Some people asked me why I needed that. Here’s why
I do not know where to start… Perhaps I should start by telling how a
long time ago, when I was a kid, I watched a movie called “The Big
Blue”, and it forever imprinted in my memory, somewhere between the
French cartoon “Time Masters” and the Bratislavan TV series “She Came
Out of the Blue Sky”.
Afterwards I always wondered how Luc Besson at such a young age (when the movie came out in 1988, he was 29) could make such a powerful movie. That
is, up until I looked at the page about him on IMDB, from which I learned
that young Luc loved the sea. He planned to become a marine biologist
specialising in dolphins. But at the age of 17 he had an accident
which rendered him unable to dive.
I grew up in a place called Sochi on the coast of the Black Sea.
Swimming and diving were always a part of my life. And I did it
neither better nor worse than other boys. I do not know exactly when it came
upon me, but somewhere by the end of high school I started to realise
that the sea gives me a whole new world – I just need to submerge my
head under water. Then the fuss and noise of the world goes away and a
new freedom appears – freedom to swim like a dolphin. And in this new
world I feel at home. Unfortunately, back than I didn’t know what I
could do with my newly discovered talent.
It was only 10 years later when I discovered the Internet, I found out
that I was not the only one, that there were others sharing my
passion, and their name was “freedivers”. And the very first website where I
came across the word “freediver” was Julia Petrik’s site “Homo
Further, as I found the clue, I began unwinding it. I read all I could
find about freediving in Russian and, when I moved to Australia, I
started exploring the English-speaking Internet. So, Homo Delphinius
was followed by Deeperblue.com, then by Umberto Pelizzari’s book The
Manual of Freediving. This book gave me all the theoretical knowledge
I needed. But I still could find no opportunity to apply it in practice.
In Australia, freediving as a sport is poorly developed. There are
spearfishers, but somehow I wasn’t interested in killing fish. It is
ironic that in a country, which is famous for its achievements in the
field of water sports, there wasn’t even a branch of AIDA, the
International Association for the Development of Freediving, three
years ago. Now we have one, but, unfortunately, it is sort of virtual.
Although Australia has its own freediving team and records, there is
neither formal training nor AIDA-accredited courses. Nevertheless
scuba diving is very popular, and dive shops offering PADI (Professional
Association of Diving Instructors) courses are practically in every
suburb. I obtained an Open Water Diver certificate just to realise
that scuba diving was not what I needed. When I was putting on pounds of
equipment, including a massive tank and BCD, I was losing that freedom
to swim underwater like a dolphin, which attracted me to the
underwater world in the first place. Then, because of the lack of a better
option, I started playing underwater hockey. This was a dynamic game and good
exercise, but that crazy romping in the pool was not what I was
looking for. Unfortunately, underwater hockey did not give me the second
component of freediving – the silent tranquillity.
Well, that is almost it. From time to time I thought about going
somewhere to learn freediving. To Moscow, perhaps, or to Egypt. Or to
England for Deeper Blue’s course in the SETT pool. But it was all so
far away and so expensive….
And then one day I saw a post at one of the online forums. The post was
saying that the group of Russian freedivers led by Julia Petrik was
about to have a freediving course on the Philippine island of Cebu and
invited whoever was interested to join. I saw it – but didn’t pay much
attention. Thought I was too busy at work, at home (I have a small kid
and it was still a long time till annual leave). But a few days later
I returned to it. Something clicked inside me, and I decided to go, no
matter what. I took an unpaid leave, got my wife’s approval, contacted
Julia, and bought a plane ticket. And yet even then I could not
believe that I would get there. All that was too good to be true…. Then
a few days before the scheduled departure I had a pretty serious food
poisoning and lay in bed a couple of days with a fever. I thought I
definitely wasn’t going anywhere. And yet destiny wanted me to go.
You know about the rest. All that has accumulated in me over the years
or even decades of searching unwound in a flash, like a compressed
spring. And what comes next – even I don’t know.
