Week 3 - Freediving Pilot Whales by Julia Wheeler

I have no words. Well, I do, but to be able to structure them into something that represents the world that I was in today is impossible. I was nothing but an excited blob on the surface, awe-struck and breathing up over ocean depths of approximately 2km (6,000ft) right underneath me. Looking down into this kind of endlessness is an incredible feeling; you never know when or where they will show up.  

Pilot whales are the second largest dolphin after the orca, also referred to as the “Killer Whale.” I'd heard stories about these guys and observed their behaviour before entering their territory; the vastness of the South Pacific abyss. Upon entry into the water I didn't feel nervous, rather I felt like we were being watched, from all angels. They knew where I was, what I was doing and where I was going but they were logging (this happens interchangeably with surface resting behaviour when cetaceans are travelling slowly;  common in mother-calf pairs, as the young tire quickly during swimming). 

The Gangsters of the underwater Kingdom, said me. Pilot Whales - Shot on the GoPro Hero5

The Gangsters of the underwater Kingdom, said me. Pilot Whales - Shot on the GoPro Hero5

Amber, a little surprised with the Pilot's cruising up behind her and then checking her out quite tastefully... 

Amber, a little surprised with the Pilot's cruising up behind her and then checking her out quite tastefully... 

Mother and calf in logging 

Mother and calf in logging 

Week 2 - Breathing and Equalising Workshops by Julia Wheeler

I've learned more about Freediving in the last two and a half weeks than I have in the last 8 years, thanks to Ant Judge - @freediveinstructor - the guy is a bit of a Freediving Guru and it shows. Ant's equalisation workshop alone has helped me reach new depths past residual volume - residual volume is the amount of air that remains in a person's lungs after fully exhaling and what happens to a Freedivers lungs at a certain depth, however not from exhaling but from pressure (for me that is 38m). Ant taught techniques of equalisation which I had originally no idea how to imply. I'd heard about this 'cheek fill' thing - when a freediver holds air in their mouth and uses it to equalise their ears to reach deeper depths, but I hadn't tried nor wasn't sure how. 

There have also been times, pre-dive, where I have needed a small encouraging, non-verbal pep-talk and Ant just knew exactly what to do. Left arm across the float, mind non-commited and I can't seem to calm the rhythmic contractions and dilation of this large muscular organ, my heart. And then Ant is there, peeping over the other side of our flotation device (two bodyboards tied together - genius) and he looks at me, knows whats up and starts an obvious, directional breathing pattern. Inhale, exhale. I close my eyes, listen and repeat his pattern until I am calm and back into the rhythm of pre-dive mode.

My Portraits of Ant Judge. Top: Amed, Indonesia. Bottom: Kona, Hawaii. 

My Portraits of Ant Judge. Top: Amed, Indonesia. Bottom: Kona, Hawaii. 

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Underwater test with the GoPro Hero5 RAW image shooting mode. 

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Love the colours! GoPro Hero5 - Turtle photographed while Freediving in Kona, Hawaii. 

B L U E D A Y S | Exploring Hawaii's underwater Lava tubes | Turtle's galor! Shot on the GoPro Hero5

Week 1- Hawaii Training; World Freediving Depth Championships by Julia Wheeler


Escaping the mental stress of ‘letting go’ of my ‘safe’ Sydney life and ‘income’ is never easy especially when I’m about to represent Australia in a sport that I have been competing in for less than a year. I mean, who does that? 
— 18.07.17
My Golum impersonation - captured by my Freediving Coach, Ant judge. Not really. I almost fell off the rock and landed like this.

My Golum impersonation - captured by my Freediving Coach, Ant judge. Not really. I almost fell off the rock and landed like this.


It has taken a solid week to dust off the remaining cobwebs of my Sydney chaos head space..

