As a surfer you take the rough with the smooth. It’s not all glassy waves, barrels and hi-5’s. Pushing outside the comfort zone means paying the price. A wave can offer you bliss and euphoria... or beat you up, hold you down and can cause anything from mild fright to full-blown panic. It is probably fair to say that 99% of these hairy moments are caused by the thought of not having enough breath, the fear of our physical limitations.
Two years ago, I discovered freediving, the practice of diving under water relying on a single breath hold. I took my level 1 & 2 Freedive certification at Freedive Gili in Indonesia, a school owned by the British freedive record holder Michael Board. I was keen to learn how to hold my breath for longer, primarily to benefit my surfing, but I was also fascinated to discover how humans could train themselves to hold their breath for up to 11 minutes, and dive to over 100 meters deep without additional oxygen- that sounded like super-hero stuff to me, and I’m into gaining super-hero powers ;)
The Freedive training- Yoga, meditation and the mammalian what?
The freedive training was so interesting: Yoga, breathing exercises, upper body stretching, meditation, and learning about about my breath, body and mind. We also learned about the mammalian dive reflex, a physiological response we share with all mammals (including the best freedivers out there- seals, dolphins and whales), triggered by water on the face, that adapts our bodies to be better set up for deep diving the more we do it. Over the week, we would train on land all morning, and dive in the afternoon.
Much of freedive training is focused around the effects of yogic breathing and stretching exercises, and the effects on the mind of meditation, so it is not surprising that many elite freedivers are advanced yoga practitioners. I remember watching Mike Board (the owner and UK record holder) sat Buddha-like in the corner for hours: sitting, breathing, visualizing, meditating. I have never seen a more focused human.
There is so much purity to freediving. You can’t rely on anyone else or any equipment. Its your breath, the ocean, your body and your mind. Over the course of the week, my instructor Niklas guided us to dive deeper and deeper, longer and longer under water. To see your limits expanding on a day by day basis was an incredible feeling. In terms of my ability to hold my breath for longer, I managed to more than double my static breath hold (face down in a pool) and achieve a time of 4 minutes 46 seconds. As a surfer who has endured his fair share of beatings and a few panics, this expansion of limits was a real confidence booster.
Freediving: A journey into the mind
The real nugget of gold I learned that week was about redefining limits through the power of the mind. Freediving taught me how to achieve a state of being that allows the body to go further than our mind believes it can. To reach your freedive goals, and dive deeper and longer, requires a quality of awareness where doubts do not exist. It’s a powerful journey, one that improves your ability to relax, be aware and focused, and to find your flow.
Ever since that week I have dreamed about putting together a surf + freediving combo adventure, so other surfers can benefit from freedive training. The Maldives Freedive + Surfing adventure in June that we have just launched is that dream coming true. The the best thing about it? Niklas Elgeryd, the legend who taught me, is going to come along and teach you. Are you ready to surf epic waves, dive deep, expand your limits and find your flow? Click below for all the details.