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!"


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