Not only did I depart Sydney on my new-found freediving journey into the big blue, I moved out of my home (which I was only in for five and a half weeks), packed up my belongings into four boxes and threw my remaining few possessions into my best friends wardrobe. Mind racing, I grabbed my bright yellow Molchanovs Mono Fin bag which Alexy Molchanov had personally sent from Russia - and made a dash to the airport - my coach and friend, Ant Judge, in tow. Exhausted, scattered and trying to wrap on several personal photography dead-lines, the departure lounge was not the usual appetising 'winding down' zone, but another space for those 'last last minute' exit tweaks to be made. Call Optus and pay phone bill, leave mum a voice mail message letting her know that I was leaving Australia again, organise my travel insurance and  listened to my stepmother inform me of my eleven year old brothers' recent arm fracture. Nothing out of the ordinary..... 

And then of course it was time to say 'see you on the other side' to my Mono Fin. Dislike. I made sure I slapped at least five 'FRAGILE' stickers on to the bag before it was to vanish out of my hands for approximately seventeen hours. There's always that conversation at check in; 'What's that bag?' says the flight attendant. 'It's a Mono Fin for Freediving' I reply. 'Oh, like cliff-jumping?!' - What. 'Yeah, kind of', I say. And then I pick up my bag and head towards the oversized baggage section. 

Freediving is not cliff-jumping. 



I was barley mentally present until yesterday - six days after landing in Hawaii with the mecca of sinus infections and chronic headaches; I've spent more time with my head over a steaming bowl of water than in the ocean. Escaping the mental stress of 'letting go' of my 'safe' Sydney life and 'income' is never easy especially when I'm about to represent Australia in a sport that I have been competing in for less than a year. I mean, who does that? I never planned for this to happen - it just did.

Alas, today was a good day.

It can be very intimidating training with Australian national freediving champions. I'm a Nemo and they are like giant Octopuses with each tenticle and sucker thing being a gateway to an array of solid freediving-skill-based-knowledge. You get the message. I felt smart for a second this afternoon when I sat outside on the balcony, on the side of a Volcano when Ant Judge asked me a question about mouth-fill. 'Epiglottis' I replied. He looked impressed even though I knew he thought I wasn't going to know the answer. 

Self-doubt's a bitch. Self-doubt is my greatest friend which makes me my own worst enemy and probably you. 

I have dived with a nose clip three times in my life. Oh the humour. 

 My first time was the best; I ripped the nose clip off seven metres below the surface, upside-down, flooded my nasal passages and surfaced kicking and spluttering. That was approximately two months ago. Today was the first day that I felt like I had accomplished something freediver-worthy. Not because I reached a new no-fins PB but because I was almost completely mentally present. My mind wasn't cutting my TV pilot and thinking about a Rhino caracas in the dark heart of Africa or preparing for tomorrow's phone call or thinking about one billion other things like it usually is. It was just me and the big blue. However to get here, I went through a few quite large mental blocks.

Self-doubt. Excuses. Realisation. Breaking barriers. 

Self-doubt. It's all in your head. Self-doubt is our real life nightmare and it's usually best friends with fear. I hadn't dived in two months and here I am with five weeks to go until World Championships. And all of a sudden I'm telling myself that my goal to hit 50m across three disciplines is an absolute joke. There is no way that I can do this. Why am I even here? Why am I breathing up? What is the point in doing this dive? I'm telling myself that I can't do this. 

Why? Because I am stepping outside of my comfort zone. I am telling myself that I can't. 

C A N ' T VS C A N

When I was a kid, my favourite school teacher, Miss Lloyd, wrote the word 'Can't' on the blackboard. For some reason she singled me out of the desk-filled crowd of seven year olds and called me up to the board. Miss Lloyd looked at me and looked at the blackboard with that big ugly word 'can't' written on it in white chalk. She then did something amazing and with her hand, wiped it across the 't', smudging it out. She then looked back at me again and said 'see, much better'. 

Excuses. I hate no-fins. I haven't used a nose clip before. I tell Ant that I want to wear my bi-fins and 'go for a dive'. He looks confused; that wasn't the plan. I'm confused. Why am I confusing things? I have realised that I am making excuses about something that I have no control over because I haven't tried it before. 

But I can. And I did. And you can too.  

 

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