Everything comes to an end. It was time for me to say goodbye to the
Philippines, that hospitable place, which gave me so many new
impressions over the last few days. At eight in the morning, a taxi
was to pick me up and take me to the airport. Three hours in the car, then
an airport, a plane, and three and a half hours to Singapore. Mark,
Michael and I met for breakfast. Last conversation, goodbye. Then I
went to say goodbye to the sea. I looked at the bright blue surface
stretching to the horizon, and tears rolled down my cheeks. Then I
jumped into the car and set off for the airport. On the way, I asked
the driver to drop in at Club Serena, but having arrived there, I
found out that everyone else had already left.
Airport, customs, passport control… All of those necessary attributes
of travel are the same every time. They take a lot of time, but
there’s no way to go around them. And when yet another door closes behind you,
you realise that something is over, finished. And something new
Singapore. How strange it was to plunge into this world after the
quietness and calmness of the Philippines. Bustling airport with
trains running between terminals, roads with five lanes in each direction,
hurrying people… Civilisation. And in the Philippines I did not even
have a TV in my room, although I can’t say I missed it.
I had five hours before the flight to Melbourne, while my Russian
friends had seven hours before theirs to Moscow. We jumped into a taxi
and went to Clarke Quay, a place Mark recommended. The Moscowers were
astonished by the cleanliness around them. As for me, that place
reminded me very much of Melbourne. And the fact that we drove on the
left side of the road only added to the similarities.
Clarke Quay resembled Melbourne’s South Bank a lot: a place on the
river bank, where both sides are packed with restaurants. A lot of
delicious food and hordes of tourists. Since we couldn’t fit into a
single car, we arrived in two taxis. I was in the second, and we left
the airport a little later. When we arrived, the guys from the first
batch had already dispersed. I was disappointed – I hadn’t said a
proper goodbye to everyone yet. I set off on a task of finding them,
and I spent the next hour running from one restaurant to another on
both sides of the river. I knew their phone numbers, but my phone for
some reason worked very poorly and I could not get through to anyone.
Finally, I found them all in one place – at “Quayside Seafood”
restaurant. I still had time and I could not pass up the opportunity
to have a dinner.
We drank beer and ate fish and crabs. And when it was about time for me
to go, I picked up a glass and said a very simple toast:
— Thank you for changing life.
I do not know whether they took me seriously, but I was absolutely
serious. Something happened to me during those two weeks. Yes, I did
things that I didn’t know I was capable of. But still that is not the
point – meters and minutes are not of critical importance. The
experience itself was the most important. Probably, an astronaut who
goes for a spacewalk experiences something similar: emotional shake-up
so strong that it permanently changes the outlook on life. I know that
happened to me. I do not know what I am going to do with it, but I
have no doubt everything will be as it should be.
When I try to trace the chain of events that led me to the Philippines,
I wonder how it all fit together. This chain is stretched for years,
and perhaps for decades. Decisions taken, at first glance completely
unrelated to each other, formed in a line along which I walked. At job
interviews I was often asked where I saw myself in five years. I never
knew what to answer, but now I know even less. Can we plan our lives
For example, Mark, as I said, changed his career as an IT manager in
Singapore for the role of hotel manager in the Philippines. How could
it have been planned five years earlier? Some might say that I believe
in destiny, and maybe I do, but not quite. In fact, life is not a
straight line. The world is not static; it is constantly in motion, in
a perpetual state of chaos – which actually might not be chaos. We
just do not know the rules of the game, so when something unexpected
happens, we call it an accident. Events collide and intertwine,
forming a network of possible choices and consequences. At certain points in
life, everyone comes to a place from which he can turn right or left.
And depending on that his life will turn out differently. We can not
plan our futures five years ahead. We can only hope to be in the right
place at the right time and pull the right string.
But that’s not all. I believe that sometimes the probabilities add up
themselves, stars align, and what should happen happens. That happens
not always and maybe not for everyone, but sometimes that is enough to
forever change someone’s life.
I said goodbye to everyone and departed. I still had half an hour, and
I walked along the river in the Singapore night. Then, with some
difficulty, I caught a taxi and went to the airport. Airport, passport
control, customs… Seven hours of a night flight. And in Melbourne’s
airport I was met by my family.
My vacation was over, but what I experienced will stay with me forever.
And I hope that wasn’t the last time.
