Category Archives: Site news

Airpockets: share places you love to dive, find places you’ll love diving

We at Freedive Wire are excited to announce Airpockets. Airpockets is a map that allows you to share and find places you love to dive, as well courses, workshops and more.

Airpockets: share places you love to dive,
find places you’ll love diving

Instead of having to look through Scuba Dive listings, you’ll be able to plan using the recommendations of freedivers like yourself. Where are the waters warm, safe and full of life? Where are the dive centers, courses, and competitions? You’ll be able to find it on Airpockets.

airpockets
On airpockets you can find all the information relevant to the site you want to dive.

It is also a place where you can let others know of the state of reefs, pollution and marine debris.

Now is your chance to get in touch! Let us know in the comments or by e-mail to info@freedivewire.com what you would like to see on Airpockets. What can Airpockets do for you and how would you like to use it?

 

Minimizing freediving risk part 2: freediving in compromised conditions

The reading time of this post is about 10 – 15 minutes.

In an ideal situation we dive in water that is crystal clear, warm and flat as glass without any boats around, there is no current and you have a perfectly reliable dive buddy. There is not a single entanglement hazard anywhere, and you are properly hydrated and feeling good with gear that will never break.

Let’s be honest. How often does that ever happen?

More likely, you are diving in an area that has at least one of the potential hazards above. Murky water can be dangerous because you can’t see your dive buddy. Cold water presents its own unique challenges. Current can be dangerous because it causes you to drift off while breathing up, and potentially triggers mild hyperventilation if you have to exert yourself to stay in one spot. Boats can be tricky to deal with for freedivers since we spend quite a bit of time at the surface. An inexperienced dive buddy is perhaps not as likely to identify a blackout as one who has done it before. Have you ever had one of your lenses break while diving? A flooded mask definitely enhances the diving reflex, but it can also cause you to get momentarily disoriented. How do we dive safely under these conditions?

-Note that this post is written to make you aware of hazards, unfortunately the risk associated with many of them cannot be mitigated.

Safe freediving in current

Current is a tricky one in freediving. If you are doing a drift dive, no problem. Just enjoy the ride, your buddy drifts along with you and you won’t even have to fin. Problems arise when you are trying to dive in one spot, or when the current is not distributed evenly throughout the water column. An uneven distribution means that most of the current may be at the surface (like at Porteau Cove), or at depth. This means it is hard for your buddy to follow you, and impossible if your buddy cannot see you. On my last dive at ten mile point, I surfaced 100 m from my dive buddy, thinking that I should have been right next to him.

The best way to deal with current? Do not get caught in it. Check your local current tables, and know that slack current does not always coincide with the tide changes. When diving in a high current area, make sure you are actively scanning for your buddy.

Safe freediving in swell

Freediving in swell is not hard and not bad if it is not coupled with another hazard, like poor visibility or current. Problems arise when a freediver blacks out a significant distance away from their buddy. Imagine you and your buddy are both in different troughs between waves. Even with a swell of only 15 cm (6 inches), it can be very hard to spot a freediver who doesn’t have their head above the water. When a blackout occurs, every second counts. If you can see your dive buddy during their dive there is no problem and you can be within arm’s reach when your buddy comes up, but you will need to be religious about always being right above them.

safe freediving
Swell never looks bad until you get into the water and are trying to spot your dive buddy.

Safe freediving in poor visibility

Here in the Pacific Northwest, visibility is always terrible compared to a place like the Maldives. People still freedive, but perhaps (hopefully) they are a bit more careful about it. Most of the people I dive with do recreational dives in the 15 – 25 meter range. With an average of 5 meters of visibility at the surface (often less) that means they can never see their buddy. If your buddy is diving, you will not know when they come up and you will need to continually scan the surface until you see them. If they do come up and they are far from you, make sure you have visual contact for a while (at least 10 seconds, 30 is better) so that you are sure that they are not going to black out. Many blackouts occur after a freediver starts ventilating.


These three hazards: poor visibility, swell, and current, all have the implied hazard that you will not be able to get to an unconscious buddy as fast as you would like to. The safety diver cannot do anything to make sure that this risk is mitigated. In these cases it is up to the diver to make sure that the risk of blacking out is as low as possible.


Safe freediving in boating areas

The danger of freediving in boating areas is easily mitigated by using a buoy and a dive flag. However, as a diver you have to make sure to surface at least close to the buoy. Some boaters simply go close to every buoy to see what is going on. If you hear a boat underwater and you cannot see it from where you are you can wait until the sound becomes less loud. This way you know it is going away from you. If you do not have enough air to do this the only thing you can do is try to surface close to the buoy. Also remember that if you are waiting for the area to clear in the low O2 zone you are setting yourself up for a blackout. Ideally in a boating area there are three divers. In this case, one diver dives, the second acts as a safety diver, and the third makes sure no boats approach.

Safe freediving with an inexperienced dive buddy

Every now and then, you are likely to dive with a buddy that is inexperienced. Or perhaps you are diving with a buddy that you do not know the experience level of. The rule is simple. Dive well within your limits so you are the least likely to suffer a blackout. If you are not 100% sure that your buddy can rescue you, you should assume that your blackout will lead to death.  An inexperienced dive buddy that dives with an experienced dive buddy may have a false sense of security and push their limits a little harder. Make sure they understand the risks, especially when in poor visbility, current etc.

