Two Forty Five.
I didn’t plan on actually freediving while attending the DEMA Show in this landlocked town.
Not even after going to the “Future of Freediving” panel discussion, which featured “Freedive!” author Terry Maas, USAA President Grant Graves, CAFA President Tom Lightfoot, PFI’s Kirk Krack and Martin Stepanek and DeeperBlue’s own Stephan Whelan. With all these heavyweights in the same room for a full hour (more on that in a separate dispatch), I felt like a novice junkie after his first hit of cocaine, my head chock full of the latest news about the state of this incredible sport (I had always thought it was cool and interesting and all that, but until I had actually done some of the specific actual skills of the freediver I truly didn’t know what I didn’t know. Reading books is good and helpful and all, but only to a certain extent).
And so it was that a couple hours after the discussion, Kirk and Martin conducted a static apnea demonstration in the DEMA Pool, with Martin in the water demonstrating a six-plus-minute breath-hold, making it look like it was the most natural thing in the world, and Kirk doing the explaining.
While Martin’s head was underwater, he was also observed in the pool by a curious scuba diver who had earlier been demonstrating his gear to potential clients.
So after Martin’s 6:30 breath-hold and resultant applause, Kirk invited anyone who was interested to don a wetsuit and jump into the pool to give it a try. I saw a man and a woman go behind the pool to get wetsuits from Big Wave Dave. I stood there for about a minute, not sure if I wanted to or not. And then I just thought, “the heck with it,” and went behind to get a wetsuit. Big Wave Dave asked me my weight (which, being a semi-pro couch potato, I wasn’t sure I wanted to verbalize).
There weren’t any dry ones left, so after Big Wave Dave gave me mine, he led me to the changing area.
Ah yes, wet neoprene on the skin, ain’t nothin’ like it.
After I shivered into it, I joined the three folks in the pool, one of which was the scuba diver who’d doffed his gear to, as he told me, “give this thing a try.”
K&M then talked us through the right way to breathe-up, emphasizing the relaxation aspect – which I really liked, being a non-exertion kinda guy by predilection.
We each were assigned a safety person from among the spectators who stood on the edge of the pool, making sure we didn’t float away or lose consciousness, not necessarily in that order.
The first breath-hold they had us do was for only a minute. After all the deep, relaxed breathing I had done, I never once during that time felt the urge to breathe.
The second breath-hold target was two minutes. Again, a lotta deep, relaxed breathing, followed by floating in the pool, feeling like I was on the verge of a nap. My safety person, a real cute brunette whose name I shoulda gotten, would at certain intervals tap me on the shoulder and watch for me lifting my finger as an acknowledgement.
The first urge to breathe didn’t come until about 1:25, but I did as I was taught and immediately relaxed my body, and somehow (K&M could probably explain it better than me), the urge left and I was fine until the end of the two minutes. The pool’s water temp was somewhat chilly, but I only felt it while recovering during the intervals in between breath-holds.
The third breath-hold target was three minutes, but K&M were great at putting us at ease, saying we didn’t have to hit it unless we felt truly comfortable.
The four of us breathed up, and at Kirk’s signal I relaxed and let the water take hold of me. I could hear Kirk’s voice through the water, talking us through it. Breezed by the first minute, my eyes half-closed, feeling strangely warm. While I had been shivering a bit during the breathe-up, once I was face-down, the shivering stopped. The second minute came and went, and my brain would every once in a while rev up and I’d think, “Gee, this is interesting,” before telling myself to relax and clear my head. To do that, I thought of waves lapping gently along a shoreline, seagulls crying in the distance.
After the two-minute mark, our safety people would tap us on the shoulder every 15 seconds. I felt the water move as the person to my left came up for air. At some point after 2:15, I put my feet on the floor of the pool, still facedown. Waited a little longer, and came up for air. Did the six deep breaths that K&M had taught, and felt more alert and awake than I ever thought possible. We all came up within about 15 seconds of each other, I think, and all of us had personal bests.
It wasn’t until later that Kirk (whose PFI booth is two down from the DeeperBlue booth, right by the CAFA and USAA booths, making it like a mini-freediving pavilion) told me what my final number was.
I had been able to do two minutes once sitting on my couch at home, feeling like my lungs were gonna burst at the end of it. But this time around, when I sailed past the two-minute mark, the feelings were completely different, of relaxation and peace and calm.
I tried to write this article not long afterwards, but I was on such a high from what I had done as well as the ease of how I did it (kudos to K&M for being such good teachers), that it was nigh-on impossible.
The silly grin on my face kept getting in the way.
— John Liang