an essential freediving course to become confident in the sea
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2. You must be able to 'pop' your ears by squeezing your nose and 'sneezing'. This blows air through your internal nose passages and you will hear your ears 'click'. This is necessary so you'll be able to go deeper than 2m. Try it now. If it doesn't work, try again, and again.
2. You may fear other animals in the sea such as poisonous snakes and fishes. They do not jump at you, but rather swim away. I swam amidst poisonous sea snakes in Niue, and although they are curious, they just leave you alone. Most of these animals are very old and know what is prey and what is not. I swam with Galapagos sharks at the Kermadecs, but as soon as I turned my back on them, they became disinterested.
3. You may fear to get entangled in a seaweed. Seaweeds grow close together and if there was a chance of entanglement, the seabed would look a real mess from all the knotted and entangled seaweeds. The reality is that seaweeds are slippery and formed in such a way that getting entangled by them is very unlikely. While in the water, touch the various seaweeds and learn to recognise them with your eyes closed. In strong wave action, seaweeds help you to stay in one place.
4. You may fear to drown. But we'll deal to that. We'll pay a lot of attention to your wetsuit and weights so you cannot sink accidentally. You will always float!
5. Not being able to breathe is very frightening. That is just natural but we'll pay a lot of attention to this before getting into the water.
6. A lot of snorkel courses make the mistake by making you fear all the things that could possibly go wrong. I want you to forget what you've learned before. This course is different. It focuses on the enjoyment of safe snorkel diving and your innate abilities.
2. I want you to do this again. Wait a minute to 'catch up' and do it again. You will now probably do between 30 and 50 seconds. That is a real improvement. I want you to do it again and again till you'll discover little improvement.
!! The important lesson to learn is that by just repeating the exercise, you improve considerably. My first dips are ALWAYS horrible but after some 15 dips, I start feeling better.
3. We'll now teach you a technique to stretch your breath-holding even further. Before holding your breath, take five deep breaths. Like IN - HOLD 3 SECONDS - OUT. In that manner you'll store oxygen into all circulating blood and into your big muscles. Now hold your breath again. You will most likely give up after 40-90 seconds. So that's a MAJOR improvement. Do it again to see if it gets better.
!! If you take much more than 5 deep breaths, you may start to feel dizzy. You have washed all carbon dioxide out of your blood and this allows you to stay down past the safe level. You could faint and drown. Stay within 5 breaths and don't experiment without someone knowing about it and watching you.
!! Snorkel divers should try to keep their heart rate under 110.
3. GENDER. Girls should be better at breath holding than boys. Their body's metabolism is more efficient.
Don't buy a transparent (silicone) rubber mask because these reflect the sunlight into your eyes while looking down. These masks are sort of okay for divers but a no-no for snorkeldivers. Silicone masks are weak and can be damaged easily but they last longer when treated gently. Rubber masks can eventually 'rot' away. Ironically, rubber masks last longer when not rinsed in fresh water after the dive. The salt on it will dry and kill micro-organisms that dine on its natural rubber.
Your mask must have glass windows, not plastic. Plastic is very cheap but it scratches easily and fogs up constantly. The window should be of one piece or of two pieces but rigidly joined together. Swimming goggles would not allow you to see clearly under water. They show a double image. The glass itself is 'tempered' to make it hard and strong and to make sure that it pulverizes into small squares, should it break. Check for the 'T' mark or the word 'Safety'. The mask must fit over your nose so you can let air in. In order to be able to squeeze your nose (to compensate the pressure in your ears) it is best to buy a mask with a nose. Avoid fluoro colours. It scares fish unnecessarily. Choose a blue or black mask.
A new mask has all sorts of grease on its windows. Use toothpaste and plenty of patience to rub it clean. Silicone masks stay greasy almost all of their lives. They need more frequent cleaning with tooth paste.
To test whether a mask fits your face, pull the mask strap back and snuggle the mask onto your face. Then suck it in place. It should stay on your face and not fall off. It shouldn't leak air.
The best way to put a mask on is to put it on your forehead first while pulling the strap over your head. Then lift the mask and snuggle it onto your face while removing your hair and hood from the mask's seal. But adjust your straps first. Many people have their straps too tight, which is uncomfortable, and deforms the mask. It then starts leaking.
Before you put a mask on, spit into it. One good spit for each window.