Safe freediving with gear failure

Gear breaks. Inevitably. Your carbon fins, your mask, your suit. Everything can go haywire when you are at 30 m depth. Are you comfortable swimming without your mask? What if your mask floods, and in your reaction to get to the surface fast your fin breaks? These may be the ultimate ‘doom and gloom’ situations, but they do happen. In a controlled environment, you should train yourself to be comfortable to swim up without a mask (in a controlled environment). You should also be able to feel all your gear, and take it off underwater. Make sure you inspect your gear before any diving session. Carbon and fiberglass fins often show stress marks that run perpendicular to the fin before they break (usually these are roughly in the middle). If you see these marks and you are planning to dive deep, get new fins. Otherwise, make sure that you are able to take both fins and your weight belt off if one of the fins breaks. You will notice if one breaks because of the lack of thrust and resistance when trying to swim. Personally I find the best way to get to the surface is to ditch both fins, even if one is still whole, and go no-fins until you get to the surface. Make sure to think of a protocol and test it in a pool or in calm clear water with a buddy.

Entanglement hazards

Entanglement hazards should mostly be noted before the dive. If you have a selfie stick with a gopro or another bulky item on a leash (a camera attached to a lanyard maybe?), that classifies as an entanglement hazard. Using a monofin while trying to penetrate a wreck is generally a bad idea. A fishing area will have a lot of lines and maybe some nets floating around. You can choose to carry a knife, you never known when you may need it. And don’t be afraid to tell your buddy if you think they are setting themselves up for a dangerous situation with their gear.

safe freediving
Entanglement hazards can be anywhere

Parting thoughts

In isolation, the above factors can all be dealt with. Unfortunately, hazards rarely rear their ugly heads on their own. Compounding hazards make freediving deadly. Consider both poor visbility and current, or poor visibility or swell combined with entanglement. Or entanglement combined with a flooded mask. In these cases, bad luck kills.

See also part 1: Shallow water blackout

Coming up is part 3: safe spearfishing

 

Minimizing freediving risk part 1: shallow water blackout

Disclaimer: this article is not a substitute for safety training, and is not meant to teach you how to dive alone. Always dive with a buddy, and train with a suitable instructor.

What prompted me to write this was an anecdotal shallow water blackout story. Shallow water blackout is the result of insufficient oxygen delivered to the brain. If this happens without a diving buddy it will nearly inevitably lead to death. The chances of a diver surviving with a trained buddy and good safety protocol is close to 100%.  The anecdotal evidence of freediving blackouts is nearly always the same: 1) the freediver does not see it coming, 2) it can occur after a dive to any depth, 3) it can occur after a dive of any duration. Shallow water blackouts are common with other breath hold activities too, such as synchronized swimming and underwater hockey and have in some cases led to death. Always remember that if your airways are submerged, you can drown. Two inches or twenty meters of water feel the same to an unconscious person.

Minimizing the risk of a shallow water blackout

Hyperventilation

Hyperventilation used to be common practice in freediving in order to reduce the urge to breathe during freediving. Hyperventilating has the effect of removing CO2 from the body. Removing CO2 from the body has several effects: 1) it will take you longer to become hypercapnic. This means that it will take you longer to accumulate enough CO­­2 to feel the urge to breathe in the form of contractions and so on. 2) It makes your blood more alkaline. This has the scary effect that hemoglobin, the red blood cells that transport oxygen, are more prone to hold on to their oxygen. Think of this for a second. A freediver hyperventilates to not feel an urge to breathe, causing them to think everything is ok, while their blood does not deliver oxygen to the necessary tissues as effectively anymore. Sounds like a recipe for shallow water blackout, right? Hyperventilating is therefore a big ‘no’. Some courses do however teach their students to do a specific amount of ‘purging’ breaths, decreasing CO2 while still being safe. Although there is nothing wrong with this method if applied conservatively, it does open the door to abuse. Think of the little voice in your head that says ‘well, I can just purge a little harder and my dive will be more relaxed..’, or ‘If I just do 10 purging breaths instead of 8, it is probably still ok…’. I would personally argue that if you want to create the biggest safety margin, you stay away from any form of hyperventilation, including purging.

an example:

exerpt from the description:

“After consulting with some freediving instructors, I have realized that my breathe up wasn’t optimal and that instead of purging (which I thought I was doing), I was hyperventilating on my breathe up.”

Subconscious hyperventilation

Subconscious hyperventilation can be a big problem too. Here it helps to dive in only the best conditions; where you do not need to move at all during your breathe-up. Some studies indicate that exertion may cause hyperventilation, your body prepares anticipates a build up of CO2 and starts preventative measures (see here, and here for some open access material). If a diver is unaware of this, and even worse, adds some conscious hyperventilation or purging breaths into the mix, the risk of suffering shallow water blackout becomes very high even at shallow short dives.