Although, not yet. Some people asked me why I needed all this. Okay,
Back when I was preparing for the trip, I got in touch with Julia, and
she told me that I had a choice to stay in one of two hotels: Club
Serena or Blue Orchid. I looked at the Blue Orchid’s website and, to
my surprise, in a left-side menu found a link labelled “Aikido”. Since I
am a black belt in aikido, I was interested. The link itself did not
lead anywhere, but after a little research, I discovered that the
owner of Blue Orchid, the Englishman Michael McCavish, was a fifth dan of
Tomiki aikido. I contacted him, explained who I was, and asked if I
could book a room at his hotel. Michael replied that he was glad that
I would stay at his hotel, but he at that time would be in Japan on
When we first saw him in the evening after returning from Badian
Resort, the first thing he said to me was: “I came back a day earlier
than planned. I felt that I had to talk to you.” I did not even know
what to think about it. Another coincidence in the chain of random
events? Maybe. Maybe not.
I did not dive on this day. Firstly, my ear was aching more and I did
not want to submerge my head underwater. And secondly, I felt that I
had already achieved everything I came for. But one thing remained – I
had to talk to Michael. A fifth dan means decades of hard work and
discipline. There aren’t that many people in the world who achieve
Michael showed me his aikido style. I myself do Iwama style, which
dates back to Saito Sensei, one of the senior students of Ueshiba, who
was the founder of aikido. Iwama is considered to be a style that
conveys what Ueshiba himself did most accurately. Although, honestly,
no one knows exactly what he did. Kenji Tomiki was also a student of
Ueshiba, but apart from that he had eighth dan in judo. And the style
he created combines the techniques of aikido and the competitive
spirit of judo. In Iwama aikido there are neither competitions nor fighting.
It is believed that competitive spirit contradicts self-knowledge and
self-improvement, which are the essences of aikido. In Tomiki aikido,
contests are part of the program. Both these points of view have the
right to live.
Michael spent a couple of hours with me and showed me his style.
Frankly, I was somewhat confused. The techniques he demonstrated were
on the one hand familiar, but on the other hand executed in a
completely different way. Moreover, they were named differently too. I
do not know if I learnt anything from that exercise, but it was very
And then we sat at the lunch table and talked about the role of chance
in our lives and of the choices we make. I had three recent examples
in front of me: my own, Michael’s, and the hotel manager Mark’s. Just two
months earlier Mark worked as a manager at Hewlett-Packard in
Singapore. Then Michael offered him a job as a manager of the hotel;
Mark moved to the Philippines and since then has been living there.
How’s that for a career change?
That was our last evening in the Philippines, and Club Serena’s owners
decided to arrange a farewell beach party for us. After the sunset a
dinner table was set for us on the beach, just like on our first
evening. And there was dinner, and wine and rum flowed like a river.
There was a surprise too. A flying Chinese lantern was prepared for
each of us. Such a lantern looks like an inverted paper bag with a
candle attached at the bottom. The candle burns and fills the space
inside with a hot air, which makes the lantern fly. Everyone wrote a
wish on a piece of paper and put it into his lantern. Thus, everyone’s
desires were to rise into the sky. However, we were unlucky: there was
a breeze and many of the lanterns fell into the sea. But if you ask
me, that was symbolical that freedivers' desires fall into the sea rather
than take to the air. I think that’s the way it should be.
Surprisingly, I did not have a hangover next morning. Either I did not
drink as much as I thought I did, or the quality of the local rum was
much better than I expected. Therefore I, as usual, appeared by the
pool of Club Serena at 10 a.m.
We had a depth diving scheduled for the morning. A buoy was put right
beyond the reef for us, and those few people who were able after the
previous day’s celebration swam to it, accompanied by Julia. To be
honest, I did not want to dive deeply on that day. Although I still
wanted to know what I was capable of and knew that I hadn’t reached my
limit, somehow I was sure I wouldn’t dive deeper than I already did
during that stay. And besides, my ear started to ache. Earache is an
occupational illness for all depth divers. The combination of cold sea
water and high pressure does its work, and a diver is prone to picking
up ear infections. The nearest doctor was three hours away, so I
decided to wait until I got home to Melbourne.
We started to dive in turns, but apparently everybody was worn out. I
dived to 22 meters. It was a good result for me, and it showed that I
could dive to 20+ meters pretty comfortably. Although I did not beat
my previous record on that day, I was OK with it. Everything has its
place and time, and I knew I would have another opportunity sooner or later.
