CLASS DAY THREE
Today’s lecture was dominated by Martin, who told us the importance of making sure your ears are clean and dry after swimming, "Especially in swimming pools. Swimming pools are the dirtiest, nastiest water you can get into. I mean, I pee in every pool I see. Even if I’m not getting in." Stimulus-response, conditioned reflex, something like that.
Back to the boat, we were now down by two students- one to a massive case of seasickness (he would not be coming back), and one (my buddy) to a college exam. And someone else was also now missing.
One Less Rock Star
"Where’s Martin?" somebody asked and Kirk replied "Oh, he had to fly to Tennessee for a magazine photo shoot. Men’s Journal, some Athletes of the Year issue."
"Is he coming back?"
"One rock star gone",one of my classmates commented. I was a bit bummed that I hadn’t gotten to actually dive with Martin, but it was time to focus on today’s training.
Back to Work
The ocean was a bit calmer this day. No squalls had rolled through so we weren’t all thrashed around in God’s washing machine as much as the day before. Paul was on our line today, and I was now part of a three-buddy team, due to my missing buddy.
Today’s glitch list included not only my problematic left ear but a leaking mask as well. Eventually I got the mask situation under control, getting only a slight bit of water up my nose on each dive. An interesting sensation I was still enjoying hours afterwards! I surfaced once yelling "Friggin’ mask!", tore it off and threw it into the float. I think Paul sensed I was a bit frazzled – can’t imagine how. The plate had been dropped to 80’/25m, and I’d managed to reach the astounding depth of 33’/10m.
The Nuts and Bolts of It
This day was just not going as planned.
I was also having trouble getting a good, strong kick down with my fins. Too used to flutter kicking with scuba fins only. I’d been strictly dolphin kicking in my long blades during the months leading up to the course, doing dynamic in the health club and community pools at home. Now I was being told to flutter kick, and it just wasn’t working. While everyone else was moving into double kick cycle counts and double depth, I was still struggling to get just one single kick cycle down. Kick cycles have always been a bane of my existence, since my beginning scuba days, and now they were coming back to haunt me in fins that they had no business bothering me in. So again, I was left to focus on technique and forget about any new depths.
We all rescued Paul a few times. After seeing his simulated blackouts, I’m convinced that he really likes to overact. [Editor’s Note: This does not neccesarily represent the views of Deeper Blue or its parent company.]
Hey, Wait a Second -You’re Not Flipper!
A few of us students stayed in the water to help the instructors dismantle the rig and get it back on the boat. I was bobbing there holding a spar when I heard muffled cries through snorkels and saw several fingers pointing downward.
I looked down, expecting to see part of the rig sinking into the abyss. Instead saw a considerable shark swimming away from us, about 30’/9m away, shadowed by two remora. Any thoughts of "Um, get OUT of the water" were overwhelmed by other thoughts of "Ooooooh, aaaah…."
Mmmmm…F l i p p e r …
This awe factor was about to increase. As we got underway and had just started peeling off our wetsuits we saw them: curved dorsal fins, rising and falling in off the starboard aft side of the boat. "Dolphins!" someone cried out. Captain slowed the boat a bit and changed course, allowing the pod of bottlenose to get behind us so they could jump and surf in our wake. "We should get out and swim!" Mandy said, and I really wish we could have. We motored on, though, and soon the dolphins left us.
Kirk to students: "That means they were pleased with your performances today."
It was a nice thought, and it even helped sooth the wounds I’d begun to tear open in my own confidence. I had to remind myself, this was not about reaching a PB depth, but all about getting the technique down. As these great instructors kept telling us: get the technique down first and the depth and bottom time will come. I managed to find a positive thought and gently congratulated myself for doing as well as I did out in the open ocean, a totally new experience for me.
The day ended with a nice long discussion with Mandy on the bow of the boat, part of which concerned the styrofoam cups she’d taken down with her to depth on her 139m no-limits dive. Again, just two humans talking, but one human talking to the other human about her superhuman feats.
CLASS DAY FOUR
An air of sadness hung over me today as I drove to the marina for what I knew would be the last time. After this it would be back to Ohio, back to my real, mundane, uneventful life. I was truly going to miss the ocean, the boat, the PFI gang….everything about this trip had been fantastic, even if things weren’t going as well as I’d wanted them to go out in the ocean.
