The Suunto X6 HR : An Urban Home Companion

Oh, no – 6:00am not one minute before or after -  Heidi the dog wakes me up. Food time. She’s trained, and has mastered the black arts of  Doctor Pavlov. I roll over to the other side of the bed to try and ignore her. She immediately goes around the bed to lick my face. “Just forget about it!” , I tell myself as I work my way through the darkness to the kitchen.  I automagically open the canned food and pour the contents in Heidi’s bowl.

I’ve agreed to dog-sit in New York for Fabien Cousteau while he’s off in  some exotic locale with his father, shooting a special for PBS. Good timing for me as I have some business to conduct in Manhattan and a free place to stay, which is a pretty major thing for a freelance nomad like me.

I’m not much of a city boy, but New York is an exhilarating experience. New York is an Mp3 filled Ipod shuffling songs from around the Universe at an irresistible rhythm.  The instant  I step out onto 56th Street I feel like a moth drawn to the light. All my senses come alive.

Rhythm, to me, is the basis of freediving. Biorhythm, monofin cycle , equalization rhythm, 1,2,3 inhale…1,2,3 Hold breath, count. Before I left Santa Fe I trained with Aharon Solomons, and  so had committed to work on my breath hold table and my apnea walks. Lauren Zimmerman at Suunto USA had generously lent me a Suunto X6 HR (Heart Rate) computer for testing. My training, and testing of the X6 began when I stepped out of the apartment building door on the way to the subway station. The heart beat monitor was on, chrono and concentration in sync.

I’m going to train for freediving in the New York City subway system.

The station at  Lexington Avenue and 59th Street offers  express trains to Broadway and 34th , one of my main morning destinations. Train doors closing,  heartbeat is at 140 as I ran fast to catch the train. Ipoded girls wearing jeans and high heels boots  seated side by side give me a quick preview of the early spring fashion trend in New York, but  I pranayama my way down to 80bpm.

Door closes, I gulp my last breath of air before the next station: 50th Street. Nine city blocks, about half a mile. The X6  chronometer is still going. Train doors open, some passengers step out, fresh ones come in, two guys board with their drums. Me, I’m still holding as the now-familiar  please stand clear of the closing doors drones out  of the loudspeaker. We’re heading for 44th  street.  The X6 altimeter is giving me some negative readings,  correctly sensing my underground location ! I’m still in the easy phase of my breath-hold. The two guys start drumming on their bongos. They’re good enough, but for some reason my heart wants to match their tempo and goes back up to 80bpm – not a good thing…struggle phase here I come! Loud subway brakes signal the upcoming stop on 44th street – doors opens… slow controlled exhale, resume breathing.

I’ve been logging the whole thing and the Suunto software that comes with the watch should give me a nice bar graph  including heartbeat, time and altitude. I have a Mac! Suunto still doesn’t provide Mac software, but soon will, or so I’m told. I think there’s some third-party Mac software available on the net, as for the D3. Check on DB forums.

Poolside, the X6 HR works great, as the watch is rated to …well, to a depth you don’t have to worry about in the pool. The compass, too,  worked well underwater, a definite plus when you loose the line in murky water. I’ve used a Polar A5 for a few years but it doesn’t compare to the multiple functions and style that the X6 has to offer. The amount of information one can get from such a small timepiece is astounding. I’m not quite sure I need to know the barometric pressure, but when I do, I will.

What really impresses me about the Suunto X6 HR is the heartbeat monitor, compass and altimeter/hiking mode.  I found the heartbeat monitor to be accurate, validated against my watch and  a manual pulse read.  The heart rate meter works perfectly in the pool (so does the A5) but do be sure to rinse it well, along with the chest band,  so chlorine doesn’t eat up the elastic.

So – New York and freedive training can go together. I’ve heard the same refrain so many times from so many of my freediving friends:  “Oy, I live in a cold city (sob !) it’s hard to train (sob !) here”… No excuses,  please! It is feasible, just use what you have and make it work. The Suunto X6HR makes a fine good urban training companion and a great  adjunct to our beloved D3. I hope that in the near future we’ll see a combination of the two, as  the main problem now is finding heart monitor that works properly in a salt-water environment at depth, and all  this at a competitive price. Suunto is a creative company and I am sure that as freediving grows  we’ll see this “holy grail” computer come to market.