Category Archives: AIDA

A boat dive, and an interesting refresher

So yesterday I joined a boat dive. FreediveUK were taking out a couple of AIDA 2* students and they sometimes take previous students out to get a bit more practice. There were two main reasons why I joined the boat trip; firstly to get some depth experience. It is difficult to find deeper water shore diving where I live so since my course none of the dives I have done have been more than about 10m. Secondly I was sold on the great visibility they are getting down in Cornwall at the moment. I haven’t experienced more than about 5m since I qualified and I was looking forward to being wowed out by the clarity.

Unfortunately only one of these was achieved, I got some extra depth but the weather was atrocious and the viz was some of the worst I have seen (do you see poor viz, or not see it?), in fact it couldn’t have been worse, at the surface you could barely see your hand at arm’s length, beyond about 12m was darkness!

This trip was also an opportunity to get used to my new freediving watch, the Sporasub SP1, but more of that later.

The second site that the knowledgeable dive boat skipper (Mark from Atlantic Scuba) found was just calm enough, and deep enough to drop the rope to 16m. As soon as we got into the water and I saw how poor the viz was I had quite a deja vu for my own 2* course, over a year ago in that cold dark quarry. The first few free immersions down to about 10m were fine, but when it came to clipping on the leash and diving down the rope I got all tangled again and faced the embarrassment of not being able to achieve what the other two guys were about to do.

It is funny how a few extra things to think about make it so much more difficult. Where previously I have been building confidence with every dive, suddenly I felt like I was back to square one, a few seconds aligning myself with an almost invisible rope, trying to pinch my nose with the hand to which the leash was attached, and suddenly I hadn’t equalised properly. It all started feeling a bit alien and before you know it I had turned at 8m, a depth that last week I was doing without even thinking about it.

Luckily while they were going through their drills with the instructor I had a practice doing some variable weight dives with the dive-master. This is simply holding on to a heavy weight whilst he controls the descent of rope over the first critical couple of meters, then he lets it drop. The prospect of descending at rate over which you have almost no control is slightly daunting the first time, but as soon as you feel any discomfort you can just let go, the weight speeds to the bottom and you pull yourself up on the rope as usual. The advantage of this practice is that it removes all factors from the equation apart from equalisation. You don’t have to move, fin or worry about anything else. It came surprisingly easy and was a real confidence booster, especially at depth, when it suddenly became so dark you couldn’t see any contrast in the light at all, and the only way of knowing where was up was the direction of the rope.

My watch told me that I was mostly dropping the weight around 12 or 13m, I think this was due to slightly painful sinuses, and proved I needed to maybe descend more slowly. I’m not sure if this kind of descent is suitable for very new beginners, if you don’t know how well you equalise, or aren’t aware of the warning signs then you should probably be careful.

As soon as I got back on the other rope I finned straight down to 16.4m (couldn’t see the plate at all!) and came slowly back up all nice and comfy, no problems, relaxed descent, and much more relaxed in the darkness.

The things I learn’t from this trip were:-

1/ I have to admit I’m really not comfortable yet at depth in very low viz. My lungs give me all the time in the world, and in clear water I am happy to stop and hang around for 10 or 15 seconds to equalise, get my bearings, align to a rope, (or just look at fishes), then carry on. But as it gets darker I will turn at the slightest hint of a problem, I’ll overcome that and yesterday was a confidence booster.

2/ The first dive or two of the day beyond about 8m result in an immediate urge to breathe, my body subconsciously thinking I need to breathe because my lung capacity has quickly halved (nearly) these contractions, (just like when you do breath hold practice) interfere with equalisation and cause confusion. That feeling goes away after the first couple of dives and this helps with keeping calm and no longer interferes with equalisation.

Hallsands and Spider Crabs

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.



AIDA 2* – Going deeper, and equalisation

Suddenly it’s no longer about how long you can hold your breath for, it’s about how quickly and easily you can equalise, and the efficiency of your movement

This is the first thing I learnt, and something that will stay with me forever. Sitting there and holding your breath for ages doesn’t make you a diver. Calmness and efficiency of movement is everything, learning how not to waste energy in the first couple of metres of decent will make the rest of your dive so much more rewarding.

The second thing I learnt is the importance of good equalisation. The way I see it this is this is the fundamental difference between scuba diving and freediving (well apart from the obvious!). In scuba diving you are in control of your decent, and if you aren’t equalising properly you can slow down or stop and you have all the time in the world (relatively) to get your ears and sinuses right before carrying on. With freediving it is always a playoff between time, efficiency of descent, and the ability to equalise. Your descent is governed by efficiently, your equalisation should be secondary and this can prove quite difficult, especially for beginners.

Ideally you should do a very efficient duck-dive and descend straight (head first) down to a point of neutral buoyancy at a rate of about 1m per second and with as little effort as possible so as not to gobble up your valuable oxygen supply. If you can’t equalise comfortably at this rate and you need to stop, then you will start to float up, you will no longer be head down, and by the time you have equalised you will be almost back at the surface and in a hell of a mess trying to restart your dive.

Most of the people on my AIDA 2* course had experience at scuba diving, but also most of them, including me, experienced problems equalising efficiently. It strikes me that this is the factor that limits progression in freediving, not your breath holding ability.

The course, again with FreediveUK, took place in a quarry on Bodmin Moor; a nice place, but not the sea. Unfortunately it was too rough to do it in the sea that day.

A happy coincidence is that one of the instructors, and an extremely competent one, was an acquaintance of mine from a while ago and lives near to me, so now I have a local dive buddy too, as well as some other contacts from around the west country who might be up for a buddy dive sometime.