Choking The Monkey
Before heading out, Kirk gave us a bit of a talk on dive psychology, and the evil monkeys came up again. He suggested that we grab the evil monkey, yank it off of our shoulder, and twist it’s neck. A rather violent image, but effective.
I was a bit somber and quiet on the boat, standing at the railing, looking out at the open ocean and letting the wind wash over me, when Paul sidled up to me. He seemed to know exactly what was going on in my head, and reassured me that everything was going to be fine. "Just relax and have fun today, that’s what we’re here for. Don’t worry about setting a new depth record, just work on technique." He even talked to me about Ohio, and he actually knew where Youngstown is. He also reassured me by telling me that this didn’t have to be my last day with Performance Freediving after all, that I could come back and dive with them again when they were back in Miami, just doing the boat dives. That put my mind at ease a bit, now knowing that today didn’t have to be last day, just the last day before an extended break, perhaps.
Kicking the Habit
All throughout the session, Kirk, Mandy, and Paul took turns swimming among us with two underwater video cameras, filming our dives. Today THE instructor, Kirk, was on my line. Right off the bat he noticed that I was a bit tense on my free immersions, and advised me to relax. Pull down, relax, equalize. Pull down, relax, equalize. Relax, relax, RELAX… I followed his instructions and found that I had an easier time equalizing, since I wasn’t bolting for the plate.
The longer descent times starting playing with my mind (cue evil monkey) and I came up rather quickly once I hit the deepest point of my dive.
"What was your static?" Kirk asked me. I told him. "You should be able to do a 1:30 dive easily, then. Just relax." He also noticed my demon: my kicking. As I surfaced from a dive, he said to me "You have a pretty good dolphin kick when you come up. Tell you what; go over to that line, nobody’s on it, and just go down a few meters with a dolphin kick, let me see it." I came up, he pointed at me, and said "Dolphin kick. DEFINITELY dolphin kick." He’d found the solution to my kick problem – going back to the kick I should’ve been doing all along!
A few dives later I noticed an odd, grayish, fish checking out my legs. "What is THAT?" I asked. Kirk glanced down, lifted his head, popped out his snorkel, and said "Remora!" I guess I looked like I was in need of a cleaning! Or maybe it was just the silver wetsuit.
By the end of the day I’d managed to hit 43’/13.3m – nowhere near the 20m I was hoping for, but by now all that mattered was technique. In a way, it was a new record for me: the deepest freedive I’d ever done in the ocean.
Saved By The Belle
Mandy took me on to drill rescues and I rescued her again, incorrectly, again. This time she simulated a hypocapnic blackout immediately after entry and I pulled her back to the surface the wrong way- grip under her arms, rather than under the chin and back of the head. She told me what I’d done wrong but then complimented me on getting her to the surface and rolled her over quickly, so it wasn’t a total loss. And, lucky me, it was filmed! Hooray!
A Place At The Table
A somber yet celebratory boat ride back in. Captain slyly powered into the waves and drenching us all on the bow. "I’m so glad I rinsed off" Mandy muttered. At least she was still in her bikini. I sat there wondering how I was going to go to a restaurant in a soaking wet muscle shirt. It was a good thing I hadn’t put my shorts on yet!
We pulled into the port, took a group photo, and then went out for a final dinner at a nice cerviche restaurant in tres chic Coconut Grove. After dessert Kirk and Mandy had to run to catch their flight back to Vancouver, Kirk shaking hands, and Mandy giving hugs. At that moment, the depressing realization hit me that the event I’d been waiting for for months was actually over . After I said my goodbyes, I was a bit blue as I drove back to my hotel to start my own packing for.
However, I realized that I now had a head full of wonderful memories, many of which you’ve just read. And, like Paul said, it’s not over over: it’s just over for now.
Besides, if I really start to miss the experience, I know that all I’ll have to do is close my eyes, stick my nose into my wetsuit sleeve and inhale…or open the bottle of conditioner that was the base of my lube… and smell the aroma.
I just hope I won’t suddenly have to pee. Stimulus-response, something like that.