Diving - Discovering a Love for the Ocean
Scuba diving and freediving my way into the futureNovember 6th, 2021
February of 2021, I had been in Texas for the previous two months and was looking for an escape. Most countries were closed to the US, or had quarantine requirements, which is how I came across Curaçao.
It was off the usual US tourist route and known for diving, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to leave the US, explore a new country, and try out scuba diving.
I had been wanting to try out scuba diving for a while. Ever since discovering bouldering a few years ago and seeing how much I loved the sport, I had wondered what other adventure sports I had yet to try that I'd resonate with - one of the sports on my bucket list was scuba diving.
So I booked my ticket and stepped off the plane in Curaçao two weeks later.
Scuba Diving in Curaçao
I did some research and signed up with Scuba Lodge Curaçao for my Open Water Diver certification.
The first time in the water I was sold.
Floating weightless - surrounded by corals and tropical fish, entering into the separate world previous to then completely unknown to me and the sense of calm being completely aware of my breath.
Entering nature's domain, I was just a visitor in the vast ocean. Looking off the drop off of the reef into the disappearing blue void. The sense of overwhelming size and power of the ocean encompassing me.
I finished my open water dive and became buddies with my instructor. Since there were basically no tourists the two months I was there, we ended up doing a ton of dives together over my two months on the island including a couple of reef clean-up dives.
Each time it felt so good to get into the water, that feeling of weightlessness coming back. I could see why divers are so quick to describe themselves as divers when meeting them - the way of life, the mindset shift, the calm and zen that so many of them emanate.
Doing all of these dives and hanging out with divers is when I first heard about freediving. I was immediately intrigued. No tanks, just fins, mask, and a snorkel diving to depths even deeper than an advanced scuba diver could go - all using a single breath.
I added it to the list of adventure sports to try.
After leaving Curaçao, I knew I wanted to continue with scuba diving and get my Advanced Open-Water certification which would allow me to do deep, recreational dives to 30m.
Again did some research for spots and and dive schools that would let me get a scuba AOW cert and also try out freediving. I decided on going Playa del Carmen with Blue Life diving.
But before starting my next certs, I took a trip down to Belize to meet my mom (who had dived before) and my cousin, Dan (new dive convert) to explore the reefs near San Pedro (furthering my mastermind plan of bringing my whole family to the dive side 😈).
In Playa del Carmen I did some amazing cenote dives and dives in the local reefs, denotes, Cozumel reefs, and even a 30m deep dive in El Pit.
Absolutely breathtaking. One of the aspects I enjoyed most was the deep dives, feeling so far away from the surface and venturing further into the otherworldliness of the water.
Freediving - One Breath to Rule Them All
Then it was time to freedive. I went with Blackfin Freediving, and I don’t think I could have made a better choice for my first experiences freediving.
Mari, my instructor, besides being an awesome person, was also an awesome instructor and focused on the fun of exploring and freedom of freediving. I think this approach made it easy to fall in love with freediving.
The first time going in the water and diving short depths around 10 meters was wild. After being so used to constantly breathing for scuba, it was strange to now just hold your breath under water. But the freedom of no gear, mobility of having just fins, and the speed of finning was incredible.
Whereas with scuba diving I felt like an observer of the ocean, with freediving I felt like I was part of it.
On my final day diving, I actually got to go and dive with the rest of the Blackfin Freediving team. They had planned a day of training at one of the cenotes a couple of hours from Playa del Carmen (as well as surprise party for Pepe the lead diver for the team).
Getting to go and see the community around diving, and the preparation and culture of diving is what really sealed the deal for me on freediving.
Everyone was so welcoming and seeing these people come together to pursue something they love and are passionate about - the supportive nature of improving themselves was energizing.
That day I reached my personal best at the time of 25 meters. And it was incredible. I could feel the improvements with each dive and that feeling of progress was motivating.
Being able to go that deep and feel that sense of achievement at pushing my limits and improving on each dive gave me the drive to continue with the sport. I had discovered a love of freediving.
Breath training and Freedive Level 2
My training in Mexico was in June. After Mexico I travelled around some more and ended up back in Portugal. Since Mexico I had been looking for another opportunity to continue freediving but hadn’t found one yet.
Through a long string of events I ended up having a paid stay at a Selina in Athens for a month, and since I’d also always wanted to go to Greece, this seemed like a great reason to explore a new country and continue freediving
I once again researched the freediving schools in Athens and went with Freedive Greece, and wow and I glad I did. I booked the sessions for a week of sessions and Freedive level 2 certification.
With my training set for mid October (about a month away at the time), I began doing breath tables on my own in preparation for my training.
I had high hopes of improving my static apnea breath holds on my own, but wasn’t as consistent as I could have been. however what I did manage to do is get my personal best times from 2:06 to 3:26 over the course of a month.
This was using the app Stamina to do O2 and CO2 breath tables.
O2 tables help train your body to function on less oxygen for longer periods of time and CO2 tables help train your body to handle larger amounts of CO2 from longer breath holds.
From my first meeting with Vassilis (the owner and lead instructor of Freedive Greece), I knew I had made the right choice. We talked through his hands-on approach to learning and we immediately bonded on our love of hardcore/metalcore bands and live shows.
This is Vassilis and Kostas (Kostas was going through the instructor training while I was in Greece).
Our first meeting we went through breathing techniques for static apnea and in the course of an hour we broke my personal best three consecutive times. 4;06, 4:15, and finally 4:28.
Seeing over a minute improvement in one day was an incredible motivator for me and made me feel kind of like a superhuman - feeling my body and mind push through and persevere to reach new bests that I didn’t even know were possible was inspiring.
Over the course of the next week and a half we went and dived each morning, improving technique each day - culminating in my current personal best of 30m constant-weight dive with small 3in fins.
The relative ease that I was diving at 30m with small fins makes me think I could progress quite quickly using actual freediving fins - to be determined.
It’s difficult to express the feeling of seeing the improvements and the relative ease that I can now do 30m with short fins compared to the first few days of training. True progress, measurable, and in quick enough progression to remember the feeling of just the past week.
I also improved my nutrition and health during my two weeks in Athens. I stopped drinking completely during my training time (anyone who knows my love of craft beer knows this was a big one) and became more consistent with my HIIT training and yoga practice.
All of these healthy aspects of my life - nutrition, exercise, meditation, yoga - now had a focal point to bring them all together and see the improvements of all of them combined.
I feel like especially the mental elements of pushing through difficult yoga poses - or even more so the other way around - calming the mind and pushing through the urge to breath on a deep decent or holding time at the bottom of the dive all come together into a whole greater than the individual parts.
When you’re ascending to the top with the urge to breath and chest contractions kicking in - you don’t have any other options, you have the present moment, the discomfort, and the necessity of pushing through it.
You can either choose to dread and resist the present - suffering until the surface. Or, you can accept and relax into the discomfort and accept what it means to be human.
I can say for a fact that I want to keep freediving as part of my life. I likely won’t be able to dive regularly or at all until I settle down in one place (near the ocean) for a while (hopefully Barcelona in 2022 🤞).
Then I’ll buy some gear, find a local community, and continue my love affair with the ocean.