It was the first day of the Deja Blue III competition and I was on my way down to 81 meters/266 feet, a new National Record and personal best and the dive felt great. I relaxed and my ears, which had been giving me grief for a few days prior to this record attempt, finally cooperated. I brought air to my mouth one final time for equalization and readied myself for the final 20 meters/ 66 feet of the dive. As long as I didn’t screw anything up I knew this dive was mine.
So I focused. I thought about nothing but my ears and keeping air in my mouth. I focused so hard that I didn’t hear the depth alarm that told me the bottom was near. I didn’t notice the “candy cane” that marks the final two meters/ six feet of the dive. So when I saw the bottom plate go by and felt my lanyard reach the end of the line I was startled and did what no one should ever do at depth- I tensed. I turned around, grabbed the tag and made my way to the surface.
I finished the dive, completed my surface protocol, got my white card and along with it a new National Record and felt great…right up until I started coughing up blood. I realized that I was paying the price of my mistake and had my very first chest squeeze. Frick.
I’ve since healed just fine, but that chest squeeze bothered me the rest of the competition and brought my dive-able competition days from five to three.
The moral of this whole story? There are a million ways to screw up a dive. There’s no way to guarantee that a dive will go perfectly, and honestly very few do, but the best way to avoid screw-ups is to be aware of the potential hiccups you run during a dive and to plan ways around them.
Here are just a few of the most common ways to screw up a dive and ways to deal with the bumps in the road:
Yep, screw-ups can start even before the dive begins! Such is the nature of the sport. That’s why it’s so important to learn the kind of breathing necessary for your specific freediving activity and to practice it until it’s habit. Over-breathing (hyperventilating) and getting rid of too much CO2 is just as bad if not worse than under-breathing and starting with too much CO2.
The beginning of the dive sets the tone for the rest of it. A bad entry means there will be issues with positioning in the water, a large waste of energy spent correcting the direction of the dive and subsequently shorter dive times due to the excess oxygen burn. Practice makes perfect and it shows when it comes to entries from the surface.
An efficient kick will propel a diver through the water while helping them conserve energy, increasing their bottom time. An ineffective kick wastes energy and messes up a diver’s body position. Bicycle kicks are the most common form of problem kicks and can be identified by their telltale bicycle-like motion. If you see excessive knee-bend in a diver’s kick, that’s most likely the problem. Kicks should come from the hip with straight knees.
Bad Head Position
Looking where you’re going is a big no-no in freediving…at least to a point. As a rule it’s best to tuck your head when descending. As you approach the bottom you can begin to make little peeks if you’re not too deep or doing competitive-style diving. A head-back position creates loads of issues, including overall diagonal body position in the water, bad kick position as a result of the crane in the diver’s neck and back, equalization problems, chest squeeze, trachea squeeze…do I need to keep going? It’s really uncomfortable at first but once you switch you’ll never go back.
Obviously this was a problem for me, but it can even cause issues at shallow depths. Tension causes equalization problems, squeezes, urge to breathe, excess oxygen burn, and general discomfort at depth. The silver bullet in freediving is actually relaxation. Unfortunately for some of us, there’s no such thing as “powering through” in freediving.
Well I know that’s not the complete list and you guys could probably give me some more great ideas, so I’ll just call this part one of two. For more freedive blunders and fixes check back for Part Deux. Feel free to leave me ideas for the continuation in the comments section!