tag for the last ten meters. I got a trachea squeeze, caused mainly by my lack of experience. Combining letting go and maintaining good technique requires hours of training and this is where natural ability failed me.
Kirk Krack says, “ Repeat the dive, repeat the dive and repeat until you have it down pat.” Sink and repeat.
Lying to the Water
I was promptly reminded what happens when one does lie when I attempted an 88m free immersion dive during the competition, which would have been a new US national record.
I thought that I was ready for the dive, even though I’d never trained the discipline. I was an arrogant fool to think that I could pull it off by just letting go. In this case the letting go was the easy part. I felt comfortable and relaxed in my sink phase, my head position was right, my body streamlined and it felt good up to the point of reaching the plate.
That’s where my lack of training left me open and exposed to the water…at 88 meters. I felt the effects of nitrogen narcosis at depth and at the same time realized that it was a long way up. I felt extremely vulnerable without anything on my feet (I can hear Grant Hogan snickering about my dependence on ‘flippers’).
My mind got the better of my body and my emotions took over. I panicked and raced to the surface instead of relaxing and accepting the vulnerability. I burned through all my reserves and had to be rescued at 28m, nearly 100 feet, blacked out and experienced a major lung squeeze. The squeeze shut me down for the rest of the competition and kept me from making dives in other disciplines. It kept me from attempting another record. I was really angry with myself for being so reckless and arrogant. You can’t lie to water, a hard lesson to learn.
Ultimately I attribute my rapid success to mental fortitude. One has to train the machine so that it works with efficiency, no way around that, but the body will only carry you so far. The most important tool in this sport, and the hardest part to train, is your brain. Emotions can be a great detriment to a freediver and one has to learn how to control and focus them into a positive energy. There must be a balance between letting go, natural ability and training.
Water is acceptance of the unknown, of demons, of emotions, of letting go and allowing your self to flow freely with it.
Never lie to the water because you are only lying to yourself. Be true to yourself. Accept faults and weakness. Rally around strengths and ability. Be open and accept the emotions as they happen and let them pass. Come to the water willing to be consumed by it but also have confidence that your ability will bring you back.
See Nick’s National Record 91 meter/299-foot dive here: