The Mermaid Diaries : Volume II

As those of you who have been following these diaries will know, SaltFree Divers have spent the last few months seeking out top new female freedive talent in the United Kingdom.  Our ultimate aim is to find someone who we feel has lots of potential as a great freediver, to train her up and see what happens.  Along the way we’ve met lots of characters and had lots of fun!

Right now, we still have a few girls to see in the lake and we hope to make a final decision in October. For now, here are the thoughts and words of a few of the girls who have come along to the pool and open water tryout sessions. 

First up – Kirsty, who came along to the Bristol pool session and then to NDAC. Kirsty is a 29 year old surfer from the West Country who is studying for an MA in Film.  She was one of the very few applicants who had never scuba dived.

Kirsty: “For some time now I’ve considered myself a bodyboarder, albeit a rubbish one. Only now, I’m not so sure. Two evenings after the first round of the Mermaid Challenge I’m in the sea and I’m tossing aside my board. Forgetting I’m there to surf, I’m kicking around instead with my suddenly oh-so-short bodyboard fins …just to try that dolphin thing …one pool session, my first ever venture into all things freediving, and I think I’m hooked!"

"I had no clue what to expect on that Tuesday evening, and although I thought I might enjoy whatever it would be, I was surprised by quite how much fun it was. Initially I was nervous (made worse by having our mugshots taken and warnings of watery wobbles) and it took a few moments of water time for the nerves to ease. Fellow West Country girl Daisy and I suffered giggles and an utter inability to keep time before we got down to the serious business of holding our breaths – which we achieved, though now, reading around, I see my breath hold would be a mere pause to a real freediver!"

Kirsty continues: "Next,some finning. I loved this. Why have I never tried these fins before? They’re so cool! We all crashed into each other, and flapped about at the ends of the pool, generally enjoying this new-found feeling, before it seemed more sensible to clear the pool for just a few people to try at one time. Sitting around poolside got a little chilly, but we soon warmed up again when we finished with a mayhem game of water hockey. Like a pack of starving piranhas we descended on the poor puck … On loosing a fin I had a chance to catch my breath and contemplate what Sam and the boys were looking for. I guess they could see through our frenzied behaviour?"

"A great fun night. Thank you, guys … now bring on Chepstow!”

Hannah came along to the London pool session and then to Chepstow.  She’s 19, a competitive swimmer and says she wanted to try freediving because “water is great and any excuse to spend more time in it is always welcome.” Here is her account of her day at NDAC:

Hannah: “When I arrived at the NDAC on Saturday morning (on time, thank God) I found myself in an unsettling state – absolutely terrified and far too overexcited. As I waited for everyone else to arrive I transferred my anxieties to worrying about whether I’d managed to bring the wrong kit with me. However, when everyone arrived it became obvious that the same friendliness and camaraderie that I’d encountered at the pool session in London had been transferred to Chepstow. By the time we’d completed the stretching everyone seemed a lot calmer and relaxed."

"By the time we all got into the water and out to the pontoon I was happy to find that I was actually enjoying myself. I had one last moment of trepidation before the first dive, but then I found myself underwater and focusing on the line – and remembering why I had applied in the first place."

Hannah continues: "Overall the day was an amazing experience. Being underwater and in control while unencumbered by bulky dive gear was a fantastic feeling. Even doing just a couple of dives it’s easy to understand the urge push yourself to go just a metre deeper or stay down for a few seconds longer than on the previous attempt. It’s not hard to see why people spend hours training in cold English waters and sticking to training regimes that involve early mornings and late evenings in the swimming pool just to improve that tiny bit more. It was great to meet like-minded people and the challenge has definitely given me the initial encouragement and confidence I needed to start Freediving.”

Mandy, 32,  a technical scuba diver from Crewe who had been watching the freedivers in Dorothea and wondering what they were up to for some time, finally got to try herself as part of the Challenge.  She came to the London pool session and then to NDAC. 

