I am partial to a freediving book, as I am partial to endless YouTube videos of people going up and down in endless blue and doing weird underwater stunts, to an extent which my wife doesn’t understand, so when the book ‘the Deep’ by journalist James Nestor came out I was at the front of the queue.
Firstly he deals with freediving as an outsider, a journo sent to cover a competition in Greece. There he sees what in a way is the seedier side of freediving, people pushing themselves to their limits. Blackouts and evacuations to hospital have the potential to give a bad reputation to what is statistically quite a safe sport, but through the people he meets there he is soon drawn into a wondrous world where competition is only a small part of why people feel driven to dive into a place where, for a minute or two at a time, they can forget they are human and be part of something different.
He goes on to learn from the experts, which includes not only how to dive, but how freedivers interact with the ocean environment and what some of them are achieving in research and conservation. Some of this isn’t necessarily conducted in a strict academic environment, he visits projects that are conducted and/or financed by informed but unqualified individuals rather than academic institutions. This is why he makes reference in the subtitle to ‘renegade science’ but in a way this makes it all the more interesting as individuals pursue interests that might be a little too off piste or dangerous for academics to risk their reputations, or even their lives; think diving unprotected with sharks or sperm whales. Whatever your views on this I am envious of the year he spent chasing down material for this book, and the things he learn’t along the way.
Well worth a read.
The wife doesn’t approve of this at all, it is neither fashionable, flattering nor practical, but it might get me a fish.
I went to Spearfishingstore.co.uk otherwise known as Venture Sports, they are a specialist shop in Paignton, Devon, which happens to be not far away from where I live. They are a dive shop who specialises in spearfishing / freediving stuff.
They are really really helpful, can’t do enough for you and full of good advice. I had already bought a few essentials from them, knife, weights, fins etc. But this time I couldn’t resist the great price they offered me on a speargun, so the suit cost me a lot more than I bargained for, but hey, I’m a fully camouflaged spearfisherman and well equipped marine forager now, it will pay for itself in food within the week I am sure!
My suit is an Apnea one. I tried on the examples they have in the shop as they won’t let you ruin a brand new one. Unfortunately the one bought seems a lot tighter, very tight, in fact so tight I took it back and made them let me try a brand new XL, but that was too big, so I hope that the one I have will stretch. Today, having nearly dislocated my shoulder getting it on I spent a while waddling round the garden in it, I think it will stretch.
Yesterday I went out with my friend the freediving instructor for a long spearfishing jolly round a coastal island near us. This was a real eye opener for me, it really showed how the skilled spearfisherman can be successful even in the most demanding conditions. The current was pushing us around and the visibility was less than 6ft, which if you played it right was probably a bonus as the fish are at the same disadvantage.
He speared 8 pollack, and I got nothing, I only fired my gun twice, and both of those had probably missed before I even pulled the trigger. The reasons for this? he is calm, stealthy, economical in his movement, like a fish. I am cumbersome, splashy, noisy, like a bather. He is perfectly weighted and his calmness gives him time to steady himself on a rock, aim his gun and wait for a fish to swim past. I am inexperienced, I rush, I can’t handle the gun properly. He has a camouflaged suit, I have one with white flashes on it, complemented by a hood with a bright yellow stripe.
At least one of these problems can be rectified immediately and for a fairly small cash outlay. It is time to invest in some spearfishing kit. I’ll be warmer too. Watch this space.
Yesterday I visited a friend in Dorset and we went out on a diving / kayaking / fishing trip. There was one aim, and that was lobsters. It is prime lobster season, we had inside knowledge from someone who knows, and we went to a place called lobster point, renowned for its lobsters. What could possibly stand in our way?
We spent a good hour or so diving into chalk gullies and kelp beds, foraging around in all the likely places, but came up with nothing. Luckily we appeased our guilt by catching 4 mackerel off the kayak.
