The road to 40 meters
By Sven Franklin
Since I started freediving and spearfishing I have always watched the videos of people diving deep in awe. Like a form of hypnotism, there was something about it that really drew me in.
At the time of writing this article I have been diving for exactly 2.5 years. When I started I hit the ground running and had lots of passion and enthusiasm, matched with very little skill and know how. If you were to ask the guys at Club Spearfish about me when I first started, they wouldn’t hesitate to tell you that I struggled to dive to 3 meters, and hold my breath for longer than 15 seconds. At the time I would leave comments on youtube videos and pm peoples instagrams, just to ask them how they learnt to dive so deep, and how long it took them to get there.
Like most of the newer generation I wanted all these skills yesterday and unfortunately I didn’t get any proper responses or knowledge passed down. So I felt it was only right to help and tell my story, for those who wish to learn to dive deeper.
This is how in the span of one year I went from being a 10 meter diver, to being able to effortlessly dive to 38 meters.
Before I continue, I highly urge people to do a freediving course. To help learn proper basic techniques such as the correct way to prepare for a dive, finning, equalisation, as well as what hyperventilation really is, and the science and reasons behind why people suffer from shallow water black outs and LMC’s.
I went to school
The real start to diving deeper than 10 meters (33 feet) was to go and learn from one of the best in the industry, Lucas Handley who owns and runs The Underwater Academy. Not only is Lucas a really approachable teacher, he’s also extremely knowledgeable in everything freediving and spearfishing and lets his skills do the talking.
After doing my Aida level 2 course and getting to 20 meters (66 feet), I then took my new found knowledge and skills and applied them to train for two different trips to the remote Komodo Islands of Indonesia.
The first trip was for my Aida 3 and to learn to dive to 30 meters (98 feet), and then the second was to do my Aida 4 to hit 38 meters (124 feet).
The thing I found myself geeking out on the most, was the science behind everything. What triggers your Mammalian dive reflex/response, What is happening to your body as you start to dive deeper, and what risks you encounter such as Dalton’s law when surfacing.
Having all this knowledge helped set aside any fears or doubts that I had, as it turned things like the “magical reflex humans have” into a more detailed and defined reason.
Training for depth
Unfortunately training for depth in Victoria isn’t easy. A mixture of cold waters (reaching as low as 9 degrees in winter) meaning you are sometimes diving in a 7mm suit, having really bad vis, or just needing a boat to get out to the places that have depth (which also hold a lot of current too).
Although it doesn’t completely replicate what your body goes through at depth, I find pool training is the next best thing. I would organise regular pool seasons with my mates, with about 2 a week.
Lots of different exercises to keep things interesting, from co2 tables, games of cat and mouse, or even swimming 25 meters and doing hangs at the other end.
This saw a huge improvement in all of us training and before you knew it I could do 100m dynamics effortlessly.
(Everyone who was doing the pool training had done a freediving course prior, and knew proper pre dive techniques, recovery breathing, and buddy rescuing and protocol).
If you don’t have access to a pool in your area, or are limited to dive buddies, you can also do dry training such as apnea walks, or dry static tables).
Outside of the pool I would set aside 15-20 minutes every other day to stretch out my body from head to toe, as well as in the lead up to diving past 30 meters doing some advanced diaphragm and lung stretches. (These advanced stretches should be shown to you by an instructor as even on dry land you can do serious damage to your lungs).
Listen to your body and don’t push it
Free diving is about self awareness and never about the numbers. When diving deep there are many serious risks involved, like sinus squeeze, perforated ear drums, or even lung barotrauma. All of this can be avoided by listening to your body, and not rushing to get the numbers.
The pressures and changes your body is experiencing at depth is very taxing and at the start will often leave you both mentally and physically exhausted after just a few deep dives.
When I first dove to 30 meters I eagerly thought to myself I could easily go deeper. Fast forward a few months with more advanced training, and after I dove to 38 meters I was wrecked. The atmospheric pressure on my body from diving 8 meters deeper was something I wouldn’t have thought of, and my body needed time to adjust. Safe to say if a few months prior I had eagerly gone deeper as part of me wanted to, I could have potentially done some damage.
You have to allow your body time to adjust to the depth, as well as improving new skills such as a new way to equalise past 30 meters. This doesn’t mean weeks and days, but months and sometimes years. Remember the depths of the ocean will always be there, so best to explore them when your body is ready for it.
The big secret to diving deeper and a longer breath hold
I remember always wondering what the big secret was to diving deep and a longer breath hold. And while some things play their part like proper technique, the big secret is simply relaxation.