Mandy: “Where did it all start……..? I’ve been interested in free diving for ages, ever since Tanya Streeter broke the No-Limits record and proved that the girls could be as good as the boys. I’ve mooched about on Deeper Blue, read about it, watched The Big Blue (got the poster!) even plucking up courage to talk to a few free divers at Dorothea…"

" However, I made excuses to myself, always been too "busy" to do anything about it! In reality, I was too scared to try. Too intimidated by the idea that freedivers are super fit, super human and that I would never be good enough. Then, surfing on the net one night a few months ago, I came across the details for the Mermaid Challenge. Hmmm, they were looking for a complete novice, eh? Well, that certainly summed me up! So, I filled in the application, and mailed it off to Sam at SaltFree. Why the sudden change of heart? Well, a few weeks before, one of my friends died. She was vibrant, fun and only 36. It really brought home that life is just too short to be scared."

 "So, I got a return email from Sam, asking me to come along to the pool session. I drove down to London, and waited outside the pool as the other girls started to arrive. They were all gorgeous, and so young!! Mermaid? I felt more like a manatee!"

" The pool session was great fun. We had a go at Static (which I didn’t really enjoy, I don’t think I have the attention span…), tried Dynamic and got to play about with a monofin (which I LOVED!!) The underwater hockey got just a little bit "feisty"!! I left the pool session thinking that I’d had fun, and that I would come along and do the course, not really thinking that I would get any further with the challenge."

" Then, sitting at work, the email came through from Sam. I opened it, only to read that I’d made it through to the next stage. The guys I work with had to peel me off the ceiling!"

Mandy continues: " So that was how I found myself, early on Saturday morning, on the train, to Bristol to go to the open water session at Chepstow."

" After some warm up stretches in the car-park (and a few amused looks from the other divers), we hitched a lift in the landrover, down to the water, and jumped in for the short swim over to the SaltFree pontoon (why are ALL quarries so cold!)."

" Sam explained that we would be having a go at free immersion, pulling ourselves down the line, with no fins. NO FINS ?!!! It felt really weird in the water without them.  We had a go at pulling down to about 5 metres, just to start to get a feel for being under the water. And it felt GREAT ! I wasn’t sure about the no fins thing to start with, but once we got going, it’s surprising how good it felt."

"Then, we had a go at doing it with fins.  After my pool session, I was the first to grab a monofin! (I’m sure my feet were meant to be like that!) After a quick lesson from Franck, we got to try it down the line.  The feeling was amazing.  I felt so fluid and comfortable and came up from my first dive with a huge grin.  On my second go, I reached the plate at 15 metres, so the grin got bigger!!  Then, the plate was dropped to 20m, for my last dive.  Didn’t quite make it  but next time !!"

"I had the most amazing day!  The other girls were fab (as were the 3 boys, of course), and we all seemed to forget about the competition, and just had fun.  The feeling of being underwater, without my usual twin set, deco bottles and all the scuba kit was incredible. It sounds so corny, but it really was a feeling of pure freedom.  The elation lasted all the way home, and well into the following week !!  Regardless of the result of the Mermaid Challenge, I think I have found my challenge.”

And finally a little ditty from Lindsay who came to the pool session and then to NDAC for a deep water try out.  Lindsay is a 29 year old scuba instructor from Bristol. 

And it goes like this… 

It was four hours before starting when I got the call,

To come down and join you all…

At the pool.

Excited and nervous I gathered my things,

And drove down to Winterbourne, where the challenge begins.

Met by Sam and her crew and me not a clue,

We were properly briefed on what we were to do.

Static breath holding and dynamic swimming,

And a little bit extra if time was permitting.

Trying to look graceful while I slowly turn blue,

Not the easiest thing in the world to do.

Still the challenge was there and I wanted to meet it –

Tanya’s world record: would I ever beat it ?

With the evening soon over and fun had by all

It was time to head home and wait for the Call.

With a few places going I hoped t’would be me

That’d get a call back to the Welsh NDC.”

Looking forward now to the next diary… when we should be able to finally introduce our Mermaid to the world!

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