There isn’t much to write about that day – we didn’t dive. Our team divided
into two groups: the majority went to watch cockfights, while the four
of us, including myself, returned to the waterfall. Cockfighting is
one of the main attractions in the Philippines. It is a horrible, bloody
spectacle; and I will let somebody else tell about it. I didn’t even want to look at it.
At the waterfalls Julia wanted to shoot a scene for her TV project. The
original plan was to take two rafts: one for Julia and Tanya to go
under the waterfall and the other one to film them from. But
unfortunately, the place was packed with tourists. The only two rafts
were full and many more people were waiting for their turn. So we had
to be content with just one raft. While Julia and Tania were dressing
up, I and another girl, Oksana, went under the fall to experience its
hard shower once more. I took a camera with me and filmed the entire
process, thanks to the fact that my little Sanyo could shoot in the
Under the waterfall
Then Julia and Tania took the raft, and Oksana filmed them from
the shore. After the filming was over, we set off to climb higher into
the mountains to reach the second and third waterfalls. They are much
smaller, but the third waterfall adjoins a small lake. We took note of
its unspoiled natural beauty during our canyoning adventure three days
earlier and wanted to come back since then. Julia thought that the
lake scene would make an excellent addition to her show. Unfortunately,
that place was full of people too. The serene beauty of the Philippine’s
nature was disturbed; the spell was broken; and filming made no sense.
We made a stop at a small restaurant beside the lake to taste local
Coconuts grow right there on the trees. They are offered to tourists on
the spot: torn off a tree, then the top is chopped off with a huge
knife, and a straw is inserted into the hole. Fresh coconut milk has a
different taste than canned. For some reason, canned coconut milk is
very sweet and sugary. In fact, too sweet for me. On the contrary,
fresh coconut milk is only mildly sweet, and I quite enjoyed it. Once
the milk is drunk, the coconut is cut in half. Then with a spoon or
just a scraper made of the shell of the same coconut, you can rake out
the inner white layer of coconut pulp, which is also very tasty.
It was getting late so we made for the hotel. On our way back we passed
a small hydroelectric power plant, which supplied electricity to the
village near the waterfall. Just above the falls there is the dam,
which entraps part of the river’s flow and directs the water to the
turbines through pipes. Our guide told us that when the turbines are
turned off, the waterfall becomes larger.
When we returned to the hotel, it was already dark. And we were
surprised to find that the others hadn’t returned yet. Obviously the
cockfights dragged on. But finally all gathered together and we had a
dinner. And after dinner, in conclusion of the day, we had another
freediving theory lesson.
On that day Julia planned filming her TV project. On the reef near
Pescador Island, where we dived a few days earlier, was an arch in the
reef under the water – “The Cathedral”. The arch’s entry was at 18
meters depth, and the exit at 28. Julia wanted to film herself and few
other freedivers swimming through the arch.
Therefore, in the morning we boarded the boat and went to the island.
The plan was to do some depth diving first. We arrived at the island,
cast an anchor and dropped the diving line down directly along the
wall of the reef. However, we were unlucky. There was a strong current, and
instead of going down vertically into the depth, the rope was hanging
at a 60-degree angle. Diving like that was pointless. We pulled the
weights out and tried to find a better place. Having sailed around the
island, we dropped an anchor a few hundred meters away from the reef.
There it was a little better, but the ropes were still out of plumb.
However, there was nothing we could do, and we started diving. As
always, we started with pulling ourselves down the rope by hands. I
descended to about 10 meters, and then felt that the rope I was
holding to was moving. Caught by surprise, I clung to it and was brought to
the surface. It turned out that the guys decided to re-drop the weights
and pulled me out with them. Then the current appeared again, and the
diving became even funnier than on the previous day. While diving down
the line was still OK, on ascent you had a choice of going up holding
to the rope, which meant not directly up, or releasing the rope and
swimming straight up, surfacing wherever the current took you. A
couple of times I was carried to another side of the boat and surfaced a
dozen meters away from the place I dived. Also when ascending, I had to
continually look up to avoid bumping my head against the boat. The
last time I went on the rope down to 21 meters. Tania, who was on a
stand-by that day, told me that since I swam up and down at an angle, I could
safely assume that I dived to 25. On that the depth diving was over.