Furthermore, I began to realise what was holding me back. It wasn’t the
pressure – even at 26 meters I could successfully equalise pressure in
my ears and I felt no chest compression. That is, I could go deeper.
But I was getting out of breath. Also, I just didn’t have the proper
equipment. My Mares Volo Race fins were good for swimming, and they
proved to be excellent for underwater hockey. But still they were very
soft and not made for freediving. They simply did not give the
necessary propulsion. The first stage during a deep dive, when you
have to overcome your own buoyancy together with the resistance of water,
is very important. And you will need all the power your fins can develop.
The monofin, of course, is the most effective in this case. Especially
the so-called “hyperfin” – almost all of our experienced guys had
them. “Hypers” have a different foot pocket design. In them, the heel is
raised above the surface of the blade to compensate for the relative
weakness of the ankle muscles. This is uncomfortable but effective.
“Hypers” are sold in many countries, but manufactured mainly in
Russia. They have already revolutionised the fin swimming sport and now almost
completely conquered the world of freediving. Fins made of carbon
fibre or glass fibre are also very efficient, whereas my fins, made of
rubber and plastic, were not as good.
Besides, I was plainly freezing. As I mentioned earlier, my own open
cell wetsuit was too warm for the tropical waters of the Philippines,
while the borrowed 3mm steamer, as it turned out, was too cold. The
problem was not even that the wetsuit itself was thin, but that the
cold seawater could freely pour under the collar, cancelling out all
the thermal insulation provided by the rubber. There are suits with
tricky zippers, in which this problem is solved. Next time, if I won’t
be able to find an appropriate open cell suit, I will at least get one
like that. As I said before, in between dives freedivers lie still on
the surface of water with little or no movement. Those were the
moments when I was freezing. I had to twitch my arms and legs to warm up, and
as a result I could not relax.
That morning I was not the only one who was freezing; and after diving
for an hour, we returned to the shore. After dinner we settled upon
going to another reef, where Julia wanted to film for her TV project.
Since I was getting cold in the water, I decided to try to dive in my
own open cell wetsuit. The reef turned out to be very close to the place where we were diving to the plane. Once we arrived, the preparations for the filming
started. The theme was musical. The guys fetched out a violin and a
guitar. The guitar was bought here on the island a few days earlier. I
saw it before, but couldn’t guess what kind of fate awaited it. The
guitar was a key part of the script. However, getting it underwater
turned out to be not easy. The guitar was too buoyant and it took a
2-pound weight to sink it. I pulled on my wetsuit and plunged into the
water. And then I was up for a big surprise.
When I had dived in the borrowed steamer, I attached a 2 kg weight to
the belt to offset its buoyancy, and that was enough. I knew that my
open cell wetsuit was more buoyant, and put 3 kg of weight on the
belt. Turned out, that was not enough! I could dive with great difficulty –
the suit kept me on the surface. So I had to go back to the boat and
fasten one more weight. That helped a little, but still was not
enough. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any more weights. Furthermore, the suit
was clearly too thick for tropical waters, and I was getting hot.
Meanwhile, a few meters below the surface the underwater concert was
in a full swing. The show was really beautiful; and maybe we will see the
video one day. However, I soon realised that my clumsy figure could
accidentally get on camera so I preferred to wander off. Since I
couldn’t really dive because of my buoyancy, and I was getting hot, I
soon returned to the boat, pulled the suit off, and just relaxed and
waited for the rest of the guys to return. It was not my day.
We had yet another trip planned for the evening. We booked a dinner at
a prestigious hotel, Badian Island Resort. Julia stayed at that resort
with friends on the previous New Year’s Eve and loved it. That resort
is on a separate tiny island, and usually only the resort’s guests are
allowed there. But we boldly introduced ourselves as a team of tour
operators from Moscow, and they made an exception for us. For a modest
fee of 1500 pesos (around $30) we were promised a tour, a buffet
dinner, and an entertainment program.
It was already dark when we set off. From our hotel we had to ride 40
minutes by car to the pier, and then travel for another 10 minutes on
a boat to that island. Once we disembarked from the boat, we were
welcomed by girls from the Badian Resort’s staff. They presented each
of us a necklace made of flowers and asked us to walk over to the
reception. There we were asked to pay upfront. Then the tour followed.
