In 2017, when I reached 40m (131ft) freediving in the Blue Hole in Dahab, Egypt, I knew I wanted to keep going deeper. But as I left Egypt and became a freediving instructor, teaching took up most of my time and spent all of my energy – however, I did manage to get to 50m (164ft) once.
But last year, as I co-authored the Molchanovs Wave 4 – Competitive Freediving manual with plenty of material on deeper diving, I realized that reaching deeper depths meant I needed coaching. Then, I interviewed Molchanovs Instructor Trainer Developer Julia Mouce for the coaching portion of the manual.
Everything she said about coaching, feelings, and confidence deeply resonated with me. I had already heard positive things about her and the Master program at Apnea Bali from multiple people. So I booked my ticket for three months in Bali, along with my instructor friends at SaltyMind Freediving in Xiao Liuqiu, Taiwan, and we journeyed together to Bali.
We planned on doing a half Master program (10 sessions), doing some training sessions on our own on Apnea Bali’s mooring line, and then doing the 2nd half of the Master program. A Master’s program consists of 20 sessions with three days of diving and one rest. They mean business!
The coaching team at Apnea Bali consists of Julia Mouce, Eli Dipp, Emma Li, and Valentina Ramirez. I told them about my messy 50m (164ft) PB because of my lack of mouthfill management and then said I’d like to get to 60m (197ft) with a controlled mouthfill and work on some monofin technique. Let me tell you what a relief it is to see an experienced coach your problem areas and objectives! All you have to do is sit back, listen to their directions, and do what they say – all the guesswork and random stabs at depth are replaced with a targeted approach to training.
The first day was easy – you work on getting that feeling of being back in the water while they check up on your technique. But after, they work on restructuring your dives. They aim to make the working phase of your dive as robotic but fluid as possible so that each first portion of your dive is the same and you don’t have to think about it. Only after mastering that do you get to go deeper – but of course, you don’t add meters until you come up with a fresh face and huge smile, feeling satisfied with your performance.
Overcoming mental barriers
After some time, we all started getting too deep in our heads and facing mental blocks and nervousness on our dives – something that happens to every freediver on their journey to depth. Yet, like the masters they are, the women at Apnea Bali all slowly and surely brought us back to confident dives with gentle coaching, suggestions, and plenty of relaxed dives. I mainly had problems with my mouthfill, but later the coaches helped me realize it was due to thinking way too much about it during my dive, thereby creating more mental pressure. And then they helped me remove it!
My friends were starting to re-work mouthfill while I was working on management. Anyone who knows anything about mouthfill knows the problem lies in managing it. Luckily, the Apnea Bali coaches had different suggestions and strategies for every person. This differs from other coaches, who have a specific idea about mouthfill, charging, and topping up. Apnea Bali coaches work with each person to find what works best for them. And that’s what they did for me and my friends.
Apnea Bali coaches also focused on technique and making each dive as efficient as possible by naturally reducing dive times. But even with these new dive times, you still worked on remaining relaxed at great speeds. I worked specifically on lengthening arm pulls and introducing glides where they were needed in FIM. Later, I worked on monofin kick amplitudes and found which amplitude worked for me. I watched my friends’ bifin kicks become faster with a smaller amplitude, and they started reducing their no-fin arm pulls and leg strokes due to more efficient techniques.
With so much coach help, I became more confident with my dives. My mouthfill became unstoppable – I stopped swallowing as much, and if I did, I could almost always identify why and fix it on the following dives. It became second nature so much that I didn’t even have to think about it while I dived and could put my full focus on relaxation.
And the best part?
I stopped having “Hail Mary” dives, where I wasn’t sure how it’d go but hoped for the best – each dive felt so good. No more early turns, sloppy mouth fills, and no more relying on a “good warm-up” or “ideal conditions” to feel confident about an upcoming dive.
In the end, with massive help from the coaches of Apnea Bali, my friends from SaltyMind both learned mouthfill (and how to manage it) and got plenty of PBs. I got to 62m (203ft) comfortably in FIM and improved my monofin technique – reaching my initial goals!
What’s especially great is that I spent a reasonable amount of time on dives in the 50 – 60m (164 – 197ft) range, feeling comfortable and confident on every dive with a great mouthfill. Even when I didn’t feel 100%, I knew I could reach 50m. My expectations were honestly blown away.
The environment of Apnea Bali is that of a big, healthy family that is always encouraging, positive, and absent of ego. And what’s excellent about Apnea Bali’s Master program is that you train with different coaches. They all have the same approach to depth, so your technique doesn’t have to change depending on your coach. However, each coach has her style, way of delivering feedback, and particular areas of strength.
Emma was very technical with me – when I dived, she dived right in front of me the entire way, and she could identify so many details of my mouthfill during the dive and give me great tips to improve it automatically. Valentina’s positivity radiated on the buoy and was infectious – she made me feel like a superstar and gave any feedback gently and with a smile.
Eli asked questions at the surface and helped me identify the “why” of my issues, making me 100% present and more aware of what was going on during my dives – an essential skill that will stay with me on future dives. Julia just had this unexplainable energy about her that relaxed me, made me calm, and gave me confidence before every dive, greeting me with enthusiastic joy each time I surfaced.
School location and dive site conditions
Apnea Bali is located in Tulamben, a 15 – 20-minute scooter ride from Amed (where most students, including us, stayed). The dive site is a 3-minute walk from the school and a 65 – 75m (213 – 246ft) mooring line (depending on the current) about 150m (492ft) away from shore. Sometimes, due to deep currents, the deep mooring line couldn’t be found. Those days, we’d do shallower training (still up to 42m / 138ft, depending on the current) on the mooring line closer to shore.
I was there from December to March, during Bali’s rainy season. A few days did have some big waves (but it helped us learn to be confident in all types of conditions), so I’d recommend people to go during the dry season if possible. However, as unreliable as the ocean can sometimes be, the women at Apnea Bali were good at predicting the best time to dive. Master students mostly dived in little-to-no current. When we had our autonomous training sessions, Apnea Bali coaches gave us the best times to go out. Hot tip: if you bundle 10 training sessions to use within a month, the price is unbeatable!
In the end, I was so thankful to every person who recommended Apnea Bali to me – and I will do just the same. If you’re serious about going deep or solving a recurring problem with your dives, go to Apnea Bali and do their Master’s program. Every freediver who was there during my three months felt the same, and they all left with more confidence, knowledge, and a deeper connection to freediving. I felt like a completely different, much better freediver walking out of Apnea Bali than the freediver I was on the first day of the Master’s program.
Previous Master’s students regularly return for more training, and I’ll be doing the same later this year – maybe I’ll see you there?