We weighed the anchor, sailed to the reef and dropped the lines in front
of the place where, at a depth of 18 meters, the entrance to “The
Cathedral” was located.
Filming underwater scenes on breath-holding is difficult – the
cameraman simply does not have enough time at the depth. Therefore,
for flexibility Julia decided to send one of our team members down with a
scuba. Andrew, himself an experienced freediving instructor, donned
scuba, took the camera and positioned himself at a depth of 24 meters
inside the arch near the entrance. Julia and Tania were diving into
the arch, and Andrew was filming them. In the meantime the others spread
out along the reef.
I floated on the surface above the arch and watched our girls diving
down. I was curious what was down there. I took a deep breath and
dived. Of course I didn’t go into the arch – I’m not crazy – and have
a very strong sense of self-preservation. Moreover, I didn’t want to
dive deeply without somebody watching me. But nevertheless, I very
comfortably dove down to a depth where I could see the edge of the
hole in the reef and Andrew sitting there with a scuba a few meters below
me. I did not have a computer, which shows the depth and time
intervals, so I did not know how deep that was, but I reckon about 15
meters. At this depth, my buoyancy was already neutral; I could hang
there for some time looking around without moving a muscle. It was
very beautiful there. I was hanging in the water column, and right in front
of me the reef wall was stretched from surface into the depths.
Underwater coral forests played all shades of emerald green in the sun
rays penetrating from the surface. Julia and Tania swam past me along
the rope and disappeared inside the arch. I hung there for a few more
seconds and rose to the surface. I dived a few more times and found
that such a depth was quite comfortable to me. It is a pity that I did
not have a dive computer. When I depart on such a journey once again,
I will certainly buy one.
On that the filming was over and we returned to the hotel. It was about
five o’clock in the evening and everyone was hungry, because shooting
dragged on, and we were left without a lunch. While we waited for
dinner, Vasily suggested that I try to swim in his monofin – we had
the same foot size. As I said, monofin is a blade in the form of a
mermaid’s tail, with attached pockets for both feet. The foot pockets
themselves are of unusual shape and the foot inside them is bent in a
special way, which is very uncomfortable but provides better
A monofin was invented in the 70s in the Soviet Union by
fin-swimming athletes. They became popular in the rest of the world
thanks to Jacques Mayol, who received one during his visit to the
Soviet Union from the inventor himself, fin-swimmer coach Boris
Porotov. These days monofins are not something extraordinary. They are
manufactured in a number of countries. But the best ones are still
Russian and they are made individually to order. A monofin is much more
efficient than traditional fins; however, it has its disadvantages. It
does not offer the same manoeuvrability as traditional fins. And it’s
not the best choice if it needs to be used for a few hours in a row:
foot pockets are so uncomfortable that after some time swimming they
start to hurt.
Swimming in a monofin was a pretty interesting experience. The small
pool did not allow us to develop great speed, but still the power was
amazing: three strokes with a “tail”, and 10 meters were behind. Even
with my practically nonexistent dolphin-style swimming technique. I
certainly liked that. I probably would have bought one for myself, but
I clearly understood that I didn’t need one yet. I didn’t know where I
could use it. I wouldn’t buy it to swim just in a pool, and I would
freeze in Port Phillip Bay. With our water temperature, we need to
choose the fins in such a way that they could be put on a 3mm neoprene
After dinner, Julia continued to read us freediving theory.
Modern freediving competitions are held in several disciplines: diving
to a depth, lengthwise in the pool (dynamic apnoea) with fins and
without fins, and the static breath-hold. Currently, man has learned
to hold his breath for more than 11 minutes and swim with fins underwater
for 250 meters in a pool. But the most interesting competitions are on
diving into the depths. They are divided into several types:
Free Immersion – where an athlete dives without fins and pulls himself
up and down the line with his hands.