This was my first time going up and down a rope. This is the easy and safest way to practice dive techniques and something you see and read about in freediving all the time so this is the format for most freedive training from beginner to expert. You are clipped to the rope with a short leash so you can’t drift away into oblivion, and can’t go deeper than the weight at the end. You can pull yourself down by hand, ‘free immersion’ (FIM), or swim alongside it, which is then called ‘constant weight diving’ (CWT)

I also got a nose bleed. Not a punch-on-the nose type fountain, just a bit of snotty blood, and I didn’t even notice it until the instructor pointed it out. I hadn’t had a nose bleed for decades, so it was a bit of a surprise but my instructor was happy for me to continue as it was probably just a tiny ruptured blood vessel in my sinuses.

Anyway, I just about completed the course. I got down to 15m, did the buddying drills, and at the end of the day, despite being a bit dazed and tired, completed the paper questions.

Next step – lets go and look at fishes.

More breathing, and not breathing – Static Apnea Tables

Having attended the AIDA 1* course I am now suitably armed to undertake some structured practice. One of the things we learned about was apnea tables. These are a series of breathing exercises to help increase either carbon dioxide tolerance, or oxygen capacity. There are CO2 tables, a series of 6 breath holds to about 50% of your maximum time, with a decreasing gap between, or O2 tables, a good rest in between (maybe 2 or 3 minutes) but each hold gets longer. I have an app on my phone which talks me through the tables. They are best explained here

I use one called StaticApneaTrainer on Android.

It didn’t take long, a table per day on and off for a couple of weeks to get my breath-hold out of the water up to 4:47, which probably means I could top 5 minutes in the water as the cool water around your face helps lower your heart rate and floating around is more relaxing than laying on a bed. ( I learn’t that on the course too). I supplement this with stretching exercises, taking a full breath and reaching my arms above my head to stretch out my intercostal and back muscles. I don’t know, but I think this A/ helps increase lung capacity (maybe), and B/ means that when you take a deep breath these muscles are nice and loose because they are used to it and aren’t gobbling up valuable oxygen.

I’m convinced all these exercises help with sport in general, and my sport (rowing) in particular because any increased lung capacity, or tolerance to CO2 is going to help, and CO2 means acidic blood, so does it help with lactic acid tolerance too?

UPDATE! You don’t get far into freediving before you realise that there is so much more to it than how long you can hold your breath!….. see the next installment –

AIDA 1* Learning how not to breathe

My one day course was upon me, a trip to Newquay for the basics of breath holding and freediving safety. I had started to read up on it all, quite a lot of reading actually, the science of breath holding and how to improve it. We were told not to do too much practical stuff before the course though. The idea of the course is to start from scratch and teach everything in a safe and controlled way.

I must admit I did do a bit of breath holding beforehand, but why not, it has been a bit of an interest on and off since I was a teenager. Apparently lots of kids do it, so I’ve always known that if I have a few days practice I can up my breath-hold time a bit.

The course was briliant and I never realised that something so simple could involve so much science.

The things that will always stand out from this course are the following:-

  • The urge to breathe comes from a build up of carbon dioxide, not a decrease in oxygen supply.
  • The urge to breathe – those contractions of the diaphram and chest muscles that tell you that if I don’t breathe soon I will die! These are an indicator of a build-up of carbon dioxide and not necessarily a lack of oxygen.
  • Don’t hyperventilate – This doesn’t increase your oxygen supply, only decreases your carbon dioxide, which in turn means that you are shifting the goalposts, hiding the urge to breathe until it is possibly too late.
  • Chest contractions – these should be a friendly indicator that you have high carbon dioxide levels, but it doesn’t mean you have to breathe now, your oxygen reserves might still only be 2/3 or even 1/2 depleted.
  • When you surface don’t do a huge exhale. This could rid you of the very last of your oxygen supply and result in blackout, breathe out just half, then in again, and then take a few deliberate half breaths until you are back to normal.

There was a lot more advice and instruction than this; how to buddy up during static apnea practice (breath holding on water); the correct things to wear; correct weighting; equalisation of pressure; physiology of your ears and sinuses; looking out for your buddy; the signs that something has gone wrong and loads more besides so don’t take this blog as anything like a substitute for doing the course itself  – DON’T TAKE MY SECOND HAND INFO AS DEIFINITIVE AND EXHAUSTIVE – I am still a novice and just relating what I got out of the course, I’m not trying to teach it to anyone else. If you are at all interested I’d say go and do it yourself – – Tell them I recommended you and I might get a free drink bottle on my next course!

Ian who instructs the course always maintains that he can help improve a beginners breath holding quite substantially with a day of instruction. I was already a little practiced, but even I manage to up my maximum hold from just about 4 minute to 4:18, I was impressed, and looking forward to doing a bit more soon. The guy that was with me on the course, who was already an experiences spear-fisherman, upped his from about 2:40 to 3:20. He was chuffed too, having previously struggled to better his time.

So this course left me wanting more, but still not properly experienced in open water freediving, so as the day drew to a close I was already looking forward to the next course; AIDA 2*, open water, down a rope, looking at fishes, a real freediver!

UPDATE! You don’t get far into freediving before you realise that there is so much more to it than how long you can hold your breath….. see the next installment –

Freediving Course Booked

So a little bit of research unearthed an outfit in Newquay, FreediveUK. Just the ticket; run buy a guy who has been on TV, coached big wave surfers how on to hold their breath whilst being rolled over a shallow reef by 1ooft breaks, and more importantly for me, he’s on of a very small number of freediving instructors in the UK.

FreediveUK teach AIDA courses, an abbreviation of the French originating Association Internacionale de Apnea (or something like that). Apnea is holding your breath, as in sleep apnea, when people snore so badly they suffocate, there you go.

So I booked up for a 1 day AIDA 1 star course. £125, a lot of money for a few dips in the pool, but I’m going to do this properly.