**Editors note – Writer Emma Farrell had to opportunity to train and dive with Aharon and MT Solomans on the Island of Paxos. Her experiences are serialized over four parts.
Here is where it all began.**
I had been freediving eight months and despite two weekends at the SETT tank (Descending feet first being pulled by Lee Donnelly and a ten kilo weight belt), pool sessions in Chester and three visits to the freezing, dark and very smelly Dorothea, I still considered myself a complete beginner. My monofin was about as pleasant to wear as running a marathon in a pair of ill-fitting stilettos, my duck dives were somersaults, and I had been told that if I didn’t learn the frenzel I would never be able to equalise headfirst. After battling in vain with Eric Fattah’s clear and sensible document I decided that the only option was to go on a course somewhere sunny and warm.
So at the beginning of September 2002 I found myself on the way to a beginners’ freediving course followed by a monofin course with Aharon and MT Solomons and their guests, the Russian team monofin coaches Alexey and Igor on the idyllic island of Paxos. Little did I know that in those two weeks I would see the snow capped mountains of Albania, followed by the bottom of the ocean, meet a British record holder, cook a curry for four nationalities, discover what the Russians mean by ‘training’, and watch Scooby-doo with a four year old.
Below is my diary of those two weeks, the highs and the lows.
Trying to get a monofin on board, as hand luggage was so not going to happen. I had prepared several blatantly useless excuses ranging from ‘I’m an athlete going to compete in the world finswimming championships’, through to the desperate ‘Don’t you know who I am?!’ It was never going to work. They ‘placed’ it in the hold at the last minute and I only prayed that the monkeys at the other end would notice the ‘fragile’ and ‘do not bend’ stickers. I arrived at Corfu airport at 4 in the morning and still managed to miss the connecting ferry at 7am by 30 seconds because they had moved it half a mile up the quayside. Two other ferries and a taxi later I arrived in a state of exhaustion in the beautiful village of Lakka to be greeted by a young English man who looked like a racoon.
‘Hello Emma, how are you?’ he says.
I have never seen this guy before in my life and he certainly isn’t Aharon. ‘Err hello?’ When sanity has returned he reminds me that we met at the SETT tank and that he had lent me his ankle weights in my vain attempt to leave the surface. ‘Oh my god it’s you! I still have the scars on my ankles! And, er, what happened to your face?’ It turns out that this is what happens after a week in the sun wearing a mask and hooded wetsuit. Only certain areas go brown. Hence the racoon look. I made a mental note that this was NOT going to happen to me. He introduced me to Jean Reno look-alike named Richard who had also just completed the course and I sat down to hear all about the course. They raved about it and suggested that we go up the hill the next day so I could meet Aharon and MT.
A word of warning. Never, ever, ever, wake up Aharon on his day off. He can be a very scary man indeed. He took me onto the balcony and gave me the biggest dressing down since I got caught throwing stones at Primary School.
‘Why have you brought a monofin if you can’t use it?’ Yah?!
He suggested I wait until after the professional monofin instruction before using it for freediving. I left the house in a state of shock and despite Richard telling me that Aharon was the most incredible guy in the world and that the course was the best thing he had ever done, I still thought ‘What am I doing here?’
But rest assured the guy does mellow. In the afternoon I was playing out in the bay with Alexis, diving for stones and chasing tiny flat fish when we bumped into Aharon and MT playing with Ze’ev, their four year old in the shallows. We took turns throwing Ze’ev as high in the air as possible whilst he yelled ‘Higher! HIGHER’. MT told me that the two other people who would be taking the course with me, Vicktor and Renata, were arriving late, so the first theory lesson would not take place till the following evening.
First theory lesson. Before taking the course I had been fairly ignorant of the dangers of freediving. I knew about shallow water blackout and to rest between dives but not much more. Aharon and MT’s knowledge blew me away as we worked our way through their twenty safety rules. I learned not only what you shouldn’t do but exactly why and how it all related to physiology. For the first time, strange rules like ‘Don’t look down on descent or up on ascent ‘ were explained.
We still only managed to cover half the rules as each one was explained and illustrated by so many facts and figures, which Aharon explained clearly in a non-jargonistic fashion. We learned about deep-water blackout, the dangers of repeat deep dives, and other pieces of information. We were also given our manuals. A thick book of the rules, physiology, psychology, exercises, tables and everything bar the kitchen sink, which we would be working through during the week. The fear of God was put in me and I went to bed with my head spinning.