Even though some 35 plus years have passed by, I still clearly remember my introduction to the underwater world. Being a very young competition swimmer at the time I always admired the enthusiasm and excitement with which one of my Trainers, a former spearfishing champion, showed us his photo album, his newspapers clips. I’ll never forget how he so graphically told us about his stories, adventures and underwater exploits, the thrilling of the hunt, his descriptions of this magical, yet undiscovered world that I knew I HAD to get acquainted with!
Much have changed in the way I, like hundred of others probably at the same period, first got introduced into this exciting "new sport" that changed my life and captivated me for as long as I’ll live…
Our generation began discovering free diving as well as spearfishing techniques mostly by "trial and error" and by becoming personal students, assistants and mostly "go-fers" for our particular "hero" at the time.
I remember many, many days pulling the buoys filled with freshly caught fish that we had witnessed in admiration how our mentor had skillfully dove upon in, approached and masterfully speared in what looked like abyssal depths at the time for us and in awe, eyed wide opened inside our very uncomfortable, primitive, round, rubber made "Cavalero-Champion"" masks we couldn’t but admire and wish, perhaps someday, be like HIM and do the unbelievable things we were privileged to watch.
I took a long time, many experiences, and self-training, physical conditioning to, slowly get there.
Today, that’s all over.
The "quick" generation has caught up with Freediving and spear fishing.
Like many of other aspects of our modern life, there’s a faster, quicker method.
Likewise, the industry has geared itself to provide us, the modern freediver "to be" with a whole myriad of super sophisticated, highly advanced diving equipment made of the ultimate materials technology can provide us with.
From extra long, scientifically designed, super-performance flippers made of the most efficient "space age" materials all the way to new silicone, hypoallergenic, minimum internal volume, sometimes fitted with extra pluses, like those swivel buckles, anti reflection, low light absorbent glasses and, incredible warmth and comfort titanium "water gliding" neoprene suits, hell, you name it, they have made it!
Quantum leaps in what the Diving Industry products can allow us to do. Performances that would have probably been deemed impossible in my time are now in the grasp of anyone than can buy this new and improved gear, even with minimal or no mental as well as physical aptitudes to match this "performing" diving material fire power!
Last time I checked, we still are the same human beings that we were in the past. I certainly believe the Laws of Physics still haven’t changed, so, the human limitations, the environmental influence upon our bodies haven’t changed, either. Our brains still need the same levels of oxygen; we are still subjected to all those elements, both objectives and subjective than can either singularly or in any kind of combination unleash the sequence of events leading to a fatal accident.
The "barrier" of restraint offered by the limitations of the ancient or older gear that forced US to be better trained, more conservative, better prepared, etc. is gone. We can now, easily, surpass ourselves almost without even noticing it.
Likewise, the teaching system, the learning process has also been "streamlined", fast paced, made accessible to everyone. Hey, there are agencies that propose to become an INSTRUCTOR (yes, able to "teach" as many others as he or she can!) in 5 easy lessons, as long as you PAY… no matter if you came from land locked Nebraska and the only water you have seen before in your life came out of a shower!
No, sir, no one can say that there’s any discrimination in selecting who can and cannot become an active instructor, or put his or herself own lives in danger! Just, sign the ubiquitous WAIVER OR LIABILITY RELEASE and free diving you go…!
The tragic result of this lack of foresight is painfully clear when you get acquainted with the growing number of Shallow Water Blackout fatalities that are happening more and more often.
There is a need for reflection on how Instructors and teaching agencies procure the tools, techniques and know-how of Freediving.
The teaching of highly sophisticates breathing techniques that allow the most neophyte to "double up", or more… his apnea time almost instantly is being abused as a publicity stunt. I have witnessed people being shown this "magical" improvement, like it was a David Copperfield thing. Certainly, it works as a sure sell, but is it ethical to be widely dispensing this critical information IF, simultaneously ALL safety procedures, warning, and extensive study of the dangerous accident potential of it is not properly and exhaustively disclosed?
At the same time, during the training or teaching, an emphasis MUST be put on all kinds of potential accidents, recoveries, simulations, reproduction of possible scenarios, etc.
Yes, perhaps, some people in the industry will say, "Hey you are scaring the living daylight out of OUR potential customers!", well, for one (and hopefully not the only one) make this prevention aspect a matter of my up most concern. As I see the S.A.F.E.R’s. students progress doing their skills and practices in the pool, I emphasize that it all comes with a responsibility. The more efficient you get, the better (deeper-longer) performances you do, the more the probabilities of something going wrong, and yes, YOU HAVE to be prepared. It can happen to you.
Sadly we have seen so many of us gone in mostly preventable accidents. The frightening thing is that as the number of recently initiated, fast made, unseasoned free divers multiply, so will the probabilities.
So much have been said about the existent "safety measures" the "buddy system" and so for. These are to be religiously observed, but in the proper perspective. A constant surveillance is required, the condition of one freediver relying on his partner has to be nourished and embedded in their minds, AS they become Freedivers.
We have to face the fact that our beloved sport is a dangerous one, IF, you are not mentally prepared, aware and conscious of the fragility of the line between a rewarding performance and… tragedy. This fine line has to be exhaustively shown, explained in its entirety as well as all the other preparations, and teachings involved in make all of us, the new and the old generations of Freedivers, a safer one.