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