Exhaustion

Although I am unsure of the exact mechanisms, there is anecdotal evidence that exhaustion places a diver or swimmer at increased risk of blackout (see here). The data here does not so much apply to freedivers, as the statistical database may not be big enough to find such a correlation. However, all freedivers know that apnea capabilities change from day to day depending on mood, mindset, tiredness and so forth. It is definitely in your best interest to be well rested and in the right mindset before diving. Exhaustion may also occur during the dive session, for example if you need to do a long surface swim, or kayak paddle before diving, or if there is a lot of current or swell at the dive site.

Depth and the low oxygen zone

Partial pressure changes at depth make deep dives more dangerous. Here is a quick recap on how this works: gases react with your body in accordance with their partial pressure, not their absolute concentration. Let’s consider a 30 m dive. At 30 meters, the oxygen in your lungs will react at 4 times the rate (because you are at 4 atmosphere). This means that if you are at 30 meters until you feel like you have 16 % oxygen left, you have an absolute amount of oxygen left of 16% / 4 = 4%. When you ascend the partial pressure will become lower and the chemical balance between the oxygen in your blood and the oxygen in your lungs start to change. In the low O2 zone oxygen will move back from your blood into your lungs. Exactly where this happens depends on a set of variables like the O2 consumption of the diver and the depth. Since most blackouts happen from 0 – 10 m (for the reasons described above) we consider 0 – 10 m the anecdotal low O2 zone. But how do you know what depth you can dive to on a specific day? You don’t, until you hit the limit, which you don’t want to. In a recreational session where you do not have a line or if you dive without a buddy (or with a buddy in compromised conditions such as poor visibility), you will need to take baby steps toward a maximum depth that still contains a large safety margin.

Carbon dioxide accumulation

CO­2 accumulation can be as large a risk as a CO­2 deficit. The difference is that CO2 accumulation comes from an external CO2 source. There is no confirmed story of a blackout in which CO2 accumulation played an integral role, but because it can potentially cause blackout I have chosen to include it. CO2 accumulation can be caused by standing in traffic, diving next to a powerboat with a faulty engine or even diving next to a big idling boat with the wind in the wrong direction. If you are breathing in exhaust fumes you are likely breathing in air that has a lower O2­ concentration and a higher CO2 concentration than you want to. In my case, I was concerned about this when I was diving in the Maldives with only a surface safety and I could occasionally ‘taste’ the garbage burning facility through my snorkel. Too much pre-dive CO2 does the same as an accumulation of CO2 during the dive: it kicks O2 off the red blood cell. This is good when you are diving (generate more CO­2 and you release more O2) but pre-dive it means you start with less O2 upon descent. Even worse is that you may not notice it at all.

shallow water blackout
It keeps coming back to the delicate balance between oxygen and carbon dioxide.

Entanglement

Entanglement is a huge hazard when freediving without a buddy, or when diving in poor visibility. Of course it does not directly increase your chances of a shallow water blackout, but it does so indirectly. If you can get loose, it will have increased your dive time and commonly increase your heart rate and oxygen consumption. I have been entangled once and did not really enjoy the experience (saved by my diving buddy!). The risk increases when spearfishing around uneven bottoms or in kelp forests. You can partially mitigate the risk by making sure that anything that can get tangled can either be cut (wear a knife) or ditched easily. Make sure that you can ditch your speargun, and can reach your knife easily. I like wearing a knife on my upper leg, so that I can reach it with either hand.

In part 2 we will get into the details of safety protocols, when they work and when they don’t. Let me stress again that this article is not meant to teach you how to dive alone. Instead it is written in order to create an awareness of risk in freediving, and an idea of how to mitigate that risk while freediving. Always dive with a buddy. 

 

 

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Finding the best freediving sites

If you want to find the best freediving locations you will need to do some research. Here you can read how to use bathymetrical maps and terrain maps in order to find the best freediving sites.

Maps for finding freediving sites

The best freediving locations have steep topography (in my opinion), and are called walls. The local geology usually has a large impact on where these walls are found. Around BC, Canada, the steepest walls may be found in fjords for example. The big mammals are commonly near open and deep water, and most life is found near areas with high current (one of the reasons for the abundance of life in the Discovery Passage in BC, Canada). Hence what we are looking for is a steep drop off, high current, and open a connection to open and deeper water.

We can find the locations with Google maps, and bathymetry data. Countries like Canada and the US supply bathymetry data for free. A lot of bathymetry can be found here, but some areas lack detail:

NOAA bathymetry interactive map

For some parts of Canada, you will have to download the data and load it into Google Earth Pro (which is freely available):

GEOgratis bathymetry shapefile

Google Earth Pro free

Finding freediving sites in Saanich Inlet

I’ll use an example from Saanich Inlet (a well known diving area in BC) from the NOAA. When we look at the figure below you can see that the Saanich inlet is much steeper on the western side than on the eastern side. Using both Google earth and NOAA data we can see that the access is boat only (unless you want to go bushwacking).

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In summary, in order to find the best freediving sites you need to look at bathymetry and access. When you get to the site make sure you check for hazards such as boat traffic, swells and the entry. Make sure to bring a GPS if you think you need it. And let us know what you find!