Despite being taught this in my Aida 2, it really took a while before it sunk in and I understood it. Relaxation is many things, from relaxing your muscles from head to toe and making sure no muscle is using up energy when its not needed (the neck and back in particular). The other is relaxation of the mind and being able to control your thoughts, like giving your mind certain tasks to help keep it from wondering and thinking negative thoughts. The more you dive and train, the more you will find yourself (in a safe manner of course) becoming more comfortable with the symptoms of co2, which in turn will help you relax more as you have a deeper understanding that what you are feeling is normal and natural.
The biggest way I find myself to be more relaxed while out spearfishing, especially at depth is to have a dive buddy who not only do I communicate with clearly by letting him know what my plan is on my dive, how deep and how long I think I am going down for, But also someone who has put my safety first by doing a freediving course themselves. Knowing your buddy can spot the first signs anything goes wrong, and (touch wood I hope it never happens) rescue me if I were to have a shallow water black out when coming to the surface, or even an LMC whilst on the surface.
My final take on learning to dive deeper
The road to 40 meters is a lot of fun and I have made some great friends along the way. If I could go back and tell myself anything at all about diving deep, it would be that I would get there eventually, and the path I took was the right one for myself.
I’ve always thought that if I could freedive to “x” depth, then I could comfortably spear 10m shallower and I personally find this to be spot on, as I am now extremely comfortable being able to hunt at 30m.
My next trip to do some depth is coming up in November, and at the start of the year I was planning on reaching 50 meters, but after everything I have learned, especially from my last trip. I know I will be happy even if I only add on an extra 2 meters depth, as I know my body will need time to adapt, plus the depths of the ocean will always be there.
If I have missed over anything you would like to know about, feel free to contact me on my social media @svenjamin_franklin on instagram and I will be more than happy to answer any of your questions the best that I can.
Also if your in the Sydney, Melbourne or Perth area and want to follow a similar path then check out https://www.theunderwateracademy.com/ or on their instagram account @theunderwateracademy
The importance of continued learning in spearfishing
In everyday life we place so much importance on continually learning, so why should spearfishing and freediving be any different?
There is always lots of encouragement about taking a freediving course when you first start out, but what happens after that?
I think the time has come where we should put more emphasis on continuing our learning and taking further freediving courses to help further our own progression, whilst learning to do it safely. This not only makes us safer divers whilst learning to push our own limits, but also teaches us how to become an even better dive buddy than we already are.
After doing lots of research, I found that AIDA are at the forefront of freediving and so it was only right that I would then book in with Lucas Handley at The Underwater Academy in Sydney to do my Aida level 2 freediving course.
Image Credit Lucas Handley
Here are a few of my biggest takeaways from the 3 day freediving course
Don’t turn up expecting to have it handed to you on a silver platter
Freediving isn’t an easy sport, and like all good things it takes lots of practice and hard work to take yourself to the next level in your diving. Make sure you come into the course with an open and willing mind. There is so much information that you will learn, and lots of self improvement that will need to be done to help you on your way to reach the bottom times and depths you dream of. Lucas was great at helping me work on things from relaxing my mind, through to keeping my chin tucked in and shoulders relaxed. After lots of dives, guidance and perseverance I was able to get my streamlining down pat and become very efficient with my movements.
Become a deeper and safer dive buddy
In the level 2 course we learnt how to rescue someone from 10 metres. We also learnt how to safely and correctly swim someone back to shore, and how to get them out of the water to give them first aid if they are still non responsive.
These are all vital to learn, and I am so glad that I now have these skills and knowledge as I know that if anything goes pear shaped, I have greater chances of saving my buddies life.
Lucas also highlighted many other safety tips for when out spearfishing. My favourite was being a proper dive buddy, and the one up one down technique. As Lucas said “There are 2 fillets to a fish, one for you and one for your buddy”. I think this a great take away as I would much rather share my catch knowing my buddy has my back and I have his, instead of making a phone call to their loved ones saying we have lost them as we all decided to swim off to do our own thing.
Learn to be comfortable, with being uncomfortable
This has to be my favourite thing I learnt from Lucas. Quiet simply put, carbon dioxide building up in our lungs isn’t the nicest feeling in the world, but it is one we should learn to embrace and accept. Lucas was able to pinpoint where I had built a wall of where I would become uncomfortable and decide it was time to come up for air again. He helped me so much to break down this wall, and not only to understand the effects of carbon dioxide on the body, but also how to mentally prepare myself and embrace the experience. It is still something I will continually work on, but it was a great feeling to finally reach new phases in my carbon dioxide experiences.
I learnt so much from my Aida level 2 course with Lucas, and this is coming from someone who has seen and read so many different books, article, and videos prior. I highly recommend you invest your time and efforts back into yourself and your diving as it definitely helps make a world of difference not just to your own diving, but it will also give you great understanding and piece of mind of how to be the best dive buddy you could possibly be.
I could not have reached my goal of diving to 20 meters if it wasn’t for the amazing teachings from Lucas. I highly recommend going to Sydney to do his Aida level 2 course! I am very excited to do my Aida level 3 with him in September.