Constant Weight with or without fins – an athlete swims down and up without touching the rope.
Variable Weight – an athlete dives down with extra weight, and at a
depth releases it and uses his fins to ascend.
No Limits. Here an athlete holds on to a special weighted platform – a
sled – as it carries him along to the depths. At the moment the
dive in this category is 214 meters. Coming up to the surface from
depths just by using a muscular force is unthinkable, and that’s why
special aids are used. At the deepest point a freediver unleashes a
gas-filled float, which then pulls him up. Such an extreme is not for
everyone, and not just because of the enormous depth.
In this kind of competition an athlete’s life depends on technical aids, which can
fail. In the history of the competitions, there were several deaths
and near-death cases occurred because of equipment: a jammed sled, or a
valve of a gas tank not opening. And yet, there are still people who
beat those records.
Constant weight with fins is considered the most classical discipline
and a highlight of any competition. Here an athlete dives into the
depth, counting only on himself. He is one-on-one with the abyss.
According to current competition rules, an athlete must declare the
depth at which he is going to dive in advance. At that depth a plate
with the corresponding number is fixed. The athlete has to grab the
plate and show it to the judges upon surfacing. In addition, a depth
gauge on the wrist registers the depth. But just reaching the depth
isn’t sufficient. It is necessary to pass the surface protocol, which
states that a freediver must be in full consciousness and behave
adequately. If an athlete breaches any of these requirements, he is
It’s not entirely clear to me why people take part in such competitions
and beat records. Any “big” sport brings pain and traumas. As for me
right now, I dive into depth, but not for depth. Yes, I am curious to
know what I am capable of, but I would never dive to a depth that is
uncomfortable to me. While diving, we submerge into ourselves, and
that is the only thing that matters.
Having arrived, as usual, at 10 a.m. after breakfast at Club Serena, I
found that almost everyone was so exhausted after the previous day’s
march, that even the morning yoga hadn’t happened. A bit later the
people slowly began to crawl together to the pool area, complaining of
pain in various limbs.
Our spearfishers, once again, went hunting early in the morning. And
for the rest of us, at least for those who were able to, a static
breath-holding session was planned. As always, it all started with
breathing. We gathered at a gazebo on the beach and under Julia’s
supervision did some breathing exercises for about half an hour. Then
Julia told us to disperse, to sit somewhere in a more comfortable
position and do a few breathing cycles on ourselves, then to make a
single breath-hold on land. After that we suited up and got into the
Just like the last time, we placed ourselves in the water near the side
of the pool and started breathing up. Then Julia gave a command to
make the last six deep breaths and begin when ready. Having lowered my face
into the water, I mentally walked through the entire body to make sure
that absolutely all the muscles were relaxed: from the toes up to the
waist, up the spine, neck, up facial muscles and jaw, and arms to the
tips of my fingers. Then tried to calm down my thoughts and just float
still on the surface…
Many say that they do not like to do static. On the contrary, I enjoy
it. The relaxation, which comes with it, is unlike anything else. I am
suspended in the water completely relaxed. My body weighs nothing.
Beneath me and above me – infinity. My thoughts are far away. I do not
need to care about anything, don’t even need to breathe. My heart beat
When a sense of discomfort increased, I, as Julia taught, stretched out
my whole body and pulled my diaphragm muscle up as much as I could to
use the last air stuck in the bottom of the lungs. That gave me
another 10 or 20 seconds. Then I raised my head from the water and took a
breath. The first time I did 2:50. We started preparing for the second
attempt by breathing up. As a rule of thumb, the time at the surface
should be 2.5 to 3 times longer than the time spent under water. So
after a three-minute breath-hold we breathe for at least 6 minutes. I
did a 3:06 on the second attempt and 3:30 on the third. And that was
the end of the static session for the day.
