Monday was much cooler and drizzly. Cooler ? By mid morning it was snowing.
The plan, in its infinite wisdom, was for a pool session and static practice. The La Quinta Inn has an excellent area for this, with a small, bath-warm indoor pool. While the large windows let in natural light they also provided a classic snowy backdrop from outside.
Aharon Solomons advocates pre-dive stretching exercises which, contrary to my prejudices, are helpful indeed. The stretching exercises were advanced a bit from the previous day and did seem to gently “warm up” the body and circulation, with an additional benefit of some muscle relaxation later on.
First attempts at empty lung drills are certainly a wake-me-up for the diver and the dive reflex. I suspect that empty-lung induces quicker changes in oxygen and carbon dioxide blood levels and an intense urge to breathe, thus hastening the onset the diving reflex I did pretty well with the very first series, producing a breath-hold of 3:12. That was considered good, given the altitude of 4,600 feet. Nico went next and graciously recorded a 2:56, thereby allowing the official student (me) to feel as if he had some qualifications to be there. We reviewed the fundamentals and practice of the Static Tables while the snow stopped and sun came out.
I had previously avoided the Static Tables: boring and restrictive. Yes, Aharon’s tables are, frankly, boring and restrictive but they’re based on an approach of moderate, incremental goals that produce mild stress. In my judgement managed stress trains an anticipation- of-successful-completion response with a pyschophysiologic endorphin reward, while avoiding the triggering of tachycardia, adrenalin and anxiety. The tables gently push you to calmly adapt to increasing, do-able increments of apnea.
The afternoon session at the Blue Hole let me graduate to swimming down the line with proper finning using borrowed SporaSub blades. The blades were indeed an improvement and felt more workable than the carbon blades. Mastering the proper form, technique, and line position was another challenge but it did come along. Cliff captured it on video and it helped reinforce things.
Tuesday dawned sunny and warmer. Back in the pool, I took the static tables to a Slate Conversion. I then proceeded to run through the table for about 35 minutes in the water. I began with some trepidation a set of eight breath holds with five consecutive holds to 2:15. I had never done a sequence of static breathholds before. Aharon had picked 2:15 based on his observation of my first contraction and start of the struggle phase from the previous day. The build up to 2:15 was with manageable increments that permitted a mindset of success and a relaxed autonomic condition for the statics. It went well and I had a comfortable series without any problems. Given that accomplishment, Aharon advised gentle incremental changes in future exercises.
Back at the Hole, Aharon wanted me to try his own super-trick, double-throw-down, Russian fiberglass blades and they provided yet another measure of improved efficiency. Aharon showed me how to do the foot pocket and blade surgery to manage the transplant when my Russian blades arrive to replace the carbon.
The Hole sessions were becoming easier as I adjusted to the cool water. The style was easier to manage and the fins were a definite improvement. Depths were increasing and primarily limited by my cautious protection of my squeaky ears. The post-dive video review did show that I have a much-improved technique and actually looked like I was pretty smooth over the whole dive sequence. This was encouraging progress.
The last day was to have morning practice with breath-hold walking, but equipment failure prevented it. We had, instead, a didactic session on it. Adjourning to the Hole, the whole sequence came easily from the empty lung warm-ups to using the proper style for a swim to below 20 meters. The bottom was easily in sight and the dives were comfortable, but , alas, the ears prevented the climax of reaching the bottom of the Blue Hole. Never mind. There will be other opportunities.
In the Blue Hole sessions usually lasted about 60 to 90 minutes and were usually limited by squeaky ears and the onset of mild leg cramps due to the cold. Field testing by the group showed that 3 mm was inadequate, 5 mm was the minimum, 7/5 mm plus a 3mm hooded vest was pretty good and a full 7mm suit was toasty warm, but very buoyant. Out of the Blue Hole, static tables, theory and practice were done in the bath-warm water of the La Quinta Inn. The physical resources of the Santa Rosa area were very adequate. Excellent New Mexican cuisine was found at the Comet II restaurant ( closed Mondays !) and a surprisingly wonderful wait staff serves comedy and a more conventional menu at Denny’s. The La Quinta Inn had standard accommodations and the extra benefit of the nearly perfect facility for statics, stretching and meeting room for afternoon didactic sessions.
Aharon Solomons is very impressive. His approach, concepts and training techniques fit what I had learned through the years of formal and scientific education. He also confirmed and explained my own self-taught freediving observations, problems and limitations. The concept of approaching the physiological and mental stresses with moderate and manageable challenges and increments permits early success and rewarding progress as well as time for physiologic adaptations. In contrast to my experience of doing freediving the hard way, Aharon’s stepwise, orderly approach emphasizes safety, fundamentals and proper technique. It produces a calm, competent and comfortable freediver. I am very glad to have had his instruction and I would like to thank my teammates on the Punjabi New Mexican Expeditionary Freediving Team.