On The Road to Hawaii (Part I)

Toronto

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation Building in Toronto seems to have been built around rather than built on. Surrounding a cavernous open space, atrium I believe they call it, is the communications center of our countries national radio and television networks.

Standing alone in this giant enclosure one can’t help but wonder why it was so important to capture this much space inside the structure unless perhaps it is some kind of newfangled broadcasting chamber in which case the brightly colored billboards walking around should really be warning signs rather than poorly dressed tourists.

It does not surprise me one bit that all this should be going through my mind as I wait patiently for the wrong elevator to bring me back to where I can make my way to the right one. Eventually I find my way to the offices of Outfront, the first-person radio show that profiles dramatic events in the lives of everyday Canadians. I am there to meet two of the shows producers to discuss how we can take a radio audience Freediving (breath-hold diving).

Tomorrow, as a member of the Canadian National Freedive Team, I leave for Vancouver where I will begin an intensive training program with Four-time world record trainer and Team Canada Coach Kirk Krack in anticipation of the Pacific Cup of Freediving Oct.28-Nov.4 in Kona, Hawaii.

Vancouver is the center of Freediving in Canada due in great part to the fact that Kirk and several other world class athletes call it their home. It was also in Vancouver this May that I came in forth overall in the Canadian National Freediving Championships earning my place on the Canadian team and the opportunity to represent my country in Hawaii this year.

In anticipation of my impending departure, carefully laid out on the table in front of me is a mini-disk recorder and several zip-lock bags, two microphones fitted with condoms and wrapped with duct-tape, a battery operated and plug-in charger, box of extra disks, back up condoms and a roll of duct tape. Steve, one of two Producers of the show, has just gone over each item with me in detail and the other Alison, has just asked that I log each use of the equipment. "I’ll be sure to do that", I say motioning towards the condoms… I quickly realize that I am the only one laughing.

Vancouver

Two weeks into my training and I am equal parts elated and frustrated. On the good side I have brought myself up to a 6:00 static breath-hold. I have to fight for it but it brings my working time, one that I can do consistently, up to 5:30+ soon to be 5:45. My original goal before I left Toronto was 5:30 so I am quite pleased with this progress. The improved time also helps my Dynamic performance as I have more time to go the distance.

There are three disciplines in team freediving competition; Static- Breath hold time (floating) at the surface, Dynamic- Distance traveled underwater on one breath (done in the pool), and Constant Ballast a.k.a. Constant Weight- descending to and ascending from an announced depth on one breath, under your own power.

The ultimate goal in team competition is to accumulate points in all three categories. Difficulty, lack of control or blacking out during a performance can result in loss of points or disqualification. As a result competitors will often announce more modest performances in their weaker areas and look to make up the points where they are best.

This is sure to be the case for me as the depth side of my training is proving to be much more difficult. At 25m/82ft I begin to feel substantial pressure on my chest and lungs. Past 30m/98ft this compression begins a ‘squeeze’ forcing fluid and small amounts blood to congest my upper chest area. More often than not the result on surfacing is mild congestion however in a few more extreme cases I have experienced large amounts of blood (this clears within the hour) and difficulty breathing. Now while one hundred feet is nothing to sneeze at it is a modest depth for international competition. Therefore I would be a lot happier if it were also nothing to squeeze at.

Kirk and I believe this barrier can be overcome with different form and continued conditioning through specific exercises and relaxation techniques. In the meantime it gives me lots of opportunity to look at other aspects of my dive.

As my original experience with freediving comes from spearfishing I have a tendency to look ahead of me (in a hunting mode) which, when diving vertically, arches the back adding a lot of extra stress on my chest wall. This posture also makes it very difficult to get a proper kick cycle causing me to push hard against the diving line to compensate as I descend.

By switching to a dolphin kick vs. flutter (undulating with feet together) we greatly improved both my body positioning, taking some of the stress of my squeeze prone chest area, and efficiency underwater. The improved form also gives me a much straighter trajectory. While this progress has been great I still can’t help but wonder at which point I should consider honoring the limitations of my body. Here begins the line between my psychological and physiological limitations.

CBC Vancouver

On other fronts the first (and only) day of recording for CBC was cut short as the waterproof bag and zip-locks I had the Mini disk recorder in began to take on water as soon as entered the ocean immediately rendering the recorder dysfunctional.

The plan was to capture the surface on-goings immediately before and after my target dives. To this I will add the audio taken from Kirk’s underwater video camera following me down over which will be a narrative taking the listener through every stage of the dive itself, from what I am feeling to what is going through my head.

After exchanging several emails with my producers in Toronto we finally arranged a replacement unit from CBC Vancouver. With one unit down already however they were reluctant to cough up another mini-disk and so, after another detailed operating explanation, I was issued a full size cassette recorder circa 1970 approximately 15 times the size and 30 times the weight of the recorder I had just given up.

The next order of business is to come up new and improved waterproofing measures.

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