I had no idea I was freediving
Back then I had no idea that I was freediving. I thought I was just doing “extreme snorkeling”. All I knew was snorkeling and “going deep” as I went snorkeling.
It wasn’t until around 2011 (or 2010, I can’t remember exactly when) that I started seeing some articles about freediving and that opened a whole new world I never knew about.
I was born a child of the water
Asthmatic, fat, and an aversion to physical sports.
There seemed to be only one thing that really interested me among any physical activity: swimming. My parents would tell me stories of how as a child (I think I was around 3-4 years old) we would go to Cebu Plaza (now Marco Polo) because my father loves to swim. Before they could even get me in my swimming attire, I would JUMP into the water.
For as long as I can remember I always felt like belonged in the water.
Apparently my baby brain could not process thoughts like “Oh what if the pool is deep?” or “What if I drown?”. I wasn’t even so sure I knew how to swim. My very being just felt like it needed to be in the water.
Going Deeper Slowly
As I mentioned I didn’t know what freediving was so following that ignorance I had no idea that there were things we needed to do while freediving. I didn’t know that you need to equalise to go deeper. I did not know that there were relaxation and breathing techniques to make the most out of your dive time. All I knew was that I liked the feeling of being underneath the surface. I like the feeling of using those cheap yellow open-heeled plastic fins that you buy from the toy section in the department store. I also remember that I really enjoyed dolphin-kick. I remember self-learning dolphin kick.
The pool was my playground and I could be in the water for several hours with no problem with my wrinkly fingers or the cold. The cold never bothered me anyway (lol). It still doesn’t, which is why I never wear wetsuit in my dives.
Having this consistent attachment to the pool I then realised anything swimming related came easy to me. When it came to PE class, swimming was my favorite time of the semester. I aced all swimming activities with no problem at all. I could outswim almost all my classmates (save for the varsity swimmers) and I could do another thing that I noticed was not too common. I could stay underwater for long periods of time and I could swim to the deep parts without pain in my ears.
Voluntary Tubal Opening (Hands-free Equalisation)
The most common proper equalisation is the Frenzel maneuver which involves pinching of the nose to induce the equalising effect. Poseidon generously gifted a few select human beings with the ability to equalise without pinching the nose. This is called BTV (French) or Voluntary Tubal Opening. Poseidon recognises his child, me.
I can do BTV and for a long time I had no idea it was unique or special. It was much later that I found out that it was not something everyone can do much like wiggling ears. Wolfgang, one of the first Freediving Masters in the Philippines, was the one who taught me how to verify if you can do BTV by doing some sort of sound test. (the sound test is when you make a humming sound and you try to do BTV, internally you’d know that the BTV is working because the humming will become greatly amplified).
A Badjao Named Sulbin
It started with that BBC video of a Badjao walking the reef seeking fish and calmly going back up WITH NO TANK. That greatly fascinated me and related videos started popping up. A lightbulb finally lit up in my head: OMG I’m FREEDIVING! Maybe not the most impressive dives as I was stuck doing around 15-20feet.
Fear. I was afraid of going deeper than 15-20 feet because what I learned in Medicine was going deeper than that is DANGEROUS. Guyton and Hall’s book was not updated to discuss Freediving; it only covered Scuba Physiology.
When I saw the videos I saw possibility. The questions started popping around my head: How deep can I go? How fast can I go down? How long can I stay in the water? Can I train myself to stay underwater longer?
The Rise of Dive ta Bai
After my discoveries and curiosities I started pushing my dives deeper and I started exploring the use of medium-length fins rather than my short snorkeling fins. It only took a few more youtube videos to realise the danger of what I was doing involved not having someone who could dive as deep as I could when I need to be rescued. GOLDEN RULE in FREEDIVING: Do NOT Dive Alone.
So with curiosity still in place, and a desire to bring more friends into the craft, I invited my two good friends: Doi and Edwin, to my birthday dive in Tambuli beach in Mactan and that become the first ever Dive ta Bai freediving session. I created the Facebook group with Edwin, Doi and I as the first members of the group and the rest is history.
Dive ta Bai is the largest freediving community in the Philippines with chapters spreading across Visayas and Mindanao: Cebu, Bohol, Cagayan de Oro, and Davao.
Did you know: I was afraid of the Sea
Before I got serious with freediving I was quite afraid of the sea. It wasn’t that I was afraid of the deep. I was more of afraid of what was in the deep. We all have that fear of the unknown. Fear of sharks, fear of creatures we may not know of, fear of what lurks in the dark waters.
When you get to freedive often, you become humble and you start learning that it isn’t about how you control the situation around you. In freediving it is about understanding and accepting. Accept that the ocean is home to aquatic life and understand that the most dangerous creature is the one who is not from there: Man.
When your eyes become opened to see the beauty of the reef and the deep blue waters you know how to respect predators and prey. You know how to accept the fact that you are a visitor in the waters and that you must therefore be aware of your environment. Fear then becomes replaced with understanding and as you grow on this understanding, it becomes a deep connection.
Truth be told I’m more afraid of being in a water with Crocodiles rather than sharks.
The Merman that I am
One thing most of my freedive buddies will notice is that instead of doing the bi-fin kick, I’m very insistent on doing the dolphin kick even if I’m using bi-fins. After seeing several monofin videos in Youtube I knew I just had to finally try using a monofin.
Thanks to Freedive HQ through Mike Wells, I finally got to try a monofin and I daresay it was one of the most magical moments in my freediving life. It was that one dive session where we were close to 20 freedivers swimming through the currents of Mactan. With a flick of the monofin I effortlessly zoomed by 5 freedivers who were swimming way ahead of me. Going deep came very easily and nothing could stop me! I could swim from one point to another like a dolphin/whale and there was just so much power and propulsion!
To this day, I will insist the best way to freedive is using a monofin. (But it all really depends on which discipline you fall in love with)
Getting Certified: SSI Level 1 and 2
It was also through Mike Well’s constant encouragement that I finally got certified. I was to share the craft that I was so in love with I needed to at least have some professional knowledge before I start proclaiming the good news of the sea.
The story of my certification will be saved for another day but to put it simply I learned a lot of vital information for freediving and all the more you respect freediving. It isn’t something you merely do. There are safety measures that need to be followed. There are skills you need to build before you start stretching limits.
The Journey to Greater Depths Continues
After I had my Level 1 SSI certification I tried going to a dive with freediving instructor: Carlo Navarro and a fellow sea-lover: Grace. Through Carlo’s guidance and assurance I was able to hit my deepest depth: 31m (103feet) A year back I kept saying that once I have hit 100feet I was already happy and that was the end of my ambition.
The truth is, the ambition only grew and now I’m craving for a 40m personal best.
Learning freediving never ends. Experts and athletes will continue to discover new things about the sport and we as humble visitors of the ocean, we also continue to grow our skills. It is most important thought that one must never forget to ENJOY the freediving experience.
Today I am a monofin freediver using a carbon fiber monofin I got from Ken Kiriyama (such an honour to use his monofin). I look forward to going higher in my certification and eventually become the first Cebuano freediving instructor.
And so that’s my story. That’s how I Started freediving.
Dive ta Bai! (Let’s dive!)
– The Crazy Juann
One of my early Videos below It’s very crude, please bear with me.
Go Pro 2 with Flat glass installation, music by Medina – Addiction.