And after dinner we took a boat and went to a place where we were told
sea turtles could be seen. But on the way we made a stop to have
another depth diving training. We dropped two lines – one on each side
of the boat. “Advanced” divers occupied one line – and we, the
dummies, the other one. During the training freedivers dive one at a time.
While one dives, the rest are waiting at the surface and breathing. And the
one who is underwater is always watched by an instructor. The practice
of freediving shows that all the troubles usually happen to freedivers
on the ascent in the upper 10 meters of water. Therefore, a stand-by
person dives to meet a rising freediver and ascends beside him,
looking into his eyes. This is to ensure that he is conscious. At the first
suspicion that something is wrong, a stand-by comes to help and pulls
a freediver to the surface.
Unfortunately, we had a chance to make only a few dives. I dove a
couple times, pulling myself down the rope. And then suddenly a strong
current appeared. I dived, finning down, and upon ascent I drifted
away from the rope. I looked up to see where I was going and saw the boat
directly above me. I started paddling away to avoid bumping my head
against the boat and suddenly found a rope. I continued my ascent
along it and upon surfacing found that it wasn’t my rope, but rather the
rope on the opposite side of the boat. Because of the current it was
pointless to carry on diving; and we set off for the reef to look for
Usually the water in this area of the Philippines is very clean and
visibility in the water is at least 15 meters. But on that day we were
unlucky: Some kind of haze was suspended in the water; and we could
see for no farther than five meters. We dispersed throughout the reef to
look for turtles, having promised to shout if anyone saw them. And I
soon spotted one. The turtle was about two feet in length. It slowly
floated at a depth of several meters; and it was accompanied by a pair
of small, needle-looking fish. I called the guys, dived, and swam
after it. The turtle noticed me, gained speed, and started escaping into the
depth. Who would have thought that that seemingly clumsy creature,
slowly paddling with its flippers, could develop such a speed? Soon I
needed to surface and had to say goodbye to the turtle. Then the guys
came by, but the turtle had already been gone. And because of poor
visibility we failed to find it again. We swam for a little longer,
then returned to the boat, pulled the anchor, and headed back to the
Sometime later our spearfishers came back. When their boat came to
shore, our entire team gathered there to greet them. The meeting was
stormy. It looked as if the tribe was greeting their men returning
from the hunt, and, in fact, that was so. It turned out that the hunters
shot enough fish for us all. For dinner we had fried fish, fish soup,
and sashimi. And another day ended.
The story of this day will not be as long as the previous ones. We
didn’t dive on Day 5. Instead, we went canyoning.
Kawasan Falls are located about 20 minutes away by car from our hotels.
It is a cascade of one large and two smaller waterfalls. We were told
they looked quite spectacular. But just going sightseeing wasn’t our
intent. Instead, we drove about half an hour higher into the
mountains. From there, we were going to walk to the falls. Canyoning means
descending down a river. Not on rafts, but on feet. That is, it is
literally walking down the bed of a mountain river. Our team was led,
once again, by local instructor Wolfgang, for whom organising such
routes is a part of his business. He told us that the route was very
simple, and even children who could not swim would walk through it.
Wolfgang announced that in some places we’d have to jump from small
ledges into the water and swim. It did not scare anybody. All present
were freedivers, and therefore people of steel, capable of diving down
tens of meters on a single breath. However, after just 10 minutes we
came to the cliff, which ended with a five-meter drop with a rocky
pool at the bottom. Wolfgang declared that we had to jump.
Most of us were brave enough, and after a few moments of hesitation, we
one by one stepped over the ledge and plunged into the river below.
However, a few girls were not inclined to jump. Those who already did
it tried to cheer up the doubters and convince them that there wasn’t
really anything scary. It took some, but finally they took a leap of
faith, and we moved on. Fortunately for us, that was the largest
challenge we faced. For the next three or four hours we hiked down the
river. For most of the way the path led us along its banks, but in
some places the path was blocked, and we had to march right upon the river
bed. Besides, it was a hot day, and stomping upon the water was more
fun. Several times we stopped to rest and wait for stragglers. For
most of the way the river was about knee-deep or less. But in a few places
along our way it formed pools which were quite deep. In such places we
had to jump into the water and swim, as Wolfgang promised us, for
there was no other way around.