The benefits of a freediving hang

A freediving hang is a deep static. They are best practiced while diving with a line at 10 – 15 m depth (and always with a buddy). A deep static has some amazing benefits for your body.

How to do a freediving hang?

A freediving hang can be performed simply by taking a line diving rig (a float, line and weight) into the water. Pull down until your desired depth and wait there. I usually simply hold the rope with my hand, first upside down if that is the way I neutrally float at that depth and after a little while I move myself to a ‘right side up’ position.

Why is a freediving hang beneficial?

The pressure at depth makes gases in your body react differently with your tissues and cells. Let’s say your pull-downs remove a few percent of oxygen from your body and if done on dry land you would be left with 18% oxygen in your lungs. At 10 meters depth this oxygen will react at twice the rate (2 atmospheric pressure). It has exactly the same effect as breathing 36% oxygen.

“Gas reaction rates are proportional to its partial pressure”

What effect does a hang have on the body?

This is probably a personal experience, but for me it is a combination of physical and mental relaxation. The physical part probably comes from increased oxygen perfusion within the body.  Oxygen does not enter all parts of the body naturally. Especially when you have injured muscles (or tight muscles) where blood flow is reduced, these will not be as oxygenated as a normal muscle. A massage increases blood flow and hence oxygenation. A hang will increase the oxygen available simply because of the pressure under which it is allowed to react within the body. The mental relaxation is similar to the feeling in a static at the surface. However, a deep static is more comfortable than a shallow one simply because the lungs are compressed and it is more quiet. I am better able to listen to my heartbeat when underwater. Also… it is nicer to have a look around at depth.

Keep it safe

Make sure you practice your hangs with a buddy, use a dive watch or a timer at least, and practice them on a line so that your buddy knows where to find you.

Edit 14th of June 2016. AIDA released an announcement warning freedivers of the dangers of deep hangs. Although deep is unspecified, prudence dictates I reiterate the warning here:

Warning on DEEP HANGS! Please be advised this is a very dangerous form of training even for experienced freedivers. It requires stricter safety protocols we didn’t test yet. Given this is a new phenomena, these protocols will need to be developed if this type of training gains favour in this community, but for sure we’ll need more than the usual deep diving safety. We are particularly concerned for the less experienced divers that may be tempted to do what they see on Facebook and we ask an increased level of responsibility from our athletes concerning their public posts. (https://www.facebook.com/AIDA-announcements-742763479156658/?fref=ts)

William Trubridge his comment on this post provides us with some perspective:

Like any exercise that involves depth, deep hangs have associated risk.
To introduce perspective, the following activities would all be ranked as significantly more dangerous:
• NLT/VWT/DPV freediving
• Cave freediving
• 120m+ FIM
• 100% O2 dynamic
• Deep spearfishing
There is no substitute to increasing a broad level of awareness, understanding, and adaptable safety strategies, in the individual freediver and the sport in general.
According to my log, since 2008 I’ve done 68 maximal hangs between 50-60m. In all of these I have felt entirely in control, and only on one of the 68 have I had a brief surface blackout. Deep FIM/CWT freedives are more precarious, and I expect the other athletes who have done both would agree.
The difference is not that a deep hang is more dangerous, but that it is more accessible to a less-experienced freediver. They may be able to emulate it, while not possessing the “broad level of awareness, understanding and adaptable safety strategies.” That shortfall is the problem, not the activity itself.
For now though, I will accept AIDA’s advice, and include a warning on any posts about deep hangs. I’d also advise the following safety protocols to be considered.
1. Don’t attempt any hang deeper than 50% of your maximal CWT/FIM depth, but start with more conservative depths (e.g. 30%)
2. Use a lanyard and counterballast system, and make sure your lanyard cannot entangle at the bottom while you are there.
3. Safety divers should have a clear idea of maximum dive time, and activate CB if they don’t detect the beginning of your ascent in line with that dive time. (e.g. if your max total dive time is 3 minutes, and it takes you 0:45 to ascend then they would activate CB at 2:15, if they hadn’t yet detected pulling on the rope).
Maximum dive time shouldn’t be more than 10–15 seconds longer than your previous longest clean dive to that same depth.

Finally, please note again that Freedive Wire is not a teaching institution. We merely provide news to the freediving community.

The science of breathing: nasal nitric oxide

This article is about nasal nitric oxide and contains technical terms and may not be for every freediver (this is a geek alert). Reading time is about 10-15 minutes if you read everything and need to google the occasional term. If you don’t want to put in the effort, read everything in bold in three minutes.

The chemical compound nitric oxide (NO, a gas) is present in high concentrations in healthy persons in the nasal airways. We all produce the gas with cells that line the paranasal cavity, and it is often referred to as ‘nasal nitric oxide’ (NNO). If we breathe through the nose, we breathe in nasal nitric oxide and there are quite some benefits to this. This article will explore some ideas and questions around the benefits of nasal nitric oxide and whether we leave those benefits behind if we wear a full diving mask. After all, a diving mask restricts the flow of nitric oxide through the respiratory system and during long diving sessions may do so for hours at a time.