The problem with the tour was that it was already completely dark, and
we couldn’t see anything. Nevertheless, we were shown around the
island. Despite the pitch black, it was obvious that Badian was an
exclusive resort for the rich, where the number of staff exceeded the
number of guests. Massage rooms and spas with baths covered with rose
petals were all around. At one place a cascade of personal swimming
pools was arranged so that occupants could lie on special couches
(yes, right in the pool) while watching the sunset. After some time, since
we could not see anything anyway, we were shown directly to the area
around the main pool, where the dinner tables were set up. I have to
admit that the dinner was delicious.However, we soon found out that
drinks were not included into the price we paid. In front of me at the
table stood a bottle of red Australian wine – Hardy’s. I asked how
much it was. Having received the answer, I converted it into Australian
dollars, and it turned out that the price was about three times more
than I would pay in Australia. I decided to pass with Hardy’s and
ordered a glass of a house red instead. In the meantime, we were all
looking forward to the show.
For those 10 days while we were in the Philippines, we didn’t see any
manifestation of the local culture. And we were very interested to
hear and see some local songs and dances, something ethnically Filipino. On
the other side of the pool, where a small stage was installed, two men
with guitars appeared sometime later and started singing. They sang in
an unfamiliar language, perhaps one of the Filipino languages. When
they finished, lights turned on over the lawn next to the stage. Music
started playing, and a group of dancers in ethnic costumes ran out
onto that impromptu dance stage. I can not say that they danced badly, on
the contrary – it looked very nice. It just didn’t feel like Filipino
dancing. Rather, it was entertainment for foreigners, folk dancing to
They danced a few numbers and even tried to lure us into a dance and,
to some extent, succeeded. After them a man with a guitar came to our
table and started singing. He sang a very sad and very long song in an
unfamiliar language. It is unclear why he decided that this song was
perfectly suited to this moment. For the first few minutes we endured
that. Then someone offered to give him money to go away. After a few
more minutes we couldn’t take it anymore, and one after another
started fleeing from the table. Finally he finished his song and left. After
that an elderly Caucasian man walked to our table.He turned out to be
the hotel’s owner himself. He greeted us on behalf of the resort and
presented a free drink for everyone, which slightly warmed our Russian
souls. And then the entertainment continued, presented by the already
familiar Filipino “Simon and Garfunkel” and dance revue. The man with
a guitar didn’t come back, thank God.
When the entertainment program was over, we decided that we ate and
drank enough, and made for our hotel. But we had a discussion and
decided that, as “tour operators”, we would not recommend that place
to our clients. Maybe it’s good for wealthy retirees, but personally we
liked the hotels we stayed in much better.
When we returned to Club Serena and I, having opened the bus’s door,
set my foot on the ground, I saw a tall Caucasian man waiting for us.
“Is one of you Sergey?” he asked. “I am Michael, the owner of ’Blue
I began the day with a remarkable feat – I got up early and went to
yoga at 6:15 a.m. Yoga is cool, but because I wasn’t used to it, for
me doing it was tough. By the end of class I could not wait for it all to
end. We agreed, as usual, to meet at 10 by the pool, and I went to my
hotel for breakfast.
On that day we were going to have practical tests for freedivers'
certificates. As contenders for the two-star freediver level, members
of our beginner group had to do the following:
Remove the mask at 10 meters and surface without it.
To simulate a leg cramp underwater, remove one fin at 10 meters
and resurface using the remaining one.
Perform stand-by protocol for another freediver, accompanying him
to the surface from 10 meters depth.
“Rescue” a freediver from 10 meters.
The more experienced guys who were going for three stars had to do
everything the same, but from 15 meters depth. Oksana briefed us and
explained the rescuing techniques. In the meantime a couple of buoys
had been put in the sea just beyond the reef in front of our hotel. I
borrowed a dive computer from a friend who wasn’t going to dive with
us. And after the briefing, we suited up and swam to the buoys. One
buoy was intended for us to do our tests, while at the other one more
experienced guys, who didn’t have to do the tests, practised depth
diving. We began as usual with some exercises. I pulled myself down
and up the rope by the hands a few times, then dived once using fins, and
after that told Oksana that I was ready.