Finally we reached the first waterfall just to discover that is was
quite small, just a few meters high. I even thought in disappointment:
“Is that all?” But it turned out that it was just the beginning. Ten
minutes later we approached the second waterfall, which was a little
bigger. And after yet another 10 minutes hiking down the path we saw
the third one. And it was indeed a sight worth seeing. Water was
thundering down from 20-meter height and like a white shower falling
into the lake at the bottom.
However, the magnificent view was just a part of the attraction. At the edge of the lake a couple of rafts were parked. The rafts were made from thick stalks of bamboo bound together with ropes. Our team, accompanied by two local guides, boarded one of the rafts.
One of the guides instructed us to sit down, and then started to pull
our raft to the waterfall by means of a clever system of ropes
stretched over the lake. But instead of heading for the waterfall
directly, the guides directed the rafts into a narrow cave a few
meters away. They ordered us to lie down. Everyone obeyed, and soon we
understood why that was necessary: as the rafts were moving farther
into the cave, the ceiling began to decline and stayed as low as half
a meter above the water. There was barely enough room for us to lie
The guide continued to pull our raft forward, and in another few meters
we made a sharp turn. The cave suddenly ended and we saw a white wall
of water in front of us – we emerged beyond the waterfall. The guide
gave us permission to get up, everybody jumped to his feet, and soon
we entered the waterfall.
The stream of water falling on my shoulders from 20-meter height was an
unforgettable sensation. That was like a very hard shower, which
burned and cooled at the same time. The raft stopped so that the water
curtain divided it exactly in half. We were jumping back and forth through the
stream, shouting in wild voices and laughing. Then our guide pulled
the raft out from under the waterfall and asked whether we wanted more.
All shouted that they did, and the raft once again was directed to the
entrance to the cave, and we went through the waterfall over again.
And when it was over, we rested at the local restaurant located next to
the waterfall, had a delicious lunch, and drank rum. Everyone was tired
Upon returning to Club Serena, I headed directly to my hotel, because
all of us were very tired and I knew that that was all for that day.
After the “static” we all went fin-swimming. The proper swimming
technique is very important for a freediver because it allows him to
push himself through the water column most optimally. I decided to try
to swim in long freediving fins and borrowed a pair from a guy who had
the same foot size as I have.
He was learning to swim in a monofin at that time and didn’t need them. The fins were too large for me and felt loose on my feet, so I attached them to my feet with rubber bands. That helped and I was not afraid to lose the fins, but the friction of the loose rubber foot pockets on my feet was still pretty uncomfortable. Of our group of beginners, nobody could swim properly in fins because nobody had ever been taught. So, instructor Oksana set off on a task
of teaching us.
The easiest way of fin-swimming looks like this: legs must be stretched
out in a straight line, and the fins must be one line with the legs.
Then slow and very wide leg strokes are done, without bending the
knees. The legs work like scissors. This method is used in vertical
dives and underwater swimming. For swimming on the surface the
technique is similar, but the sweeps are made in only one direction –
from the water surface under the water and back to the horizontal
line. Fins should not breach the surface of the water – slamming fins on the
surface does nothing. At the same time the hands should be stretched
in front of the head to reduce the resistance of the water or,
alternatively, to move like in front crawl swimming style. The
freediving fins had larger surfaces than my own and swimming in them
was harder, but they allowed me to develop a greater speed. I didn’t
notice any other fundamental difference.
After about half an hour of swimming back and forth, Oksana showed us how to swim dolphin style. Dolphin is a more optimal fin-swimming style – it allows propelling oneself through the water using less force. Therefore, it is used in
freediving more widely than traditional style. Moreover, it is the
only possible way to swim in a monofin. In dolphin style, a swimmer’s legs
do not move relative to each other. Instead, the body performs a
“wave” that starts from the chest and rolls to the tips of the feet. Of
course, it goes without saying that perfecting a technique takes time,
but no matter how hard we tried, the result was still uninspiring.