Again the water was cloudy with algal bloom and microscopic marine life. I seem to have picked the wrong summer to begin my freediving career, most outings have been blighted by poor visibility and all along the south coast of Britain people complain about the same. Rarely have I seen more than 6ft ahead and one one occasion with a bit of disturbance thrown in, I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face.
A slightly deeper dive this time, but probably not more than about 8 or 9m, I’ve been peering into lobster pots, but still haven’t seen a lobster let alone caught one.
I realise now that despite the fact that the water is warm, I need some gloves. As well as the temperature I also need some protection from the hazards of underwater life. I know we should leave marine life alone and shouldn’t interfere with things too much, I remember my PADI diving course instructor many years ago said he thought divers shouldn’t wear gloves as it encouraged them to grab onto coral and break it, without gloves you would never do such a thing. Well today I made the mistake of tapping a spider crab on the back and paid the price, I got a thorn stuck right in the tip of my index finger and I can’t get it out. I don’t know how long it will cause me problems, but I think need to invest in gloves, definitely.
I also got a nose bleed, I think this is a repeat of the sinus problem I had on my AIDA course, but a bit more bloody, I did feel a little twinge in my sinuses so that was probably it. I generally have more of a problem equalising after a prolonged time in the water, or when I get water up my nose too much. This happens when I forget to shave and my mask doesn’t fit properly, it is all a big learning curve.
So yesterday I had my first adventurous dive session. I went with my friend the instructor to a spot we both know well, and one of his favourite spearfising locations. I am still in my Orca swimming suit, but it was a hot day and I survived quite well. I think one of the reasons for this is that I am moving a lot more than he does. My technique is improving, but I am doing a lot more splashing around, adjusting my mask, and generally spluttering than he is, so I am generating heat at the expense of saving oxygen, the better I get, the colder I will be. I borrowed a speargun and failed dismally at getting anything, partly because of the low visibility but mainly my own inadequacy.
I learned about dehydration the hard way. It was a hot day, we were captivated by the undersea world and before I knew it I had been diving away in the salty environment for a couple of hours, and hadn’t had a drink for 3. So I ended up headachy and struggled to drag all my kit back up the hill.
Dehydration is a problem for freedivers because of the number of descents they are likely to make in a day. As I undersatnd it every time your body gets under pressure the fluids are pushed from your extremities to your core, you kidneys think ‘hello! too much liquid, let’s have a wee’ and so the excess gets sent to your bladder, when you surface and the liquid floods back to your extremities again you are a bit more dehydrated. Over a period of time you will lose more liquid than if you were bobbing around the surface, and the deeper your dives the more you will lose.
This was the second freediving book I bought. The first being ‘Manual of Freediving’ which I gather is the bible for most freedivers and a must read.
This book, ‘Underwater foraging – Freediving for food: An instructional guide to freediving, sustainable marine foraging and spearfishing’, is pretty much geared towards me, it deals with enough of the basics of safe freediving and spearfishing to set someone like me on the right track, and it is a guide for UK waters. The fact that it deals in detail with UK species of marine life makes it slightly specialised and not necessarily the best book for people elsewhere in the world. This only applies to part of the book however, obviously all the instruction on diving, kit, breath holding, weighting etc. is universal.
The real strength of this book, and this is something I have already noticed myself, is that it merges the sometimes disparate worlds of spearfishing and safe diving practice. I live by the sea and even as someone who is quite new to this, I have spoken to spearfishing people who advocate hyperventilation, massively overweight themselves, and who haven’t really been properly educated. Even if you aren’t gearing yourself to spearfishing, as a freediver you will want to know more about what lives under the waves, and will almost undoubtedly take some food back with you, even if it isn’t speared, so this is the book to get you going in the right direction.
The book is written by Ian Donald, of FreediveUK, and it is Ian who has taught me a lot of what I know so I must admit a small bias towards his book. But this isn’t just about supporting him, (I paid for it on Amazon and he didn’t ask me to review it), it is more about buying in to his particular ethos, safe freediving for enjoyment, food, and for a greater understanding of what goes on in the sea.