Saturday, 29 April 2017

Freediving rebel

After zero time spent holding my breath for over eight months, it is always a bit of a shock to the system to get back to freediving. For the second year in a row, I am starting the season at the annual Vertical Blue competition on Long Island, Bahamas, organized by Will Trubridge and his team.

This event is full of top level freedivers, most of whom are well prepared, have been training for weeks or months and are out to do their very best performances, whereas for me, this is mostly about re-discovering the water. It is hard not get carried away here though, and start having expectations of yourself. Keeping a level head and my ego in check is hugely helped by being surrounded by my freediving friends, who are as obsessed with the post dive coffee as I am and know how to talk down a mind that is going nuts with ideas and when to support you when you are feeling incapable of anything at all.

photo: Daan Verhoeven
I will admit to having a freediving rebel in my head, who can be quite hard to tame sometimes! It came out in force here when I went to do my second no fins dive since last year's vertical blue competition. I had a chat with my friend and top no fins diver Will Winram before going out to train, who suggested I should dive with a heavy weight to see how much more relaxed I could be on the descent. His instruction was: "go with the heavy weight to 35m and then tell me the details of the dive and then we'll tweak it". Brilliant idea. Freediving rebel interpreted this as: I wonder what depth I could get away with? As soon as I left the surface, I started going "wheeeeeeeeeeee!" - falling like a stone at top speed because I was so heavy, which freediving rebel obviously considered to be the best thing ever. We continued to go "wheeeeeeee" all the way down to 50m, which is my personal best and the German record I dived last year, and certainly not a reasonable dive to do on day two. Turning at the bottom, rebel thought: great! I'm deep! And as I started swimming up, I was feeling quite pleased with myself all the way, thinking: this is like crossfit! Here are all my pull ups coming to work!

Foto: Daan Verhoeven
Fortunately, this got me back to the surface, a little on the edge but fine. Checking my weighting after the dive I discovered that I was sinking from 4,5m, which, let me tell you, is not how you want to do a deep no fins dive. Coach William said: "I told you to go to 35!!!", but rebel felt little remorse. Two more 50m dives have tweaked the weighting to the right level, and now it is just a question of beating the competition nerves and getting myself down there when it counts.

As we went through the process of registration and paying for training fees yesterday, a moment that always makes the fact that you are about to compete become real, I was hit by a bit of a revelation. I was paying for two and half weeks of training - and I suddenly understood that what had felt like ages diving (island time does that to the best of us) has in fact been virtually nothing at all, considering my eight month break. To be back at my personal best depth in arguably my hardest discipline is surprising. Overcoming the innate urge to compare with people who have been in the water for weeks and months is key for all of us - in the end, we can only control the time, work and determination we have put in and the place we are at right at this moment.

Foto: Daan Verhoeven
Our sport is curious because we have to declare our performance a day in advance. This means being truly honest with yourself, judging your state of wellbeing, how trained you are, how nerves will affect you, and not falling for where you think you should be our how would like to see yourself. What you would like has no bearing on what actually is. In spite of the new level of physical strength I was able to achieve with crossfit training, I still lack adaptation and dive fitness, and so this is the time to reign in the freediving rebel. An announcement of a 52m dive is still pushing my limits to a new personal best and will make me nervous as hell, but it is also well within my ability on even a difficult day. Lacking adaptation means I am fighting with equalization and getting down is currently my biggest issue. As long as that works out ok, the rest is just crossfit all the way up!

I can't wait for this season to begin in earnest. Until I am shaking with nerves in a few hours. Then I will be cursing my rebel who always gets me into this. Can I just announce something easy for once?

Rebel says: "No way!"

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Season ready

This is the time of the year where I am mostly focused on getting fit, strong and mentally tough. It is a very busy work period for me, so there is no way to get anywhere near the water to dive, but that doesn't mean I can't do my best to get into shape.

For the last two years, I have done this by simply doing Crossfit. I have discovered that this suits my personality and it has also created really good results for me. Being a coach and teacher myself, I appreciate how good coaching and support can shorten the time spent trying to achieve something, and so I have actively gone out to find the best support for me - so far in the shape of my awesome Crossfit home, Spree Crossfit, as well as my often mentioned devil coach, Sebastian Werner. 

This year, I have added professional  nutritional advice for the first time ever, and the results are surprising. I was hoping for a little tweak, but instead over an eight week period have increased muscle, lost fat and added kilos onto each and any lift, exercise, attempt I have made. I have worked from seven am until midnight for six weeks straight with no breaks and not been sick with colds, flus or other bugs. It has been simply brilliant.

Sometimes, you need to leave the path you became used to with what you decided "works for you" and put your trust into someone else. Be patient and trust the long term process. When my new diet guru Libby Wescombe of Eatercise sent me my meal plan, I was convinced I would be adding a kilo of fat per week. It was scary - in fact, downright terrifying - to eat like that. Instead, I lost 2,5 kilos in the first two weeks, and then put those exact 2,5 kilos back on again as muscle. I am fitter, stronger and tougher than ever in my life. There are four weeks between the following two pictures:

Constantly discovering new things about how I function and what I can get up to is simply fascinating. I have been busy working with high level professionals on extending their physical and mental barriers, constantly pushing and challenging them. To be able to do this well for others I need to allow myself to be challenged in turn and to not shy away from stepping off the regular path on a regular basis.  

Now I can't wait for the freediving season to start, which I will spend complaining about how awful contractions and the urge to breathe are on a dive while having coffee and cake with my freediving friends! Let the moaning begin.

Until then, CrossFit and evil coach might just kill me. 

Sunday, 1 January 2017


2016 has been such a great adventure year for me. Apart from a host of new professional challenges, I managed to freedive in new places, hang out with friends, and be overwhelmed by encounters with marine life. What more can a freediver ask for!

One of my favorite parts were three weeks spent with my friends Mike and Kate at their home, Gili Trawangan island in Indonesia. It is a weird and wonderful place, where your biggest freediving risk is getting run over by a horse cart on the way to the water:

To give myself some contrast, I finished the travel year with a trip to Norway in November. This was not to see the aurora borealis, although I was lucky enough to be out hiking in the dark when the clouds cleared and streaks of eerie green lights lit up the night sky. The aim of the week was to use every bit of available daylight to jump into the water and freedive with two enormous marine creatures: orca and humpback whales. I can't thank friend, freediver and photographer Jacques de Vos enough for organizing this amazing experience and keeping a place for me on the little katamaran.

photo: J de Vos
I have fallen in love with the polar night. I never thought the absence of proper daylight could be quite so beautiful. I also never thought I would be itching to get into my (5mm only!) wetsuit to jump into the water when there is snow on deck and it is hailing! Truth is: you forget your cold when an orca swims by. Check out the next trips organized by arctic freediving for the 2017/2018 season - it is worth every moment!

Meanwhile, we have crossed into a new year. I tried a final lift on the last day of 2016, and failed it - devil coach Sebastian Werner had to rescue me. Looking at this picture afterwards it struck me how closely it resembles the attention and focus we share when we provide safety for each other in freediving. This connection enriches us and is a great part of training, having adventures, life. It is complete trust. I love having those moments, and sharing the failures as much as the moments of success with my buddies, freedivers, coaches, crazy, lovely, adventurous friends.

Thank you! Here's to more fails in 2017!