Rantings of a life-long trainer

Let’s face it, being a competent and confident diver is (or should be) important to us. We want to have the skill sets, the abilities and the experiences that go with all of these, right? I started spearfishing when an entry level pole spear was a wooden dowel and surgical tubing….ok, maybe not that long ago, but that is what I could afford. Life came along. Jobs, family, more jobs and more family and the next thing you know its many years later. Some of you reading this are nodding your head, others are thinking those times are still a long way off! Yep, I did some diving in-between. Most all of it SCUBA, some snorkeling, but mainly SCUBA… California, Panama, Hawaii and Greece. It was a good run. When I decided to get back into spearfishing it was a whole new game. Divers don’t put their calico bass in a net inside their inner-tube anymore.  It sure the hell didn’t help my ego that kids ( 20 – 40 year olds) have been spearfishing down to 100 feet on a regular basis (I’m not going to even discuss freediving and those depths). I’m willing to bet I am not the only one that has felt this either. So, what do we do about it? I am not a freediving instructor or a SCUBA instructor, but I did spend the majority of my career training people to do things. As I get re-introduced into the modern era of freediving and spearfishing I revert back to what makes people great at tasks. Train how to do these skills and then practice, practice, practice, until it is just a reaction and not a thought. Training will create muscle memory. 

Let’s start with getting your freediving certification. Freediving Instructors International (FII) and Professional Freediving Instructors (PFI) really got things going in setting standards for freediving, which really means? Take a wild guess….. SAFETY STANDARDS. Do they teach the exact same? No, it’s pretty parallel though. They started putting safety and risk mitigation at the front. They are both solid organizations with a lot of depth and experience. They both have done such a great job it helped create an industry that now has freediving instructors in most of the SCUBA certification programs as well. They give students in the classes the tools for safe freediving and then they also practice those tools in the pool and in the open water. Unfortunately, that may be the last time that many of us practice those life saving skills that will save lives at some point. So, let’s take it to the next level and make training part of your spearfishing and freediving trips, every time. A reminder, train correctly. If you train the wrong skills, you will react to the situation with the wrong actions.

  Just hyperventilate and dive down, shoot your fish and you are good to go, right? Hell no. There is a long list of divers who have lost their lives making bad choices, not intentionally, but by replicating techniques that they “heard” were the way to do it. Fast forward to today with Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, blah, blah, blah or the next social media platform. Everyone is telling you how to do it, how to shoot, how to hold your breath, how to dive…..the list of searches available is endless. What could go wrong? How about the fact that most of us are tactile learners! What the hell is that? We need to do it ourselves to really begin to get it. Think about this: When someone describes hammering a nail, it’s pretty easy, just hit the nail head with a hammer and it goes in. You know, that s**t never really works. It goes in crooked; it bends, you pull it out, hit it again, it bends. You get the picture. Now you are diving and instead of the nail bending you are doing the samba (good on a dance floor not when you are subsurface) or have a complete blackout that could lead to death, because you watched it, heard about it or read about it. Most of us are not natural freediving masters and we need to practice at diving to really get proficient.

Ok, let me get back to certification and training and why this is so important. To be good at something we need to conduct the task as much as possible, on a regular basis, as we can. One of the better ways to do this is habitual practice. This is where we start the building of muscle memory. YOUR CERTIFICATION COURSE IS JUST THE BEGINNING. That’s right, the beginning. You now have just enough information to be dangerous unless you practice what you have learned. According to Webster’s Dictionary: Practice to do or perform often, customarily, or habitually, to perform or work at repeatedly so as to become proficient. This is the foundation of what we are trying to achieve in our diving, for us and our dive partners.

For the last year I have tried to dive with as many experienced divers as I can and have been surprised at the many ways people dive, some have better habits and some worse, but mainly different. Ted Harty is a safety advocate and has a website solely for Freediving Safety, it is worth subscribing to the website ( https://freedivingsafety.com/ ). He has tools, practices, ideas, videos and techniques about safe diving. Did I mention it is free? Why does he do it? He does it because, as an instructor, industry safety advocate and free diver, he feels that any life lost doing what we enjoy is a waste (my words, not his). Call him and he may say the same thing, maybe not, but the message is the same…safety. He uses a great quote “Dive safe, it’s not even that hard”.  The bottom line is that we all need to come home.  The fish, the depth and the risk to ourselves (and possibly our dive buddy if he/she has to rescue us) is just not worth it in my opinion. With that said, being prepared and trained for the worst-case scenario gives you the best chances of success. When a samba or blackout occurs, it will be a stressful situation. In these times your body will react according to how you are trained. My favorite bartender knows how to pour a correct Guinness, based on my comments, so that I don’t have to wait 10 minutes for the millions of bubbles to settle!

Alright, rantings almost complete. We need to practice what we learn in class, the pool, and in the water during certification. Most of us think that when an emergency arises, we will act quickly, efficiently and calmly. That briefs well, but unfortunately is usually wrong. If you look at the stats, the people who react that way do so because they train, train and train. It becomes muscle memory (slow is smooth and smooth is fast). They react because it becomes second nature…military, flight attendants, emergency medical services/firemen and our law enforcement. They do it extremely well because they don’t have to think about it, they just react to the situation and their body falls back into muscle memory and they do what they have been trained.

So what? Why is this important? We go back to certification and fundamentals. The next time you go diving (actually every time you dive) do some pull downs to start your mammalian reflex going. Get your surface protocol going, your correct breathe up, pre-equalization, your last deep breath, spit out your snorkel and relax as you pull down. I know, there are huge fish down there, the water is great, and you feel fine. Train and it will be  one step closer to muscle memory. Yes, it is a bit repetitious, but that’s the point. Repetition and muscle memory are what will get you trained on your diving skills, not watching someone else do it. What is the biggest risk to our dive buddies? Samba or blackout, right? So how about at the beginning, or end of each day, of diving you each do a samba and blackout recovery? Make these events so ingrained that when it happens (we all hope it won’t) but when it does your training kicks in and you don’t have to think about how to save the life of your friend. Instead, you just do it. If you train it, and you practice it every time you dive, you will react appropriately when the critical decision needs to be made. Be the dive partner you want others to be. Practice safe diving….and remember according to Webster’s Dictionary: Practice:  to do or perform often, customarily, or habitually, to perform or work at repeatedly to become proficient.

Ok, rantings over. Now it’s time to go lay on the floor and work on my CO2 tolerances, because I am tired of everybody else diving deeper and longer than me. I would say age is a bitch, but one of the guys I dive with goes deeper and longer than me and he has about 10 more years on me. So what I’m really saying is…..Yep, I need to go PRACTICE. Have fun, dive safe, dive with a buddy. One man up and one man down. Dive as a team, your odds are always better. See you subsurface.