The chemical compound nitric oxide is created in the nasal cavity and has a positive effect on the respiratory system, leading to better oxygenated tissues. Does breathing through your mouth during a diving session because you have a diving mask affect your dives?

The effects of nitric oxide in the respiratory system

Nitric oxide is a potent vasodilator, meaning that it widens your blood vessels and thus promotes good blood circulation. Nitric oxide in higher concentrations can kill parasites that cause diseases, and indeed it has been shown that nitric oxide concentrations rise in sick individuals. A great study performed by Lundberg and coworkers in 1996 has quantified some of the effects of NO in the lungs on the respiratory system. They found that during periods of 5 minutes of nasal breathing, the transcutaneous oxygen pressure was 10 % higher than during 5 minutes of mouth breathing. In lay man terms, transcutaneous oxygen pressure is a measure for the oxygenation of your skin (but not the oxygenation of your blood). Lundberg and coworkers also found that arterial oxygen tension (more oxygen in the arteries) significantly rose, and the pulmonary vascular resistance index (the resistance to blood flow in the lungs) significantly lowered in intubated persons (somebody that breathes with the help of a tube in the trachea, bypassing the nose) when administering nasal air. The timespan in which they did so? Ten minutes.

Lundberg and coworkers (1996) found positive effects of nasal breathing on 1) blood flow in the lungs, 2) on oxygenation of the arteries and 3) on oxygenation of tissues under the skin. The positive effects took place within 5 – 10 minutes.

Now I ask you, how long do you breathe only through your mouth in a freediving session? If you dive like me, you will be in the water for about an hour to an hour and a half and you might take of your mask for half a minute once or twice to clear your nose and sinuses. Effectively you wouldn’t breathe through your nose at any time in the dive session.

nasal nitric oxide
Breathing through your nose is tricky when you’re diving.

As freedivers, are we missing out if we dive with a diving mask?

This is a question that I am unable to answer completely, but I can give you my personal completely biased and uneducated narrow minded view of the world, just because I wonder too. The only of the three variables given above that was measured in a healthy subject is the first, transcutaneous oxygen pressure. The reason for this is quite simple, no healthy subject would agree to a puncturing of their heart in order to insert a measuring device. For the intubated subject, the medical infrastructure was already there. Let’s start with the conclusions we can draw from the healthy subjects first. After all, I hope nobody is likely to freedive right after a coronary bypass. I think it is fair to say the increase in subcutaneous pressure of healthy subjects indicates that something is significantly improving the respiratory system. After all, getting the blood through arteries and capillaries to oxygenate tissues is in this study an indirect way to measure the effect of NO on the respiratory system. The time lag associated with the oxygenation appears to be less than a minute (fig. 2 in Lundberg et al., 1996). Also, the time lag associated with a decrease in oxygenation is less than a minute. As soon as you put your diving mask on and start breathing through your snorkel, are you effectively de-oxygenating your tissue? For transcutaneous oxygenation the answer appears to be yes, but for deep tissues this may be different. Similarly, the arterial oxygen pressure in intubated subjects increased within minutes of nasal breathing. All in all, it appears that simply by breathing through your nose you will be better oxygenated. That means, you would be in better freediving condition if you can breathe-up through your nose.

For me personally; I would consider buying a freediving mask in which I can flip up the silicon nose part and breathe up on my back to see if there is a noticeable difference. On deeper dives it would make sense to dive with fluid goggles, and to breathe up on the back and lock the noseclip before diving.

Lundberg, 1999 (a free access review article):

http://thorax.bmj.com/content/54/10/947.full.pdf+html

Do you have any info or ideas on Nasal Nitric Oxide (NNO) and its effects on freediving? Please leave a comment

Azure Passion custom wetsuit review

Azure Passion is a company located in sunny Greece that makes wetsuits, spearguns and fins and ship all over the world. This is a review of an 8 mm custon smooth/cell wetsuit. The Azure Passion custom wetsuit is a very good suit with attention to detail that is not painful on the wallet.

Azure Passion custom fit

The fit of the azure passion custom wetsuit is perfect. The sizing chart of the wetsuit has over 25 entries, so you will be measuring for a while, but the result is great. The perfect fit will assure that you are kept cozy warm and will keep water from sloshing through your wetsuit. The legs and arms are sized according to the thickness of your upper and lower arms and legs, and the circumference of your knees and elbows. This means that the suits limbs stay where they are supposed to and you will keep the sleeves to where they need to be: one centimeter past your wrist and ankle. This is not trivial with a wetsuit designed for cold water, because you need to make sure that you do not get cold water sloshing into your neoprene socks and gloves. (Note: I recommend you go to a tailor with the measurement sheet and a photo of a wetsuit so that you can get your sizes taken professionally. An excellent fit starts with excellent measurements).

Azure Passion Wetsuit Material and insulation

Azure Passion custom wetsuits are made out of quality Heiwa AWS (accompany with skin) neoprene, which is elastic, tear resistant, and keeps its elasticity for a long time. This particular smooth/cell (smoothskin on the outside, open cell on the inside) has no fabric lining the outside or inside. I was surprised at the elasticity of the material, even though 8 mm is a lot of neoprene.