Then rub it in. Wash it off with only one rinse. Splash some water onto
your face to cool it off. This closes the pores in your skin and reduces
fogging. I always do the outside too. It allows me to see better above
|Did you know that it is not the glass in the mask that makes you see under water? It is the air inside the mask that does it. Our eyes are water lenses and they work only because we have air on the outside. With our eyes in the water, the water lens no longer works, and we see blurry. So a mask must be air-tight.|
Most important is the correct diameter. Your snorkel should not be wider or narrower than your index finger for performance freediving and your little finger for recreational snorkelling. Stick it into the pipe to select the right size. A wide snorkel is difficult to blow clean. A narrow snorkel may hinder the passage of air. If in doubt, take the narrower one because when snorkel diving, one usually doesn't breathe fast. It is more important to be able to blow the snorkel clean. However, for fast swimming on the surface, the snorkel must be wider to let air pass through with ease.
Your snorkel should be long, in order to poke out above the waves. It
should stick out at least 8 cm over your head. Your snorkel should have
a simple shape, a short bend under the mouth and a long bend to curve around
your face. The mouth piece should be strong and durable and it should fit
into YOUR mouth. Your lips go over the flap while your teeth bite into
the knobs. These should be big enough to open your mouth sufficiently for
the air to pass between your teeth. Many snorkels these days, do not satisfy
these requirements. Take your time to buy the right one, and don't forget
that price has nothing to do with it. My own snorkel cost US$4.
Fins should be angled. From your foot they should not point straight forward but bend down. When you stretch your leg, the flipper should point in the direction of your leg, not your foot.
At the moment, the shops are awash with useless fins, and very costly
too! The salesmen are always keen to tell you that the latest fad makes
all others obsolete, and what I have written is madness. Ask them how deep
|Some people are confused about what fins should do. Large fins for instance allow you to swim faster, but at a considerable expense of energy. For snorkelling under water, the only thing that counts is how far can they take you on a single breath in the pool? Fins must provide efficient propulsion: the most distance for the least effort.|
In New Zealand your neoprene suit needs to be 3 to 5 mm thick. You need
to have a hood as well, because much heat is lost through your head and
neck. The 'parka' wetsuit with a fixed hood is a good choice but a loose
hood is equally effective when tucked in under the wetsuit. Avoid fluoro
colours. They scare the fish with every move you make. The thinner your
suit, the easier it is to control your buoyancy. Sometimes it pays to have
two wetsuits, one for summer and one for when the water is colder. Advanced
snorkeldivers prefer wetsuits with smooth outer skins, and indeed this
2. Breathe all air out. Your eyes should go under but you shouldn't sink.
3. Now float on your belly with face down. It helps if you pull the weightbelt up towards your chest. When you breathe normally through the snorkel, without making any movements, you should float without any problems. When you breathe out completely, you should almost sink but not quite.
If you are not using a wetsuit, you may still need a weight or two, depending on your natural weight. Go through the above procedure to check it out.
In the pool or in shallow water, you can practise the ditching of your belt, as would be necessary in case of emergency. Weightbelts release their buckle when the loose end is pulled outward.
To put your weightbelt on, let gravity do the work for you. Always take the belt by its open end, rather than the buckle. In this manner the weights cannot slide off. Roll your back into it while gravity holds the other end down.
When the belt is not in use, always lock it so that weights cannot slide
off. It is also easier to transport a closed belt.
There are two ways of swimming with flippers. One is the 'dolphin' stroke by which the two flippers move in the same direction, and the other is the 'flutter kick' with flippers moving in opposite directions (like when swimming freestroke). The dolphin stroke is very efficient under water but difficult to master. Most divers use the flutter kick.
The flutter kick is not like riding a bike. Keep your legs almost straight but with the least amount of effort (to preserve energy). You will find them flexing a little, just like your flippers do. Most of the action comes from your hips. Should you study the flow of bubbles over someone's fins, you should see these bubbles jetting backward, not downward.
Avoid using your arms. Fish hate arm movements. You'll learn later how
and when to use your arms. Learn to relax all the muscles that have nothing
to do with your kick. Your arms, and body should be relaxed. Keep your
arms alongside your body, or fold them over your back.
!! It is important to relax all your muscles completely while hanging off the heavy weight. You must almost feel lazy down there. It's of no use to go further while not being able to relax ALL your muscles!
!! It is important to learn to sit still under water. Only then will you have the time to observe, to see the slightest of movements. Only then will the fish come towards you. You can stay under for much longer while sitting still than when swimming!
3. You must not be afraid to try and try again. Now it's time to let out some air until you stop floating up. You are now in balance and you can let go of the heavy object. Swim around calmly and surface calmly when needed. Keep relaxing! Try to let out precisely the amount of air to become completely weightless.
!! A snorkel diver goes down with completely filled lungs, to let air out only after arriving at the required depth. After some practice, you learn to go down with the right amount of air in your lungs.
!! Note that it doesn't help much to race back to the surface in a kind of panic. That uses up a big amount of oxygen and makes you pant. It also fosters fear. Just swim up slowly and try to relax completely while going up.
