Always keen to try my hand at something new, when offered the chance to practice free-diving, I snapped at it yesterday morning. The weather was less than ideal with the heavy overcast skies threatening rain, and the wind had a cold chill but, knowing how much I would regret missing out, I went to the beach, albeit half hoping my mate, Ed, wouldn’t actually turn up, and I wouldn’t end up in the unappealing Irish sea. But of course, he was there and within minutes, we were in the sea, and it really wasn’t too bad. The wetsuit took the sting, only numbing the feet and hands. The sea had been a lot colder in my challenge last year!
Free-diving is swimming underwater, for long periods of time, on a single breath. I don’t have the ability to hold my breath for a long time, and the thought of running out of breath underwater is, naturally terrifying; two challenges to overcome to successfully free-dive I suppose! Once I can comfortably dive down deep enough, I want to catch a spider crab, of which there is supposedly an abundance just off the coast. Having a meal caught from the sea has been an aim since my first year of university.
I was taught the basic techniques – yes, there is a correct way to prepare, breathe and dive underwater – and then it was my turn to give it a go. I was told to see how deep the water was. Despite the good visibility (for the UK) as I stuck my head under the water, and peered down, the water just went on, gradually getting darker. The realisation I was going to have to dive down caused my heart to quicken slightly. I prepared, took my final breath, and swam down. Even though I have swum down deeper before, it was nerve-wracking, knowing I was swimming with the purpose of reaching the bottom. I seemed to get tangled in my fins and before I could even see the bottom, I felt that insurmountable need to breathe. I kept swimming for what was possibly a fraction of a second before I was going to turn around, when out of the abyss below me, the seabed came into view. I had hoped to touch it, but my lungs felt ready to burst so I turned around to swim up. Two things struck me; firstly, the surface of the water looked really incredible. The ripples and movements above were visible, and it was brightly backlit by the sky, but secondly, it looked quite a long way away, even more so, when you remember you cannot breathe! Of course, it was the mind playing tricks, and within seconds I was back on the surface inhaling that sweet sweet, oft taken for granted oxygen. I now knew that the seabed lie around 5 metres (15 foot) below me.
By the end of the session, I had noticed improvements already, and took a dive in a similar spot. I wanted to touch the bottom. This time as I dived, everything felt more relaxed and calmer. I reached the bottom, for the first time in the session. I picked up a small stone and returned to the shimmering surface 5 metres above. That stone was, to me, an achievement, and I was super proud to have got it. The spider crabs and fish will have to wait for another session!