Shortly after my first visit to Dean’s Blue Hole in November of ’08 Will Trubridge mentioned his Master Class to me. He thought I’d enjoy meeting and working with Yogi, Simon Borg-Olivier, and told me he’d put me on the mailing list.
I would never have dared enroll myself in anything that even seemed to imply mastery, but Will’s email defined my mission: Get to the Blue Hole again and take the class.
Events converged and gradually the idea went from remotely impossible to actually happening.
So in one long day I rode airplanes to the Bahamas. I checked into the Orange Hill hotel in Nassau and was welcomed as a returning guest. Orange Hill has this sort of old school tropical island hotel feel. The kind of place where you could hunker down and write a gritty, alcohol saturated, novel. I drank wine with some of the other guests and learned a lot about building roads and airfields in the Caribbean. Now I know how the road to the Blue Hole got that way.
At the squeak of dawn I took a cab to the airport and caught a Pineapple Air flight to Long Island. I like Pineapple air because of their logo. A Pineapple in the air.
Down safe, on time and monofin intact at Dead Man’s Cay (A timely intervention was required to keep my fin from being offloaded at the wrong airport.). The trusty Blue Hole Villa Nissan SUV awaited in the stifling heat – keys placed according to Long Island security protocol, on the driver’s seat. Soon I was motoring along (LEFT ..remember LEFT side of the road!! LEFT is the new RIGHT.. NO: LEFT!!) with actual working air conditioning! What’s more the grocery store in Pettys was freshly stocked !! I loaded up on food and stopped in to say hi to Will, then headed to the best possible place to stay if you want to be near Dean’s Blue Hole – The Blue Hole Villa.
I walked to the front screen door, smiled as it came off in my hand, went in and turned on the A/C. Once the temperature arrived at something that could be reasonably called Earth-normal I began to function and started unpacking. Everything was there except MY CAMERA BATTERY CHARGER!! ARGH! (Miraculously, on my last day at Dean’s Blue Hole, one of my camera batteries recharged itself!)
Made nearly morose by this grim fact I simply got into my gear, went down to the Blue Hole and sang my sad song to the strikingly photogenic Tarpon.
The water was HOT. I was miserable in my Orca Tri-suit but needed coverage from the sun. For the four days before class I mainly got up early and hit the hole before and after the sun and without the suit.
Before the class began I was worried I’d be the odd man out with my pathetic 34.6 meter personal best. I didn’t want to waste everyone’s time with my beginner’s issues so I arrived early and practiced every day – doing FRC dives to simulate deep equalization and working on vertical monofin technique. On the second day I was so engrossed equalizing that I fell through a new PB! Feeling like a little kid who accidentally blew up the neighbor’s garage I set the alarms on my gauge and stayed inside the envelope after that.
On the third day I began to run into some of the other students and exchange stories, PBs, etc. What a relief! I wasn’t going to be the lone hapless dork barely tolerated by flock of elite uber-divers!
Simon Borg-Olivier is a brilliant yogi and teacher and a really nice guy. We began each day with asanas and pranayama on the beach at the Blue Hole. I learned more about how to work the asanas and bandhas in one hour with Simon than in all the other yoga trainings I have ever attended.
Simon’s emphasis in teaching asanas is holographic – each pose contains keys to all the others. His masterfully designed sequences, words and actions communicate these essential principles directly to your body.
If I had come to the Master Class only to study Yoga it would easily have been worth it. I have not experienced any asana instruction that matches the quality of what Simon offers. Implicit in Simon’s work – and ignored in most yoga now being taught – is reducing the amount of breathing. This is mentioned in the ancient texts but generally neglected in modern yoga. The relevance to freediving is obvious.
(Simon also showed me how to swim effectively while in the Lotus position and we had a great male-bonding night playing with Glen Venghaus’ Heart/02 monitor.)
Simon’s approach definitely changed the way I practice, lighting up key points in not only my yoga practice, but in my work with internal martial arts and freediving. His teaching brought to light and addressed questions formed in my body and mind over the course of decades of practice. It is with renewed interest and delight that I continue to digest and incorporate what I learned during his classes.
Namaste’, Simon. You rock!
We were all from different parts of Earth and had different ranges of experience and skill. Much was learned just from talking and diving with one another. For example: From Alexis Silva Brisset and Alfredo Romo, two divers from Mexico, I learned the two themes of Mexican soap operas, and that in Mexico it is normal for doors to have no hinges!* What a mysterious world we live in!
*When he saw the door on the villa Alexis remarked “It’s like a Mexican door”
I’m sure some freedivers are jerks, but I haven’t met them (Maybe it’s me! I’m the one freediver jerk who carries the burden for everyone else…). Everyone in the class was great. It was an outstanding group of people and an absolute pleasure to meet and get to know each one. By day two I actually knew everyone’s name – a completely freakish phenomenon in my experience for which I have no explanation.
I am always moved by how freedivers look out for each other. How we share each other’s excitement and do little considerate things for one another. It’s just really something to see.
