My Octopus Teacher 2021: Lessons in Freediving Safely For the Beginner (中英版本）
QUICK PLUG - if you are a total beginner freediver please follow my socials (below) as I will be putting out content for the TOTAL BEGINNER FREEDIVER in the coming months.
中文版在下方 (Chinese version below)
Netflix has done it again, more great content with the new documentary My Octopus Teacher. (It's also just been nominated for an Oscar)
My Octopus Teacher - A Story about Love, Violence, Tragedy, Life, Revitalization and Mother Nature
And I’m a total sucker for stories about people deepening their connection with the ocean leading to caring more about the ocean and everything in it. The ocean needs more ambassadors advocating for it, that’s for sure.
But I’m just going to go out and say it: Craig (main character) seemed to be an untrained freediver and what I saw in the documentary put himself in grave risk of dying, risks that could be EASILY mitigated with the knowledge and the skills you learn from a freedive course.
You never hear about freediving in mainstream media, until someone dies from freediving and that’s unfortunate as it can be a relatively safe activity when safety precautions are observed.
And those dying from freediving or breath-holding underwater are often like people like Craig. Very comfortable in the water, fit, athletic etc etc. What could happen, right?
I am reluctant to put out any content out there which deals with freediving safety as I don’t want anyone to consume the content and think they know everything about freediving safely and start doing it without any formal training. Do not take any of the content below as advice on freediving, let it serve as a WARNING and my ONLY advice is to take a freedive course.
Learning freediving cannot done through random Youtube videos and blog posts as what you need to learn all connects in a very deliberate order and as you progress, you build upon skills and knowledge, all whilst being checked and corrected by a trained instructor.
The bottom line is what he is doing is risky. It's one thing to go into freediving and doing things outside of safety protocols and knowing and accepting that risk, its another thing to NOT know the risks you are taking at all.
FREEDIVING ALONE - NEVER DIVE ALONE
This is the number one rule of freediving and Craig was often breaking this rule. The potential risks on extended breath-hold underwater are dramatically higher than just snorkeling on the surface and not doing any breath-holding.
The biggest risk in freediving is a blackout, which is when your oxygen levels get so low that you lose consciousness.
If you experience a blackout and don’t have a partner there to help you, there is an almost 100% chance you will die. The only tiny chance of survival is if you float back to the surface and miraculously end up floating on your back, but only if you are properly weighted and your snorkel is in the proper position, but more on that below.
As beautiful as the ocean is, there is always danger lurking below whether it's the animal life, powerful waves and currents or any acute medical occurrences.
You need a trained buddy to revive you, and also to recognize the signs of hypoxia or oncoming blackout.
SNORKEL IN THE MOUTH
Snorkel in Your Mouth - As useless as the "G" in lasagna and as dangerous as a space shuttle launch with corrosive O-rings.
Craig would often leave his snorkel in his mouth while diving. It serves absolutely no one to have the snorkel in their mouth while breath-hold diving.
The human body is a wonderfully elegant piece of work. Your body knows when it's in the water, and when it blacks out in water, it closes off your airway so that water does not flood your lungs, which makes reviving the diver more of a challenge. What your body does is involuntary spasms of your vocal fold when you are blacked out to prevent flooding of water into your lungs. This is called laryngospasm, and the snorkel in your mouth leaves your mouth open, preventing this life-saving maneuver from happening.
WEAR A WETSUIT
A wetsuit protects you from the elements and makes me look like Barney
Craig went diving with no wetsuit in what he said was 7-8° C. Human bodies consume more oxygen in the cold and one of the skills taught in a freediving course is how to consume less oxygen. This only accelerates the diver into a possible state of hypoxia, and closer to a blackout, which is the least ideal situation in freediving.
Not to mention being in ice-cold waters increases risk of pulling soft tissue, whether that be a pulling his hamstring, or experiencing barotrauma (squeeze) which is the tearing of soft tissue under hydrostatic pressure which can be either the lungs, trachea or sinuses.
I can feel his desire to have as little of a barrier between him and the environment for a deeper connection. However, divers need to understand that not wearing a wetsuit increases your risks and should act accordingly.
In a freedive course, you learn recovery breathing for when you re-surface from a dive or a breath-hold. This helps replenish oxygen in your blood as quickly as possible as you fight hypoxia. Recovery breaths prevent blackouts; its that simple.
In the documentary, I did not see much of recovery breaths. And that only increases the chance of a blackout. You can still blackout several seconds after surfacing. And being not properly weighted (see below) he’ll just sink from the surface to the bottom.
NOT PROPERLY WEIGHTED - IN FACT OVERWEIGHTED
From a visual check on their weight belts, it looked like Craig was wearing about 5kgs of weights and his son even more, 7-8 kgs. That is way too much. I wear 2kgs in a 3mm wetsuit (you need more weight with a wetsuit as the neoprene is quite buoyant). I don't wear any weight while diving without a wetsuit.
You can tell they were overweighted as they would start sinking as soon as they dipped their head below the surface. What goes down also needs to come back up (of course you could always drop the weight). Thus getting that easy drop below the surface will require one to expend more energy on the way up at a point when you are most hypoxic, and that only increases your chance of a disastrous outcome.
A large majority of blackouts occur at 0 to 10 meters below the surface because of the drastic change in hydrostatic pressure causing the largest drop in oxygen available to the body inducing a blackout. Because of this, you want to be weighted so that you will float up from 10m and above.
Being overweighted and blacking out makes a rescue more difficult with a buddy, trained or untrained.
Just to remain on the surface with that much weight would require a lot of effort. If you are properly weighted you should easily stay afloat on the surface without exerting much energy.
There are some legitimate reasons to be overweight, however, for someone who is untrained at freediving, it's just too dangerous.
DUCK DIVE: NEEDS TO BE LEARNED
Duck diving is not just for surfers or ducks
I remember when I used to snorkel, and before learning freediving, just getting a few meters below the surface was a serious struggle as fighting positive buoyancy at the surface can be quite hard for the untrained. That’s where the duck dive comes in.
I am only guessing here, but I believe the reason why Craig was overweighted is to make it easier to fight the positive buoyancy on the surface. With an efficient duck dive, one can get to 2-3 meters pretty easily without exerting much effort just from an efficient duck dive. Then Craig would not need to wear so much weight.
The point I’d really like to get across to those who are not trained divers, no matter how comfortable and proficient you are in the water, like Craig, unless you are a trained freediver, you will make errors which will increase that could result in death.
The only advice I will give is to take a freedive course, not because I am a freedive instructor, but because I want to prevent unnecessary deaths and for freediving to continue to be the fastest growing water sport in the world and not hampered by mainstream media of people dying “freediving”.
Buuuuuuuuuut, if you are in the Las Vegas area, I teach freediving courses here until October/November 2020 and then I will be moving to Southern Taiwan and teaching from there. To read more about what a freedive course from me looks like, read here
And if you are a total beginner freediver, then please follow my socials below, I will be putting out extensive content tailored for THE TOTAL BEGINNER FREEDIVER who knows almost nothing about the sport.
CONTACTS AND SOCIALS
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