A Freediver's Christmas Bleg

Santa Claus is coming not with reindeer but Seahorses this year! As a freediver I am hoping I am not going to get the inevitable pen from Aunt Clara. If you are facing the same situation, just point your peeps to this article, as I am about to explore some possibilities for Christmas presents for the direct descendant of the aquatic apes that we are.

I have to say most of these delightful freediver gifts ideas were found at DEMA, the scuba diving trade show that I attended this year. DEMA is becoming more and more a freediving show as well,thanks to Performance Freediving, USAA and of course  the ever present and totally omnipotent Deeper Blue crew. Enough of propaganda for now: here come the goodies…

Rubbers, as the Solomons call them “…are one of the most important if not the most important equipment a freediver can own!”[Ed. Note: Ain’t never gonna do without !] Wetsuits also happen to be one of the most challenging pieces of equipment to shop for. From Cressi to Picasso even venturing outside of the box with Exceed wetsuits, a young company out of Fort Lauderdale, FL which, by the way, make one really cool-looking suit but one which might not be suited (ouch !) for the competitive sort.

There is also the PFD (Performance Freediving) suit. Martin says “They are great!”. Now, ’tis hard to figure out what to make of that comment since Martin would even manage to break records with a suit made out of cardboard!

Since I don’t have the money and time to test every suit on the market I decided to go with a good friend’s advice (don’t we all do that?) backed up by world champions Natalia Molchanova, Carlos Costes,and Tom Siestas. Frenchy that I am, I still have to say the Italians are as good as it gets when it comes to custom suits,  from a dress up suit to a wet one. I got in touch with EliosSub in Cattolica, Italia right after DEMA and started a conversation with the secretive, brilliant mind hiding behind Info@eliossub.com. After 10 emails and an inconceivable amount of data exchanged (water temps, PB’s,size,density,depth,color,smooth skin open cell only,nylon or superelastic lining, ….and I spare you the further details) we figured out what would be a long lasting, flexible wetsuit that would be ideal for my kind of diving.

Although smoothskin open cell only is better suited for monofinning (as it is extremely flexible) I went for the superelastic lining, which made the suit less fragile and requires no soap to get in! On the first dive I instantly fell under the Italian spell, this rubber was it! After these years of wandering in “neopreneland” I had found my Holy Grail. No problem stretching my hands over head in proper monofinning position and the suit felt like a second skin in perfect symbiosis with my own body. The no soapinbeforeIgetin [Ed. Note: That’s Flemish for “soap in before I get in”] was a definite plus, and since I am not planning to break Carlos’s record anytime soon I’m happy I went for the lining.

To close on this, I would say there are a lot of good manufacturers of wetsuits out there. Two caveats for the emptor: don’t go cheap, and don’t go with a company that barely asks you any questions on your diving before they sell you on their products.

Monofinwise, there are more and more possibilities coming out every year,which is becoming more and more confusing. When it comes down to it, I can’t wait for the day monofin manufacturers will host demo days like in the snowboard industry, where you can try before you buy.

As for now, I’d say a good ole Model 1 “Competitor” from Waterways is the best bang you can get for your buck. Mat Mas and Guidone make good blades and as I am writing this article I am realizing how much their websites have improved for us English speakers. Also, all the  “Wing” design and the angled foot pocket that we’ve seen over the past years (coming for the most part from Russian designs) are very interesting since they’re supposed to reduce shimming and give more efficiency to the stroke. I haven’t had a chance to try them as of yet. Quick words of advice on monofin foot pockets: if they feel like loose, comfy slippers, forget about it. I’m one of the firm believers that bifin foot pockets do not belong in Monofinland: they’re comfy but not efficient. For those of you who stereofin out there, I’m sure you’ll find more pertinent info on the forums since my bifins haven’t been used for years.

Masks: From Liquidvision fluid goggles that only a few privileged divers can afford, to the now-popular Sphera from Aqualung, and Minima from Cressi the possibilities are endless. If you have endless questions, DB forums once again are the source on the matter!

Computers: The D3 from Suunto has become a freediver’s trademark. The Suunto Stinger and D9 along with the Mares Nemo are possibilities, but the D3 to my knowledge has the lowest sample rate of them all. I once again bugged the Suunto team at DEMA this year to plead the freediving case “Get us a D3 with a Heart monitor for Neptune’s sake!” and Mac-compatible software. Well, guess what? What we needed less is coming: the Mac software. The D3 heart monitor computer will not see the the light of day in 2006.