I am a wimp in cold water. My apnea ability goes down and frankly, I don’t like being cold. There are some divers here along the Pacific Northwest that dive in a 5 mm suit in the winter, and a 3 mm in the summer. Commonly they last less than 45 minutes in the water in winter before having to get out and warm up. I’d rather be warm during the entire dive. The first time I dove with this suit I stayed in water of about 9 degrees C for well over an hour, and I was warm when I came out. For maybe the first time ever I did not get out of the Pacific because I was cold, but because I was done diving.

Attention to detail

When I get new gear, I always inspect the fragile parts of the material. In wetsuits, those are the edges and the seams (especially where three pieces of neoprene meet). I was happy to see that Azure Passion puts an extra patch of thin neoprene over the most fragile parts of their wetsuits, the triple connections in the armpit (see the photos below). This extra patch helps to prevent the common pinholes in the armpit that will get water into your suit when you stretch your arms overhead. Along the lower edge of the upper part of the wetsuit, and in the crotch and on the beavertail is a glued fabric. This avoids the wearer ripping their wetsuit apart when they try to take it off.

Price and comparison to other wetsuits

This custom wetsuit retails for 250 EUR + shipping costs from Greece. Considering the quality of the wetsuit and the excellent fit this is a competitive price. It compares very well to my unfitted 3 mm wetsuit (240 USD) which was cheaper, but allows a lot of water to come in along my back, and doesn’t keep me warm as well. I have a 5 mm custom wetsuit that does not fit as well and I think was fabricated with a cheaper neoprene and within 2 years has dwindled down to 3 mm (250 USD). In short, Azure Passion holds up very well compared to the wetsuits I have used and seen so far and is great value.

The person I was in touch with about my wetsuit was responsive and helpful (we communicated by e-mail). The suit was shipped approximately 2 weeks after ordering, and arrived another 10 days or so later (shipping within Europe).

Find them online: www.azurepassion.com

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Freediving in Rasdhoo

As with so many spots that have great underwater scenery, there is quite some current at the best spots in Rasdhoo. However, it is a great island for freediving and unlike other Maldivian islands it has some decent restaurants and cafes. It is also the best place to explore for great white sharks, and not a bad island to make a stop over if you intend to do some freediving and spearing in Ukulhas. Freediving in Rasdhoo is a must if you are visiting the Maldives and are flying in from Male.
Freediving in Rasdhoo: How to get there

The best way to know for sure that you will get from MLE airport to Rasdhoo, is to ask your accomodation for the best ways to get there. They can book your transfer and tell you where to go and when. You can get to Rasdhoo in four different ways:

The public ferry: By far the cheapest, it leaves from Male in the morning on specific days. To be sure, check the MTCC ferry schedule. It takes several hours but is only a few dollars.
The speedboat ferry: This will cost you 30 – 45 USD depending on who books for you. There is a speedboat ferry that leaves Rasdhoo daily in the afternoon. In order to secure your spot, make sure you contact the place you are staying in Rasdhoo.
Chartered speedboat: You can charter a speedboat. It usually costs upward of 500 USD but if you have several people joining it may be cheaper than the chartered ferry and you can leave whenever.
Floatplane: With the float plane you can get from MLE airport to Rasdhoo in just 30 minutes, but it is pricey.

Freediving in Rasdhoo: Where to stay

There are quite a few guesthouses in Rasdhoo. We were in the Banana Residence, which was a very nice guesthouse. At the time of writing, several guesthouses were under construction and it is likely that they will compete with each other for prices. You should be able to book accomodation for 2 for less than 80 USD per night.

Freediving in Rasdhoo: Things to see and entry

Rasdhoo has a patch of the most vibrant and alive coral that I have seen while freediving in the Maldives. Beautiful table corals with mantas, eels, octopus, shark, turtles, you name it. We saw mantas on about half our dives, and turtles on nearly every dive. When watching the sunset in the evening we saw a juvenile shark right near the beach and eels swimming in the shallows.

The entry is difficult and painful if barefoot, especially at low tide, but it is also worth it. There is a bank of coral debris before the best part of the reef that you have to cross. At high tide you can do this swimming but at low tide you will have to walk. The reef on the south of the island is the best place to dive.

Rasdhoo is also near an island where you can dive with hammerhead sharks. Normally these dives are done on scuba but if you are willing you can do them on breathhold. You will need to do dives to ~30 m depth in the deep blue in order to see them. Not for the faint of heart….

If you dive here try to hit the slack. The current is less at high tide. As usual the best patch of coral has the most current. Here is a movie of our dive in Rasdhoo:

Address: Fannu Miskithu Magu, Rasdhoo, Maldives

 

Performance Freediving International – Advanced course, Safety Supervisor and DAN DEMP

What follows is @wrick’s review of the Performance Freediving International (PFI) advanced course, including safety supervisor and Diving Alert Network- Diving Emergency Management Provider (DAN DEMP) course. The course was taught along the Kona coast, Jack’s diving locker and Honaunau by instructors Kirk Krack and Shelby Eisenberg, with Chris Bustad, Charles Beddoe and a guest appearance on the line by John Hullverson. Photo above is @wrick with a school of Akule by Wayne Levin.

