by Glenn Venghaus, Freediver, Apnea Academy International Instructor
As long as I have been freediving , I have been mesmerized by the deep. Seeing so many world class athletes plunge almost effortless into the deep blue , only to return minutes later as if nothing happened with a big smile. Such beauty, such grace. I wondered, could one day this be me ? ......
Keep on dreaming Glenn I always though.
This feeling of insignificance compared to the big boys stayed with me most of my freediving carrier. Not as something bad, but more as a fact of life, strengthened by the always continuing struggle to equalize my ears properly and the feeling of struggle when i reached certain depths. Also a little fear of going deeper and bursting my eardrum again, as so unfortunately had happened in the very beginning of my freediving carrier.
So there I was, relative sure about my pool freediving skills, were I have proven myself on multiple occasions in the past via national records and competition results, but unsure about my abilities and real limits with regards to deep freediving.
Sure i was able to dive deep enough to teach my students the inns and outs of all aspects of freediving comfortably, but it kept nagging in my brain.... if I only put some time away for dedicated training, in the best freediving location on the planet , and the best coach there is , is there maybe some hidden potential buried deep inside off me.
I did not have much time the last couple of years since my normal day job (freelance IT consultant) , my teaching work as Apnea Academy Instructor and my social life with my sweet Patricia did not leave much time for any such time and energy consuming gap.
So I decided 2 years ago that , since I could not go much deeper I would just make it harder , and I switched completely to the ultimate form of freediving : non-assisted freediving or nofins freediving.
This was hard work and while people around me started swimming further and deeper with their big flippers , I was just focussing on technique and enjoyment in this difficult but beautiful form of freediving. And I started to love it. Never looked back anymore at those clumsy fins or monofins.
But then this year it happened. A gap in my work and social life and after long discussions with Patricia she convinced me to just go for it. And so I did , on the 17th of september 2009, after 3 month of dedicated hard training, I travelled on my own to Long Island, Bahamas to meet up and train for 3 weeks with my Apnea Academy Instructor colleague and friend William Trubridge. William is (for the few people on the freediving planet who do not know him) the current world record holder and undisputed expert in non-assisted freediving (Constant Weight without fins) with a literally breathtaking depth of 88 meters (check out the video of "HIS" WR dive below)
William Trubridge CNF World Record 88m
I met William 3 years ago on my own instructor course with Umberto Pelizzari (founder of Apnea Academy International and freediving legend) and became fascinated with his approach to freediving, which had scary similarities with my view on things. One thing lead to another and a bit more then a year ago we organised a no-fins pool masterclass with William in our school, where among other things he introduced his no-warmup concepts to us and invited me to come over to the Bahamas and train with him. And so I did........
After a long trip via the USA and Nassau I finally arrived in Long Island, the home of Deans Blue Hole, the deepest blue hole as far as we know (200 m) and undisputed best place for deep freediving. Water temperature 30 C, no currents, (almost) no thermoclines, and most of the time good to exceptional visibility. This years depth world championships are also held there in november. We timed it in such a way that the first week I would join Williams freediving masterclass and then continued to train for another 2 weeks. This also gave me enough rest possibilities in-between tough dive sessions.
William had set up a rental car (long island requires car since it is loooooooong) and a large apartment for me next to his own , that I would share the first week with co-masterclass instructor and world renowned yoga guru Simon Borg Olivier and US national record holder and masterclass in-water assistant Robert King. The remaining time I would share with David and Linda Trubridge, Williams parents who were also on the island for a family reunion.
After 3 days of acclimatization (Long Island is fucking hot !!!!!!!!! 33C average day temp and at night it does not cool down to less then 25 C) , it was time for the real stuff .
The Vertical Blue 2009 Masterclass
There were 10 mixed level students, from all around the globe, Mexico, USA, Germany, UK, Japan, Denmark, Italy, Bahamas and the Netherlands (hope i did not forget anyone) and some top notch instructors.