Will’s teaching is the expression of a very thorough and methodical approach, intense focus, and hard-won practical knowledge. This makes for a substantive and well-grounded teaching style that readily accommodates students across a wide-range of ability and experience. The material was fascinating, practical and presented in an accessible way that made us all comfortable asking questions – even if they were very basic.
Working with Will in the water is a real treat. He genuinely celebrates each diver’s accomplishments and zeros right in on where you need work without making you feel pressured. As a teacher he met us each where we were.
On the first day of class I came up from a surface entry practice to find Will looking at me a little strangely. “Chris,” he asked “What is your relationship with your snorkel?” At first I thought this might be a koan – a test of snorkel enlightenment. How should I answer? Perhaps with another koan? Maybe a spontaneous Haiku:
‘Tarpon shine motion-less;
a flower moves in no breeze;
my door has no hinges..’
Or just man-up? ‘Well, Will; A man is not a man without his snorkel.‘
A moment passed and I understood. Accustomed as I am I’d left my snorkel clipped to my mask during these practice dives. From Will’s perspective such a profound hydrodynamic abomination could very well signal deep-seated psychological problems – hence the tactful question.
Will was assisted in the open water sessions by USA national champion freediver Rob King. Rob is a fine instructor in his own right and I owe major breakthroughs in deep equalization technique to his anecdotal teaching style.
Each dive is a reductive meditation – yet every moment; complete – going without going… The long breathe-up – releasing felt limits of the body and all the habits of gravity into breath and fluid space. Softening breath and boundaries. Suddenly its time to dive – motion exploding out of stillness – leaving the world and social identity like oil on the surface – letting effort fall away as I drive down into the blue. Then the glide phase – watching the line, equalizing, small adjustments to stay vertical. As I go deeper I become simpler. Awareness a paradox of point and space as focus isolates to equalization and pressure.
My turn is still dictated by equalization. I could go deeper if I packed, or went feet first or used fluid goggles – but I want to go without these things for awhile, then we’ll see.
The trip up is the hero’s journey of return. Watch the line, breathe from my mask (unless its full of salt water and sunscreen!!) and feel the intense tactile rush of my body moving through concentrated sensory space toward that first breath. At 20 meters I see Will – having just arrived he turns fast to stay with me – the blue speedsuit has me a little carried away with speed.
Surface discipline – the first, restrained exhale – staying cool. Curious looks remind me to check the gauge – which I never do during a dive. Another PB! Its how we share the dive – something to say about what we all know. We each love this.
Did I mention it was freaking hot? The water was 84F! I’m comfortable diving in water that’s half that and less in a 5 mil suit. When it hits 60 I get out my 3mil. I was whining about how I wouldn’t take a bath in water this hot when Will asked me if I wanted to try an Orca swim skin. “What are they like?” I asked “Like nothing” he replied. “Nothing” sounded pretty good to me, so I sold my new Orca Equip to Alexis of Mexico and bought an experimental blue suit. It changed my life. **
In that suit, with my fin and full lungs, I was neutral at 15m. I needed no weights. I swam between the water. Super-cavitation seemed within reach. I could almost feel something like coolness! It felt so awesome to swim with a monofin in this suit that I never got around to doing no-fins…something for next time.
**Will told me I would need help putting the suit on. Ha! I did it myself. It took me 20 minutes in positions most people could not achieve without surgery. I made sure to get to The Hole before everybody else, so they wouldn’t mock me as I struggled..
Will Trubridge’s Master Class is one of the best trainings of any kind that I’ve attended. It would be a bargain to study with either Will or Simon – both are are at the absolute top of their respective fields. Together they provide the means and understanding to radically improve every aspect of your freediving whether you’ve yet to pass 20 meters or are shooting for over 100.
Adding a dozen meters to my personal best and cracking the deep equalization barrier were great, but the good-company and getting to watch the other divers meet and exceed their goals out-shined my personal objectives.
This write-up would not be complete without mentioning Will’s family. I first encountered them in the blue hole – as I ascended from a line dive to find a pod of humans suddenly materialized on the surface above me. What a dynamic group! Virtuosity seems to be the rule, with each of them into very different and intense creative endeavors. They are a blast to hang out with. We all shared dinner on my last night. It was a warm and hilarious way to end the trip.
Will Trubridge has put together a one-of-a-kind training of uncompromising excellence.
For each of us it was as though we had private lessons from the best in the world every day.
Among Yogis its said the best meal leaves one still a little hungry.
I want MORE!
Thanks to fellow student and intrepid dive buddy Greg Borel for skillfully using my spontaneously resurrected camera to get the great shots of me in my blue uber-suit.
Thanks also to Chris and Cheryl Kierst– who run the Blue Hole Villa – and to Claudette, who manages it. It feels like a second home to me.
For another perspective see Apnea Academy instructor and class participant Glenn Venghaus’ review of the Master Class here: http://www.glennvenghaus.com/freediving/articles/Bahamas2009.php – Check out the video he has posted of Simon performing a masterful asana practice on the bluffs near the ocean. It’s not something you get to see every day