How I started freediving

I first travelled to Kona to learn freediving in 2002 or so. I was a SCUBA diver who heard about freediving and had read Carlos Eyles books: Last of the Blue Water Hunters, Secret Seas and The Blue Edge. Before ever feeling a contraction during statics or squeezing into my first open cell wet suit I was hooked. My first formal instruction, it should be said, wasn’t very formal at all. Carlos’ instructions on how to freedive were more about watching, paying attention and listening. It was learning by immersion and it was amazing. We would go to places along the Kona coast, jump in and spend a couple hours in search of Manta or fish to take pictures of. Other divers would join us. I met Brett Lemaster on one of those dives, who was a former world record holder in the discipline of constant weight. His record was 81 m and the way he moved up and down through the water column looked effortless. Also on that trip I met an underwater photographer named Wayne Levin whose black and white images of body surfers and giant schools of Akule are extraordinary.

http://waynelevinimages.com/fish-schools/

http://waynelevinimages.com/surfers/

Wayne and I have stayed in touch and I got to dive with him again on this trip. He is still one of the friendliest fellows you will ever meet and he still shoots analogue.

After my immersion with Carlos in ’02 I went home to the cold waters of BC and due to a number of factors I wasn’t able to continue diving. A few years ago I got the itch back and returned to Kona to take instruction with Freediving Instructors International. It was my first formal training and I learned so much. I went on to participate in their week long Kona camp and had a great time making great friends (Team Zissou from Maui remain great dive pals).

I wanted to continue learning and knew that Performance Freediving International was based out of Campbell River and so I thought that it might make more sense to continue learning with a local outfit. I took an Intermediate course in Vancouver with Kirk and Shelby and knew that sometime soon I would want to try the advanced.

Now I should say that while I am very comfortable in and under the water I haven’t necessarily found freediving easy. I have had some challenges with equalization and sinus issues that have sometimes held me back and before my advanced course hitting 25 m in Vancouver was all I could handle. My expectations for the advanced were therefore a bit muted.

In order to pass the course you need to demonstrate proficiency in the many different safety protocols, pass a full day DAN Diving Emergency Management Provider course and fulfill the depth requirements. The days were long and the expectations high but the one area I was sure I wouldn’t pass were the depth requirements. In order to pass the course you need to do a pull down to 40m demonstrating good technique and a 40 m CWT with good technique. I was pretty sure that wasn’t going to happen. My goals were to learn all the advanced safety skills, advance my understanding of equalization techniques and if I was to hit a strong 30 m I would be a very happy guy.

Our class was full, I think there were 9 of us all together. The days were long. I was exhausted all of the time. The travel to and from our open water site could seem a bit frantic at times due to the amount of material we had to cover in class and pool before heading to Honaunau which is a 30 min drive away from Jack’s.

Everything was taken to a new level. In the morning we would cover theory practicing new skills like advanced breathing and equalization techniques and the many safety skills we would have to know for the Safety Supervisor part of the class. In the late morning we would hit the pool where we were expected to be proficient with many different rescue scenarios. In the afternoon we would go to the City of Refuge and Honaunau for open water to work on our depth training. Lanyards and neck weights were employed along with primary and secondary safety so at first it was a lot to keep track of. And it was all new to me. Am I at the clutch? Ohhh right I am primary safety. Wait… somebody grab that pool noodle before it floats away. I won’t soon forget my first dive on the line with lanyard, breathing up on my back with pool noodles under my neck and behind my knees- four pounds of lead shot around my neck I remember thinking-this feels a lot more like sky-diving than freediving. The stakes seemed higher with all the new equipment and techniques to become acquainted with. It is here that our very skilled, patient, confident, encouraging instructors were at their best. Charles and Chris guided us through all of these new skills and responsibilities while Kirk or Shelby were focusing on overseeing most of the time. A note on all of the instructors. I think they have a different motor running in there than I have in here. Dives to 40 m and beyond over and over is extremely energy intensive. I actually have no idea how they manage. But they did all this and more (retrieving the odd snorkel or fin for example) while maintaining an exacting standard for themselves as far as modeling great safety skills, great diving, and super teaching. If you are still reading this then I presume you have more than a passing interest in freediving and so you know how tricky it can be to sort out what is up with your equalizations, hard and soft kick cycles, sink phase, head position, timing for rescue scenarios, it goes on and on and it seems every time I was up against some issue there would be two or three super helpful suggestions from any of the instructors. I think that was reassuring too. At first your instinct is to rely on Shelby or Kirk as they were the Advanced Instructors but it took no time at all to figure out that any of the people out there on the line representing PFI had a tonne of knowledge and were very good at helping you incorporate it.

Did I mention that I have a bleeding disorder? No? Well if you are interested in reading about freediving for someone that is prone to excessive bleeding you should follow this link. I bring it up because in the past my health issues have caused some confusion and concern with freediving instruction. What I would like to appreciate PFI for is a general comfort with my medical condition that I hadn’t experienced before.