Sven Franklin Yellowtail Kingfish
My First Year Spearfishing | What I Learned
At the start of 2017 a mate of mine took me out for a snorkel. Wielding a $30 hand spear by my side I was determined to come back as a successful fisherman. I had no idea what I was doing, how to hold my breath or even how to equalise. Below me I see a fish, I dive down and release the hand spear underneath a rock and race to the surface to catch my breath. I dive back down to pull the spear out with my first fish on the end. A brightly coloured leather jacket. Little did I know but this moment right here was to trigger the biggest change and addiction my life has ever known.
Before we dive deeper I’ll give you an idea of who’s typing this. My names Sven and I work as a jewellery designer in Melbourne, Australia. I go to the gym 4-5 times a week, and love being active and outdoors. Growing up in New Zealand my dad was a keen line fisherman, so I spent a lot of my time line fishing as a kid. Always intrigued by the water but scared at the same time from my lack of knowledge of the ocean itself.
Back to 2017 and around the corner from my house was Adreno, and that place is massive. I walked in not knowing what to expect or how much I would need to spend to have the appropriate gear to continue this new found hobby. I was greeted by a guy named oscar who took me under his wing, ran me through what I needed and the different levels of equipment, as well as good local locations to jump in the water.
The first piece of advice I could give to anyone wanting to start this sport is do not let your wallet hold you back, as the poor man pays twice.
Luckily I could use some gear that I used on my first outing with my mate, whilst I slowly purchased piece by piece of gear to help me “look and feel the part”.
Being so new to the sport, not having a proper understanding of the ocean and thinking there would be sharks galore because its AUSTRALIA, I was too timid to go out by myself. Here arose one of the greatest problems most new guys starting out come across, Finding a dive buddy.
As Facebook seems to have a page for everything I typed spearfishing Australia to see several spearfishing pages come up, It was here that I was then lead to spearfishing clubs. I picked a club called Club Spearfish and decided to go to the meeting that was luckily enough on that afternoon.
It was here that I met divers with the abilities that you want, landing fish you’ve always dreamed of, who are just normal, regular guys. I joined the club which as my second piece of advice I highly recommend. The community inside a club is amazing. It helped mold me into the diver I am today, learning from more experienced guys and making friends with others just starting out who today are bloody great mates of mine.
Club Spearfish Melbourne dive
After listening to countless hours of the Noob Spearo podcast, a lot of internet research, and just getting as much information out of other spearos I decided it was best to do a Freedive course which is of course is my third piece of advice.
If you really want to be a great spearo, learn to be a great dive buddy. Doing a dive course teaches you how to dive safely yourself, as well as how to look after others in case of incidents like shallow water blackout. I was fortunate enough to do one course over in Hawaii in 40m+ vizability, as well as doing one over here in Melbourne in a not so warm or pleasant 11 degrees water, with 8m viz.
The skills learnt after doing these courses helped me be more confident in myself, whilst still being safe and not pushing my boundaries to the extreme. It also helped me as reach a goal, as the very next weekend I was able to land my first Crayfish.
Now when it comes to hunting fish, and learning where and what to do, my greatest piece of advice is that it all comes down to time in the water. You may meet guys who will show you the ropes, give you a rough idea, maybe even watch a few YouTube clips on how to hunt certain species. But the best way I have found to truly learn and to become consistent is to simply spend your time in the water, exploring new areas and trying new techniques.
A good example would be hunting the sort after, and allusive snapper. In New Zealand you have to move stealthily, and peer over ledges to stalk snapper. Whilst here in Melbourne I personally find that diving and taking cover next to a rock, whilst scratching on the ground is a more effective way of getting snapper to come in and check you out. Otherwise in the winter time I find if you look under ledges and in caves you may just find some sleeping. Everyone has their own strengths at different hunting techniques, so try them all! Find what works best for you. See which ones you find fun, and maybe mix and match techniques together and develop your own. At the end of the day it is all about having fun, taking in the underwater world that the majority of the outsiders don’t see, and if you bring home some awesome fish for a feed then that’s a huge bonus.
So here’s to one of the best years of my life so far, with a big influence from spearfishing. I’m super excited to see what the future holds. What species will I come across, where will It take me traveling to, and what will I see and learn. If you’re new to the sport or just thinking of giving it a go, I welcome you to one of the best kept secrets that I know of. If your unsure where to start then try going into your local Adreno store, they’re always keen to convert people and help new guys out. Listen to podcasts like Noob Spearo and learn a ton of information from spearfisherman all over the world. Or perhaps lookup guys like Adam Stern or Aquatic Rehab Tv on Youtube to learn some amazing freediving and hunting skills.
Till next time, see you in the water! – Sven
To regularly see whats Sven’s up to follow him on Instagram here
A list of resources to get started spearfishing;