The first step was to remove the mask at 10 meters. To make it more
clear for us, Oksana tied two tags to the rope: at 10 and 15 meters. I
dived to the first one and, holding to the rope with one hand, I
pulled off the mask. Removing the mask at this depth felt like hitting my
face against the water. And instantly I saw almost nothing. I know that
scuba divers can even put on a mask under water, displacing the water
from it by exhaling through the nose. But scuba divers have plenty of
air, while freedivers do not have that luxury. Therefore, clutching a
mask in one hand and clinging to the rope with the other, I swam up. I
passed the first test. In fact, everyone did that without any
problems, but not everyone liked the experience. Then it was my turn to pass the
second test. I dived to 10 meters and, holding to the rope, took one
fin off. And, holding the removed fin in one hand and guiding myself
along the line with the other hand, I swam up. Pretty soon I realised
that paddling with two legs did not make sense – the bare foot
provided no thrust. Therefore, I went on ascending working with one fin only.
Piece of cake. And then the most interesting part started: performing
stand-by duties and rescuing another freediver.
As I already wrote, freedivers do not dive alone. When a freediver
dives into depth, he is watched by another freediver from the surface.
The safety freediver dives to meet the ascending freediver and
accompanies him to the surface. Because most troubles usually occur to
a freediver in the upper 10 meters on ascent, that is where he should
be met. If a dive isn’t very deep, about 30 meters, such a dive
usually takes little more than a minute, and it is easy to calculate the time
when a safety person needs to dive. Besides, an ascending freediver is
visible from the surface. Freedivers who dive to greater depths
usually know how long it takes and let the safety diver know when and at what
depth they need to be met.
When it was my turn to take the test, Oksana dived, and I was lying on
the surface watching her silhouette fading out of sight. When she
disappeared completely, I dived after her. I stopped at 10 meters and
watched her rising from the depth. When she came up to me, I started
ascending alongside her, looking into her eyes. The safety person
needs to see the eyes of the freediver, to be sure that she is all right. At
any hint of an abnormal behaviour he should be ready to come to the
rescue. I passed that test successfully. After that I only needed to
rescue a freediver from 10 meters. The exercise started the same way
as the previous one: I dived after Oksana and I was waiting for her at 10
meters. When she levelled with me on her way back, her body went limp
– she portrayed the loss of consciousness under water. If that happens
for real, it is a critical moment. After losing consciousness under
water, a person may instinctively try to inhale. Once water enters the
upper respiratory tract, one more reflex kicks in, this time
protective – the trachea is closed by so-called laryngospasm, and the water
doesn’t get into the lungs. But in that case time is crucial – there
will be about two minutes before laryngospasm is released. If a
freediver is not brought to the surface within that time, the water
will get into the lungs, and the diver will effectively drown and will
have to be given CPR. Once Oksana “fainted”, I, as she taught us,
grabbed her under the shoulders and dragged her up.
During such a rescue, the first thing to do on the surface is to hold
the unconscious diver so that the airways are above the water. Then
you need to take off his mask and call him by name. If a person does not
regain consciousness, then hold him with your right hand under his
head, pinch his nose, and do mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. That is
what those of us who were going for two stars had to do. The guys who were
going for a higher level additionally had to transport an unconscious
diver to the shore and do CPR.
I passed the test on the second attempt: the first time I forgot to
pinch Oksana’s nose while doing mouth-to-mouth. But the second time
made everything right.
When we all passed our two-star tests, the guys going for three stars
had to do all the same. However, they had to “rescue” a freediver from
15 meters. When it was Vasily’s turn, Oksana said that it would be
good for him to save someone else. She was already tired of playing a
“victim”. Moreover, for Vasily that would be too easy: he is about 100
kg, and Oksana is a frail and slender girl. So I volunteered to be
rescued. I dived to the 15-meter mark and then dropped a bit deeper
until the computer on my wrist showed 18. I started ascending, and
when I caught up with Vasily at 15, I closed my eyes, released the rope,
and went limp all over. Before I could relax, I felt that I was being
dragged up. Then everything went according to the plan: he pulled me
to the surface, removed my mask and did resuscitation. Because I passed
all the tests, I didn’t have to do anything else, and I asked Oksana’s
permission to do some depth diving practice at the other buoy.