After another half hour of our clumsy attempts, we went back to the
hotel – to swim in the hotel’s pool without fins.
I’ve been swimming for as long as I can remember, but nobody has ever
taught me a correct swimming technique. All that I know I learned from
watching others do and applying it to myself. Needless to say, I swim –
to put it mildly – not entirely correctly. I swim crawl ok. I found
that my breaststroke is satisfactory, too, but for some reason I was
spreading my fingers during the stroke and the water was literally
slipping between them. But I had absolutely no idea how to swim
dolphin style. I just did not understand what I needed to do with my hands and
legs to move forward. Having looked at my suffering, Oksana told me to
try to swim a “two-stroke” dolphin: this is when the legs move as in
dolphin and the hands as in crawl. But again – nothing good came out
of it. There was absolutely no coordination of movements between my hands
and legs; the legs were doing something on their own, and the hands
were also by themselves. However, after half an hour of swimming back
and forth, something started to come together. By that time everybody
was very tired, and a lunch was declared. After the lunch we were
going to do deep-diving without fins.
That time a wetsuit was not necessary. So instead of it I put on my
stinger suit – a full-body Lycra suit. It does not warm, but it
protects from the sun and jellyfish stings. Getting into water just in
swimming trunks with unprotected skin is not a very good idea in the
Philippines at that time of the year – the water is full of plankton
and jellyfish that sting. Most stings resemble mosquito bites, but one
of our guys was stung by something pretty badly: highly visible burns
on his legs took a few days to heal.
Divers use weights to compensate for the wetsuit’s buoyancy. For
example, I attached 2 kg of weight to my belt when diving in a 3mm
suit, which I borrowed at the hotel. That time the weights were not
needed, since we dived without the wetsuits. Led by Julia, our team
swam to the buoy, which was already set for us beyond the reef. The
technique of depth diving without fins is effectively a breaststroke
with minor modifications. It begins with a stroke with the hands, and
it is much longer than in normal breaststroke: the arms are stretched
down almost to the knees rather than stopping at the chest level. The
human body has a positive buoyancy, and shoving ourselves down through
the water column without the aid of fins is very difficult, hence
powerful and long hand strokes are necessary. After the stroke, arms
are returned back and stretched above the head. A leg stroke follows,
then the whole body is stretched into a straight line and for a few
moments glides through the water. Then the arms do their strokes
and so on.
We started trying, and I resumed my fight with the rope. A freediver
needs to “dive in”, i.e., to begin the dive, so that the rope is
directly in front his eyes. Otherwise, since we do not look down,
seeing where we swim is nearly impossible. In my case, I had a rope
appearing anywhere but in front of me. In addition, my arm strokes
weren’t powerful enough and couldn’t push me through the water.
Equalising pressure in the ears was also a problem.When we dive in
fins, one hand is stretched over the head, and the other one
immediately goes to the nose. Therefore, we can equalise at any time.
When diving without fins, however, both hands do strokes, and that
makes pinching the nose and equalising harder. All in all, I did not
do very well and did not dive deep, which is understandably due to my
lack of technique. Our diving session didn’t last long, because a few
people were just in swimming trunks and bathing suits. Jellyfish and plankton
made that an unpleasant experience for them, and they asked for a
permission to go ashore. Upon returning to the hotel, I grabbed a can
of beer, got into the pool, and enjoyed a well-deserved relaxation
after a hard day.
A bit later our spearfishers came back and brought two big fish, which
were immediately roasted and served for a dinner and turned out to be
delicious. The dinner was followed by drinks. Somehow, Moscow
freedivers prefer rum to all other drinks. A couple of hours later I
went back to my hotel, as it was already too late and a high tide was
approaching. Contrary to my concern, I was so tired after the hard day
that I fell asleep immediately.