It seems that it is important to PFI to make the sport accessible to anyone who wishes to experience what it is like to be weightless and free of the indignities that gravity imposes on those of us with mobility issues for example. I have lost the ability to participate in most land based recreational activities due to lifelong bleeding into my ankles. PFI has enabled me to freedive to my hearts’ content.

Did I make it to 40 m? No. But I hit 35 CWT and a 5:30 static which for me was everything I could have hoped for. None of my instructors paid lip service to the idea that it isn’t about the depth or time, it’s about the process, the technique, the safety. Being comfortable before progressing. Every one of us regardless of how our depth training was going that day was made to feel good about where we were. And, hey, you can see 40 from 35 right?

See you out there.

Rick +
Wayne Levin (left) and @Wrick (right), photo by Chris Short

 

 

Freediving with a bleeding disorder

This post was submitted by @wrick (on the above photo, credit: Maxwell Hohn). @wrick is a freediver on the west coast of Canada, nearly a regular on the Hawaiian Islands, and a great person to dive with. @wrick suffers from a serious bleeding disorder, but this does not stop him from diving deeper than 30 m, or doing 5+ min statics. Here is his story:

An important part of freedive training is becoming familiar with different kinds of freediving emergencies; shallow water blackouts, whiteouts, laryngospasms, loss of motor control (known as LMC), decompression illness (rare) and of course barotrauma. In order to recognize these different problems two approaches are employed. Through role playing in the pool and on the line we get to see the signs and symptoms of these problems and practice handling them. But this relies on the acting abilities of our classmates and instructors and while I should say that Kirk Krack’s LMC imitation is a must see there is no replacing watching the real thing. If you freedive long enough you are likely to witness an LMC. But seeing it once in person within the stress of the moment is different than watching it over and over in class on a TV screen. With repeated practice you become comfortable with these freediving problems in a controlled setting before you have to act on a real-life emergency.

One of the more dramatic and disturbing freediving emergencies to witness of course is a barotrauma that causes bleeding. Even a relatively minor issue such as a blocked sinus blowing out can mean a very bloody nose and a mask filled with blood. Anytime there is blood pouring out of a human it gets your attention. It gets mine anyway. I am not squeamish and certainly not around blood, more on that in a minute, but a video we watched of someone experiencing a serious lung squeeze, which meant watching a freediver coughing up a lot of blood, was deeply affecting. It was very emotional for me anyway. It was hard to watch someone doing something they love ending up bloody and fighting for breath. Hard to watch but important to see.

Safe freediving while prone to bleed?

Did I mention that I have a bleeding disorder? With the risk of trachea and lung squeeze that attends freediving you might think that having a bleeding disorder would make it off limits. Without getting into the details, here’s what I know. I have a great Hematology team (world class) that I have spent a lot of time talking with about the risks and my particular condition. We came up with a regime that in theory means I am at no more risk than anyone else when freediving and upon a lot of reflection, that is good enough for me.

I decided a long time ago that depth competition was not for me and while I know that this will not insulate me from squeezes it feels a good place to start. It will also be important to keep up with stretching and other dry land training that supports safe freediving. Freediving will never be risk free for any of us but I feel quite a bit safer for having had all the training I have had.

I think it is fair to expect that my propensity to bleed will catch peoples’ attention. In the past I have been anxious that I would be unable to continue to learn and participate in formal training due to the understandable concerns. I have had most of my freediving training with Performance Freediving International (PFI). What I would like to appreciate PFI for though is a general comfort with my medical condition, a comfort that I haven’t found anywhere else. Does that mean they weren’t as safety conscious as they could be or needed to be? No. What it meant was that they trusted me and my expert medical team to weigh and assess the risks. Period, end of discussion with no lingering anxiety. I had to provide a doctors’ waiver of course but I haven’t always found that allays all fears. I guess it is no surprise to me that PFI is undertaking to teach Freediving to people with different physical challenges. This is from a Deeper Blue interview from Blue Wild Expo about accessibility and diving:

 

“The idea is, everyone should have an opportunity to play in freediving at some level of capacity,” Krack said. “We’re going to start introducing a level of programming within Performance Freediving for people with disabilities and into the near future then we’ll offer our instructors an instructor program so that they can then do that sort of thing.”

 

It seems that it is important to PFI to make the sport accessible to anyone who wishes to experience what it is like to be weightless and free of the indignities that gravity imposes on those of us with mobility issues for example. Let me be clear, safety has been at the centre of every freediving course I have ever taken. PFI is no different. What I appreciate about PFI is their conviction to making freediving accessible. I work as an audio describer. I describe theatre for folks who are blind. So I get accessibility, and appreciate the ease and grace PFI has when faced with freedivers like me and those who have more to contend with physically than I. It is a great relief to feel normal. I have lost the ability to participate in most land based recreational activities due to lifelong bleeding into my ankles. So, Freediving plays a very important role in my physical and mental well-being. Thank you PFI.

@wrick in Porteau Cove, enjoying plumose anemones growing on a ship wreck.
@wrick in Copper Cliffs, photograph by Tom Lightfoot.