Freediving courses save lives.
A few years ago I was freediving on the reef in Jemeluk bay, East Bali. Upon surfacing from one dive my hands shook a little. It was a very short lived sensation. I considered the dive to be nowhere near my limits so it didn’t occur I might have become hypoxic. It was only several days later when diving alone on the reef that I once again had a similar experience. Upon breaking the surface my body rocked with a small samba. I knew I was definitely on the point of black out. It was then I decided to see a doctor. Tests revealed that I had become quite anemic.
What is anemia?
Anemia is a very good reason to never freedive alone. Anemia is a condition where there are less red blood cells than usual, which means there is less Oxygen stored in the blood. It can be caused by medical conditions or problems with absorption of iron, folic acid or vitamin B12.
In my case my comfortable breath-hold time wasn’t affected, but my hypoxic limit was much reduced. This meant I was able to bring myself close to the point of blacking out on dives that had been previously well within my comfort zone. I was freediving alone and was very lucky not to have blacked out completely. I taught good safety protocols but sometimes didn’t feel the need to follow them myself, in my instructors arrogance. That day it almost cost me my life.
Small physiological changes in the body can be fatal to the solo freediver.
In the same bay a month or so later another freediver wasn’t so lucky. Though he was a strong free-diver he hadn’t taken and formal freediving course. He was with his fiancé, two weeks engaged. She was on scuba with a local dive-master. He was diving down to them and following them on their dive. They lost track of him, but didn’t worry about it too much, he was a good freediver and the depths were pretty shallow for him.
It was only later after frantic searching and returning to the shore that their worst fears were realized. He was brought back to the beach by a Japanese Divemaster who had found him while diving with his students. He had promised his fiancé that he would really take it easy. Personally I believe he probably did think he was taking it easy.
According to his heartbroken fiancé he had suffered with some quite bad diarrhea on the days before the accident. It is very possible that he had low blood pressure from dehydration and had no more idea he was pushing his limits than I did when I had my anemic ‘samba’.
A freediver has to trust his body, but solo freediving is to trust blindly, so that small un-noticed changes in the body, such as low blood pressure or anemia can have fatal effects.
Here’s the guidelines we teach all our students on freediving courses.
Never freedive alone
Always follow a one up/up down protocol, with visual reference.
Never freedive when feeling sick or under the weather.
Never hyperventilate (and understand precisely what hyperventilation is)
Avoid going more than 50% of your maximum depth.
Come up on the first urge to breathe.
Always check local conditions, currents, tides, thermoclines etc.
Never take air from a scuba diver.
Wait at least 12 hours after SCUBA to freedive.
As a postscript; after the trauma of her loss his fiancé did some research to understand how he could die in this unpredictable way. She ended up taking freediving courses and is now a very passionate freediver and lover of all things related to the sea.