That time Tania was my safety freediver. The first time I dived to my
usual 20 meters. Then, while I was waiting for my next turn, I tried
to relax and catch my breath as I was taught. Then I handed over the
snorkel to Tania and dived.
When I was going up, it seemed that the rope in front of my eyes was
barely moving. And I felt like darting to the surface as fast as I
could. However, that would lead to nothing good. I once read an
interview at the deeperblue.com website with one of the students of
the freediving course in the SETT pool in England. He started to have
diaphragm contractions at 25 meters and he bolted for the surface. He
was lucky not to black out. And an instructor who was diving next to
him was trying to calm him down all the way to the surface. Panicking
under water is the last thing you want to do. Bad thoughts need to be
banished. You should be calm, thinking about the light and blue sky
that is waiting for you on the surface. And paddling by slow but wide
fin strokes: one, two … until you feel like in the last 10 meters
positive buoyancy embraces you and brings you to the surface.
Immediately after surfacing it is necessary to make a quick exhale,
then take a deep breath and breathe deeply for a few seconds. Then the
official protocol requires you to remove the mask, to show the “OK”
hand sign, and to say, “I’m OK.” During all those activities a safety
diver and, if that happens in a competition, a judge is staring into
the eyes of the freediver. In tournaments, there were cases when
freedivers lost consciousness after having already gotten to the
surface. If this happens, the result does not count.
Having caught my breath, I looked at the computer on my wrist, which
embodied the depth to which I dived – 26.1 meters. And having left the
guys at the buoy, I swam to the shore. I accomplished more than could
hope for. I was happy.
After lunch, we went diving to the sunken plane. The plane itself is an
old small “Cessna”, which was thrown to the bottom specifically for
tourists to dive to. It lies at 20 meters depth, which slightly varies
depending on the tide. That was just about on the verge of the depth
to which I could dive comfortably, and I was wondering if I could get to
it. But before we could dive to the plane, first we had to find it.
The plan was such that the captain of our boat with his local assistants
would locate the plane and place the boat right above it. Then we
would throw a line straight down, and dive along the line to the plane. When
we got aboard, the captain, a Filipino, cast a glance at our
uncomplicated equipment, assessed the lack of scuba tanks, and asked:
— Yep, — we confirmed — snorkelling.
However, not all turned out smoothly according to plan. The visibility
in the water was less than 10 meters, and the plane couldn’t be seen
from the surface. The search took a while, but finally it was found,
and a rope with a weight was thrown down. And then we faced another
surprise – a strong current. The buoy drifted, and a rope was hanging
out of plumb at a 70-degree angle. In such circumstances, the only
sensible way to reach the plane was to go down the rope, though not
straight down. If a freediver tried to release the rope, he would be
instantly carried away and wouldn’t find the plane. The first guys
went down, and upon returning reported that the plane lay at 22 meters. I
waited for my turn and, having taken a deep breath, dived down,
pulling myself down the rope. Going down against the current was hard; I think
it was my most difficult dive there. Perhaps if I was just diving, I
would not have reached 22 meters in such conditions. But at that
moment when I was ready to turn around and go back, I looked down and saw the
plane just a few meters below me.
A few days before, Julia told us that on the Red Sea visibility in the
water can be such that the depth tag, which an athlete has to reach,
is clearly visible from the surface. She said that being able to see the
goal helps immensely and adds strength.
She was right. I reached the plane. I clapped my hand on the roof,
looked inside, and then let go of the rope and went up: keeping to the
inclined rope upon ascent was not necessary and I wasn’t worried that
I would surface a few meters away from the buoy. Then I waited for my
turn and dived again. This time I even had enough air to swim away
from the cockpit and hold on to the plane’s fin. On that my diving program
for that day had been completed. And I couldn’t say I was disappointed
by the way the day passed. Oh no, quite the opposite. Later that
evening, standing on the beach and looking at the fading sun slowly
diving into the sea somewhere far away, I realised that my life was
changing forever, right there and then.
And later in the evening we celebrated March 8, which is Women’s Day in
Eastern Europe. A table was set for us on the beach. The guys got hold
of flowers somewhere in this middle of nowhere, and we presented them
to all our girls. And there was a festive dinner. We drank wine and
rum, sang songs and danced. I went to sleep after three o’clock in the
morning with a firm conviction that no one would turn up for yoga the