With our self-inflicted delay affording us the opportunity to have another full spring and summer in the UK before departing, we’ve been very keen to ensure we fill our diary with lots of interesting activities and events. With a weekend in Feb free from Six Nations matches and other likely distractions, we managed to book ourselves onto a fairly local (based in Oxford) ‘Introduction to Freediving‘ course, hosted by Gofreediving.com’s Emma Farrell.
Emma is a renowned member of the freediving community in the UK (and wider afield) and offered us her huge range of experience in her introductory presentation. We learnt about the history of this growing and fascinating sport, the physiological characteristics implicit in all of us that contribute to safe breathing control, along with the more technical and serious aspects of how to control the urge to breathe and how to recognise hypoxic fit symptoms etc.
Then it was on to the pool to test our new knowledge in practice, with initial demonstrations before we buddied up and attempted our first go at a timed static apnoea. We took calm, relaxed and shallow breaths floating on the surface of the water as if in a comfortable bath, before a quick deep breath, a long and full exhale of all air from the lungs, then a final three-stage breath first filling the diaphragm area of the belly, then the lungs in the chest, then a final large gulp of air with an wide open mouth. We then smoothly rolled over to float in the water face down, relaxing the body fully and holding this final breath for as long as we were able. The buddy stood adjacent in the water, helping the freediver to stay steady and calm with gentle tweaks and encouraging words. The urge to breathe – brought on not by a lack of oxygen, as our blood, muscles and lungs are fully saturated in O2 in reality, but only by a CO2 build-up trigger that we can learn to control with practice – was unusually lacking and the overwhelming calmness of the environment meant we managed to hold our breath much longer than either of us had expected. Nicky achieved over 1 1/2 mins, Aaron over 2 1/2 mins, with definitely more to come.
Our next lesson was the more active dynamic apnoea, swimming lengths of the pool on the bottom with one breath, whilst practising our slow, long fin kicking technique. This gave us the chance to further practice the breathing techniques prior to holding our breath and to apply them in a more realistic scenario, with us moving, swimming and diving as we would in a normal holiday exploration. We found this working well and our confidence grew throughout our time in the water.
In all, a very interesting and worthwhile introductory course, and one we hope to follow up with further training courses to help improve and expand our knowledge and enjoyment of freediving. The techniques learnt will be invaluable in opening up areas and experiences potentially not otherwise available, and can also be applied to assist our swimming, our kayaking, and our general breathing control and comfort in any other physical activity.