4. The instructor may have placed several heavy objects in the pool. Use your arms to pull yourself along from one to the next. In this manner you will use only small, efficient muscles, which helps you to stay down longer. In the sea we'll use the rocks and the strong seaweeds for this purpose. But make sure you have let enough air out to stop you from floating up!
!! Note that breast-stroking with your arms is very upsetting to fish but using your arms to pull yourself forward and to hold yourself steady, isn't!
5. By now you should feel much more comfortable under water. I don't want you to SWIM with your legs just yet! You should be able to stay 30-50 seconds now. Some of you will be able to stay down for well over a minute.
6. Now we'll compensate our ears. While going down, pop your ears by holding your nose through the mask and blowing air into your nose. Your ears click and ear pain disappears. You must do this with every dive and frequently as you learn to go deeper. You must not wait until your ears hurt because that makes it more difficult to clear them. Should you have problems, you can exercise as much as you like at home, in bed or even in class.
!! If you cannot 'pop' your ears above water, you will certainly not be able to pop them underwater. If you cannot pop your ears you cannot become a free-diver!
7. You may not have noticed how you've already solved the problem of the mask being pressed onto your face by the water's pressure. You simply blew a bit of air into it.
You should be aware of the risk of blacking out under water (becoming unconscious), which is almost certainly fatal. You need to understand that we have a rather curious method for controlling our breathing. One would have thought that nature measures the oxygen level in our blood, and urges us to breathe when this falls below an acceptable level, but this is not so. Instead, our body measures the carbon dioxide level to urge us to breathe. As we use up oxygen, the carbon dioxide level goes up at the same rate, so there should be no reason for concern.
However, one can suppress the urge to breathe by washing the carbon dioxide out of our blood. It is done by taking quick and deep breaths until one begins to feel dizzy, which is called hyperventilating. By doing this, one can hold one's breath for much longer than without, but as the urge to breathe is postponed, the body may run out of oxygen, which shuts off our brains, causing one to faint. All snorkel divers use this method to some degree, but it is important to know when it becomes unsafe. It is unsafe when you've had a long rest, and your body is at rest. Now it is just too easy to hyperventilate over the safe limit. In this situation 4-5 deep breaths is all you should ever do.
When you are snorkelling actively, the situation is entirely different. Your body uses a lot of oxygen and produces an equal amount of carbon dioxide. Taking deep breaths is necessary to just catch up, and there exists a much reduced risk of overventilating.
There is a slight but important difference in how you take your deep breaths for storing oxygen while not washing out carbon dioxide to excess. It is done by taking a deep breath, followed by a wait of several seconds, a quick refill (breathing out and in quickly), then holding again. This method is more effective and safer than just breathing quickly.
Finally, there exists a risk with deep diving, manifesting itself when going up, just before reaching the surface. As you dive down with full lungs, the air in your lungs becomes compressed, enhancing oxygen uptake in the blood. But during ascent, when your lungs expand, they demand gases from the blood, including the last bit of oxygen. As a result, oxygen levels drop suddenly just before reaching the surface, which could lead to shallow water fainting. This is what your buddy should be watching, as he can pull you to the surface. Experienced snorkel divers who tempt their boundaries, ascend with face up (so you get turned on your back at the surface), fully alert to that prickling feeling in one's skin that arrives just prior to fainting. One hand at the weightbelt's safety buckle to be able to ditch the weightbelt before fainting.
My advice is not to tempt your boundaries until you are very experienced and have a buddy at hand who knows what you are up to. In all cases, listen to what your body is telling you - all the time: fatigue, cold, cramps, headache, snot, dizziness, nausea and so on.
An important secret, seldom told, is that the first dip (dive down) of any day, is terrible, even for experienced snorkel divers. But after a few dips, your body appears to adjust, and it goes better. Eventually it even feels somewhat pleasant. You always need 10-15 dips before settling in. Most people don't know this and they think they can't do it. So never give up before your first 15 dips.
What is that headache and neck cramp? Scuba divers can easily come up with a headache and the beginning of neck cramp, symptoms all too similar to those of migraine. And a migraine it is, caused by chronic carbon dioxide poisoning. Yes, high carbon dioxide levels in the blood to the brain, causes migraines. For migraine sufferers it is caused by brain arteries clamming up (constricting), thereby reducing the blood flow and increasing CO2 levels. In divers it is caused by skip-breathing to conserve air. I've been studying this phenomenon for many years, and here are some tips that work:
!! So the main difference between fit and unfit snorkeldivers exists in how soon the next dip can be done after the previous one. Not in how deep one can go and not even much in how long one can stay under. Unfit divers just need longer to 'tank up' at the surface!
