I completed the AIDA 2 course in December before the competition in March. No, I haven’t been spearfishing before or been seriously swimming. My deepest dive was about 14m until then. And yes, I had to youtube the different disciplines to remember what the abbreviations mean (CWT, FIM, etc.).

However, my experience with freediving so far was that it allowed me a great level of focus, mind challenge and relaxation.

Competing for fun

My attention was clearly focussed on the learning and fun part. I was not looking to push any limits or to prove anything. I was wondering if you could also just tag along as beginner and scrolling through the website red to me like I could:

“There will be a recreation grade available for those new to competitive freediving…Recreation Grade: Is an option for those new to competing to dip their toes in and find out if competitive freediving is for them.

And I was curious about what competitions look like. There is always a first time and there is no harm in asking I thought. Flicking an email to the team, I explained my experience, what I was looking for and asked if this is for me. It didn’t take more than ‘yes, we encourage beginners to join’ and I signed up for all three days.

Only after signing up, I wondered how I could prepare and what I’d need to know. Not overly informed I just took care of myself for the next few weeks. Good sleep, good hydration etc.

Competition hosts were always approachable and quick in helping out on questions around logistics or what your day will look like. I was busy with travel arrangements and didn’t think too much about nominations or conditions. Getting closer to the date, I started worrying about when to be where, focussing on the dive, drinking enough and what to take on the boat.

The first day – learnings, learnings, learnings

Every experienced diver might skip or will probably smile reading this.

The day started with a briefing in the morning and my dive was scheduled as the last dive around lunchtime. Given my little preparation, I realised only then that there are a couple of rules to consider. I was lucky that I could still dive that day even though I gave my nomination too late. However, atmosphere was relaxed. People were lovely and made me feel welcome.

This was my first freshwater dive. I didn’t think much about it before….well! Arriving at the boat ramp, fellow divers noted that I had too many weights on my belt. They explained I would need less. I tried to figure out how much. But actually you need to be in the water to know precisely. Hence, I had to change weights just before my first dive. Thankfully, the Health and Safety diver advised me and sorted it.

You need a lanyard. When you go to competitions you will need one and they get tested by the judge. I didn’t have one but could borrow one (thanks again!). Ironically, I forgot to bring the borrowed one on the boat on the first day. And again, I could borrow one on the boat (another thanks!). Funny enough, I had only one depth training before, using a lanyard. My first dive on the practice line didn’t even go far. Instead of doing a duck dive, I basically wrapped myself around the lanyard. It was hilarious. I mentioned the Health and Safety diver. Witnessing my flip, she shared some tips and it’s fair to say that she saved me mentally that day.

When my dive was on, I was busy hearing what’s being said on the surface. I wanted to start at the right time. I heard the countdown alright and headed off into my 14m CWT after managing my duck dive and the lanyard.

Only when reaching the bottom, I noted there was a plate with tags on it for me to take one. I could observe other divers showing it to judges when finished and people talking about where to put it (in the hood, on the belt or so). I wasn’t sure what they were talking about but being so worried about the lanyard, I decided not to think about it. CWT technique allowed me one free hand and I just held it all the way back up. Taking my first breath, I just held my tag in the air and wondered why everyone is looking at me quietly. I just looked back at everyone. Overwhelmed by weights, lanyards, countdowns, tags and diving, I couldn’t recall the surface protocol and nearly dipped my chin back into the water. But thanks to people starting to tell me what to do, I got a white card. This was another lesson for me. During the rest of the competition I had a coach and I will surely ask someone next time. A coach will remind you about crucial rules when you reach the surface after your dive.

Relived and excited at the same time, I needed a hand to get back on the medic boat where I had to rest for a bit. I didn’t feel it, but my pulse seemed to be going through the roof.

Don’t panic but be prepared eventually

Maybe a little bit better than I was. However, the next few days were easy going. I knew what to expect and had a coach which made me less worry about the surface protocol. I had my (borrowed) lanyard, put the tag in the hood and enjoyed FIM both days. My dives were good fun and I could relax. I was so happy in the water on my last dive that I was told to have the slowest dive on the competition (I took 1.40 minutes for 20m).

It was amazing to see how experienced divers prepare, share know how and reflect on their dives. At the same time I met other first timers which helped a lot. No matter how experienced, everyone was superbly kind, supportive and cheering each other. I still regret I couldn’t join the BBQ and prize giving afterwards because of my travel time.

Altogether, it was a great experience to learn from. It couldn’t have been any better. Obviously, the team did an excellent job to have someone like me at the right place at the right time. I met awesome people, learned heaps about freediving and how competitions work.

Since COVID-19 lockdown is putting all water activities on hold, writing this is a lovely reminder of the event and how freediving feels. Thank you, I can’t wait to come back next year!