Eric Fattah has made a really high-end, custom product, the F1, which I believe the Performance team is diving with these days.

Gadgets: I am a geek, let it be known. Two of my favorites this year (that I got to try out) are the underwater Ipod housing from H2O audio and the Glo-Toob. Yup.

The Ipod housing is waterproof to 10 meters which is perfect for warmup dive and getting your brainwaves synched, if you know what I’m saying.  It’s a great way to relax before a dive. I listen to Telepopmusik “breathe”. The sound coming out of the underwater headphones is brilliant, once you figure out how to customize them well to your hears. Access to your full library underwater is surreal. I know we all go down to find internal silence and piece of mind, but coming up listening to your favorite track is a must-have experience. I’ve taken it to the pool for dynamic training, too. I have to say I’m not a person who enjoys pool training that much but having music accessible transformed my whole experience. A great thing about this housing is that with both the neoprene swim belt or armband to put the housing in (sold separately) you can take your Ipod in any kind of water environment: surfing, snowboarding, even taking a shower. Ok, ok I am pushing it. The company also makes an underwater housing for the Iriver player that can be taken down to 300 feet/90 meters. Let the music play on. Laissez les bontemps rouler !

The small, sturdy looking Glo-Toob lasts for 30 hours on a camera 12V battery and has 7 different flashing modes. Rated to 300Ft/90 meters (having been tested to more than 11,000 feet/over 3000 meters), the Glo-toob makes for the perfect gizmo to attach to yourself and your safety diver, especially for the West Coast, Canadian and lake water divers. At about 30 bucks apiece retail in the US it makes for the perfect freediver stocking stuffer!

Training: May seem not to belong in the equipment category. But never forget that your best tool while freediving is yourself, your body and mind. You can have all the gizmos and equipment you want but it won’t make you a better freediver: training will. Thanks to the growing numbers of freedivers, many possibilities are now available. In Europe, Deeper Blue has started to teach freediving courses at the “ S.E.T.T Tank” in Gosport, Portsmouth.  Umberto and his Apnea Academy is also running seminars around Europe in different languages from Italian to English, Spanish and French. There are rumors that Loic Leferme is running some clinics with Guillaume Nery in Nice but it is all en français, quelle dommage ! In the U.S.  Performance Freediving and Freedivers are offering seminars in the “Lower 48” as well as in Hawaii for PFI and in Mexico for Freedivers.

Books: I believe everyone who calls himself a freediver should have a decent library on the subject. The aquatic ape theory from Elaine Morgan (check out Paul Kotik’s interview of Elaine right here) is a good start. Then you can get into technique, physiology and physics with the English version of the Manual of Freediving by Unberto Pelizzari and Stefano Tavglieri. Of course Freedive! from Terry Maas is a must-have.

For readers of French, La Plongee en Apnee:Physiologie et Medecine by Jacques H. Corriol offers good solid knowledge on the matter. In English, look for the paper from H. Rahn and T. Yokoyama, “Physiology of Breath Hold and the Ama of Japan”, a good one. For the mind you’ll find excellent papers on Neurolinguistic Programing a good start: there’s one on DB by Sam Kirby. For the Yoga crowd and other pranayama practitioners, Light on Pranayama by B.K.S Iyengar is a reference.

Films and documentary: I don’t have to mention The Big Blue by Besson, although for those of you who keep quoting from it: do it right! Check out the script. This year “Into the Blue” , with bikini-wearing Jessica Alba has some excellent underwater freediving shots and…bikinis.  On the documentary side of things some excellent footage is available from Ambrosia coming from the Sony Classic freediving competitions and Performance Freediving as their Cayman 2005 Diver Down video is out [Ed Note: It really IS out – I didn’t edit it !] . I’m looking forward the DVD version of Loic Leferme’s Profondeur Absolue-171 m that received several awards at different underwater film festival in the world this year.

I could keep on going for pages on the subject but I believe the amount of blue hyperlinks on this article would take over and it would become a nightmare to read! I intentionally left out prices as they constantly change and thought I should leave you, the readers, with some research work to do. I also did not mention all the different possibilities I knew in each category, as I believe this would be a great Forum discussion so the whole tribe can share their ultimate Christmas list. On the other hand, I hope this suggestive list of products will help your love ones to get a clue on what to buy you for Christmas. Now, when you yourself go into your buying frenzy to get more stuff for Christmas don’t forget one thing: the essence of freediving is simplicity. We need only the necessary to go down, let’s keep it this way.

 May you have it happy and merry, and for once – with bubbles.