You will understand now that it is advantageous to use as many muscles (hands and legs) to take advantage of the anaerobic energy reservoir, hence the use of our hands to pull ourselves forward. But while swimming under water, most energy comes from the legs only. It is a bit awkward to use your hands without interrupting the steady movement of your body. So we swim with our legs only. Try to make slow steady, 'lazy' kicks. Look and feel how the water flows around your own body and that of others. Look how the bubbles flow around your flippers and those of others. check whether your body is horizontal, perfectly balanced.
Once you've duck-dived down, you will let some air out to balance yourself. If you don't do this, you will spend energy in swimming down all the time, rather than swimming purely forward.
You have now learnt my new snorkel method. Keep working at it until
you feel you can stay down as long as you can hold your breath in class.
The instructor will repeat all steps, even the breath-hold timing, for
each lesson. From here on you'll need to learn a few useful tricks.
To prevent this, hold your tongue in front of your teeth, as if saying
"Lll", so that the air has to pass around it. Water droplets are much heavier
than air and hit your tongue first. Good snorkeldivers say "Llll" and "Duh"
alllll duh time! If you can't clear your snorkel altogether, and you can
feel the air bubbling through the water left in it, don't panic! Just breathe
in slowly with your tongue in place. Then blow the snorkel clear. This
happens often, so get used to it.
Getting in and out of the waterTry to avoid walking on your flippers. That angle in them, which allows you to swim efficiently, prevents you from walking on them. Should you need to walk on flippers, walk backward. In that way they suffer least and it is also much easier. The worst case is walking forward in shallow water. As you move your foot forward, the water bends the flipper underneath, and once your full weight lands on it, you can rip either your tendon or the flipper itself!
To go off a beach, leave your flippers off until you stand chest-deep and sideways towards the waves. Then put them on. Of course you'll put your mask on first. To walk in and out of the surf, use your buddy. Put your arm over his/her shoulder and walk out. In this manner the two of you stand on four feet, which makes all the difference.
To enter the water from a rock. Put your flippers on and go down the rock into the water as far as you can. Squat down and make yourself as low as possible. Wait for a wave that carries you up, then roll down (slide into the water) and away from the rock. Note that divers learn to 'take a big stride forward' to get into the water from a platform. This is okay from boats but is not safe from rocks. You could badly hurt yourself and stamp into sharp sea urchins as well.
!! When entering the sea from a rock, it is important to take your time and to wait for the right wave !! It may even pay to stand half-way in the water!
To exit onto a rock is much more difficult and must be done with care
2. Take one flipper off and hold it in one hand. It must be the strongest leg that you will use to lift you out of the water. You can use the flipper later to cover sharp objects ABOVE the waves, for leaning on and stepping on or kneeling on.
3. Wait for a suitable wave to lift you up towards the landing. Place your flipperless foot on the step you've chosen. Balance yourself at the high point of the wave and in one motion stand up as high as you can, putting all the weight on your foot while the water flows back. Hold the rocks to steady yourself.
4. Wait for the wave to wash away. Then quickly clamber up onto the shore. Should a new wave arrive too soon, just stand still with all your weight on your flipperless foot and wait until that wave has flushed away again.
When you are snorkelling in a class situation and somebody is responsible for you, you must stay close to the instructor. In that way you will also learn more about underwater life. You must tell him if problems arise or when you want to go back. Don't leave your instructor worrying where you are.
Most snorkel courses spend a great deal of time dwelling on aspects
of safety but I think that is not entirely warranted. Snorkelling is just
swimming but is a lot safer: you are warm and protected in a good wetsuit,
you can see where you go with your mask and you are a much more powerful
swimmer because of your fins. My many years in the water have taught me
that snorkelling is all about enjoyment: enjoying the environment, enjoying
the water and weightlessness and enjoying your prowess in what you can
do with your own body.
White water is always unpleasant. Because of the many small bubbles, you can't see under water. That gives an eerie feeling. Use your common sense and swim out. Experienced snorkeldivers dive under because the turmoil of the sea quickly reduces with depth, the 'fog' clears up and you can see where to go to.
One real problem with white water is that it usually races over a shallow spot WITHOUT RETURNING. So it is a one way ticket. It may land you in very unpleasant places. But the biggest problem with white water is that you can drown in it. Because of the many bubbles, the water won't carry you as well as water without bubbles. As a result you will sink deeper into it, possibly not being able to lift your head and snorkel above the white foam. Surfers being caught in a wave with white water, can drown in a similar way. So dive down and swim away from white water.
!! Avoid white water unless you are very experienced.
FinallyAs you can see, snorkelling well is not very difficult. You have now learnt a technique that will stay with you for life. As you practise it more, it will give you even more enjoyment. Wherever you go in the world, you can always find space in your luggage for a mask, snorkel and fins. And when people commend you on how long you can stay under, remind them that you learnt snorkelling from Floor Anthoni in New Zealand. Good luck and lots of fun!