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Freediving lesson with Mike Wells

  August 25, 2010

Scuba diving has been my passion ever since I did my open water course in high school.

I snorkelled a lot before that and was always a water baby. But I'd never had a proper go at freediving until this week when I interviewed Mike Wells, Australia's current male champion freediver, for the paper (Gold Coast Bulletin).

Well, it's more that I'd never been given a proper lesson. I had to do a few freediving skills for my NAUI dive master course, but if I'd known then what I know now after just an hour and a half with Mike, it wouldn't have taken me two months to do my mask/fins/snorkel ditch and don! (and when I finally did it my instructor said he didn't see it and made me do it again, which I think was more about me proving it wasn't just a fluke after so many failed attempts).

Anyway, back to my crash course in free diving, which Mike (check out pic below) warned was a very abbreviated version of his new SSI course (the first of its kind offered by any scuba agency in the world). It felt pretty comprehensive to me though.

Mike out in the water with his awesome C4 carbon fibre fins

After going through the proper breathing techniques, which it turns out I knew a bit about from yoga but never realised I could apply to freediving, we hopped in the pool and I had a go at swimming with the long free diving fins. 

It requires a different kicking technique which felt weird at first but the fins themselves were fabulous. I barely had to move to glide along…not sure how well they'd work on scuba but I wish scuba fins had this much thrust!

I also got to try a monofin and despite the hours I spent in the neighbourhood pool as a child pretending to be a mermaid, it was pretty hard to swim with. 

Swimming straight is ok but I couldn't get the hang of turning with such a large flat piece of plastic providing so much resistance in the water. I have a newfound respect for any of the free divers I've seen using these fins in movies or docos.

Surprisingly, I was most excited about my performance in the static apnea breath hold, which basically means you slump over in the water, try to relax as much as possible and hold your breath for as long as you can. 

I found it a bit hard to meditate (what MIke recommends to take your mind off the fact that you're holding your breath) since I was cold and my muscles kept twitching as I tried not to shiver.

On my first try I got to 1.47 which I thought was pretty good and on my second attempt I lasted 2.05! 

It didn't feel like that long at all and thanks to Mike's coaching the last 15 seconds I got a taste of how experienced free divers learn to mentally overcome their brain's signal to breath, which Mike tells me is actually triggered by too much CO2 in the blood and that we actually have enough O2 to last quite a bit longer.

Check out the video
here. It includes a funny clip of me not watching where I'm going while swimming with the monofin and side swiping the wall of the pool, laughing at myself and thus loosing all the air I'd been keeping in my lungs, oops.

The feature I did for the paper will be up in the featuring writing section soon.

Freediving always seemed like such an extreme sport because all I'd ever heard about was record breaking attempts and accidents, but it's actually a relaxing activity that doesn't have to be competitive at all.

Mike told me he's in it for the adventure and interaction with marine life, which is supposed to be very different to scuba. Perhaps freediving is my cheaper alternative to a rebreather??

I'm thinking about doing a photo series taken while freediving, which I think would make a cool story for a dive mag since most of us only take pics on snorkel at the surface or during a quick duck dive. 

But I will have to practice for a while first though and luckily my friend Tim Jack Adams down at Tweed is starting up a freediving club! It's going to be at Banora Point Pools every Saturday afternoon. Check out Tim's website for updates.

For more info on SSI's freediving course check out their

Here are some pics Mike's student Jodie Murphy (Pro Dive Brisbane) took during my lesson:

Mike keeping an eye on me as I try to relax and meditate

then coaching me to hold my breath just 10 seconds more

me with the monofin, not exactly a mermaid's tail, but close :)

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