For the in water part, multi WR holder and CNF guru William Trubridge assisted by top USA freediver and NR holder Robert King.
Then Simon Borg Olivier , a legend in the yoga world and expert on breathing techniques (pranayama) as well as able to understand yoga from a freediving perspective as no other.
Closed off by Brittany Vanacore a psychologist and meditative expert.
The days were scheduled in such a way that in the morning we would mostly start very early with extensive yoga and or lung stretching exercises, followed by several hours of in-water training in the blue hole (of course). Then a (very) short lunch brake followed by the afternoon sessions made up of theory (Will), advanced yoga (Will , Simon) and meditation (Brittany).
The beginning of the week the diving sessions focussed on technique , efficiency and most important (for me at least) dive strategy , where you would brake down, analyze, perfect and program each separate section of a dive in its finest details and then you stick with it. From wednesday we started to adopt the no-warmup strategy which we stuck with onwards. Variable weight sessions tuned further our equalization techniques and when everything started to click personal bests were flying around our ears left and right every day. Some people made amazing jumps in performance , others smaller but just as significant but in the end everybody finished with a golden feeling of major accomplishments and a huge bag of new knowledge, techniques and experience that was worth every single penny !!!
The theory sessions by William in the afternoons were just as interesting mainly because William has such a profound experience and knowledge on the subject at hand and is someone who meticulously analyses every detail of what makes a dive a good dive, covering all parts , from the mental preparations phase to the special dietary needs , to the dive strategy, the in dive psychology to energy efficiency etc etc . I, as a born nerd and scientist, love this pragmatic approach and it seems to work for me at least ;-)
And that was only the freediving part.....
Man o man o man o man, how did Simon Borg Olivier shocked our world. After meeting this guy we all have a complete new understanding of what yoga is all about. Not just a bag of tricks and positions or extreme flexibility or vage floaty statements of would be gurus with nice sounding indian nicknames. No this was the real deal.
This man knows his stuff and most important , he know how to translate his knowledge into a well rounded way of educating people and making you understand what is import and why by letting you experience the difference yourself. His knowledge and deep found respect for freediving and freedivers (he constantly called us the gurus and that he was learning) and what we want and can get out of yoga closes the deal.
So day after day we were sucked into his world. At the end of the course he thanked us by doing a yoga performance for us at a very difficult but beautiful location on a out-sticking rock overlooking the ocean and crashing waves in strong gusts of wind which would make the most simple balance position a master feat.
check out his routine here (for medium to high bandwidh users, 133 MB total size, use the pause button to preload if bandwidth problems).
Simon Borg-Olivier @ Verticalblue Masterclass 2009 (21 min / 133 MB)
And then the master class was over and slowly people started leaving and when I was alone again in my apartment my real goal came into clear view again. Not that it was not there during the masterclass, but the program was demanding and I used it to tune up my technique , check and fine-tune my equalization I had worked on so long before getting here.
So together with William who also had to start training himself we started serious deep training sessions. I would buddy and assist him on his deep training dives and he would do the same for me. The sessions were peaceful , just the 2 of us in the water and the sound of soft waves in the background, each preparing in our own way for 1 big no-warmup dive every morning (excluding some days rest) quietly observed by dark shapes of large fishes (tarpons) in the deep hole hanging there motionless awaiting these single strange human shadows to intrude briefly and breathless into their world...........
And so it happened , while William was day after day moving deeper into the abyss beyond 80 meters on for him relaxed training dives I came closer and closer to my goal until I hit 50 meters unassisted constant weight in the final week. I still remember the dive as in a blurry but beautiful dream.
I float face up on the surface , breathing for about 5 minutes and dreaming of the beautiful world below me, while the sun caresses my face with morning rays. I feel wonderful and happy and a little trickle of excitement sometimes waves trough my body thinking about where i am going. Then I am ready , I take 1 deep breath, pack some extra air and turn around face down. I float motionless face down and just look down into the deep abyss. I am not in a hurry I tell myself. I have enough air for the dive plus a lot more. I re-adjust my fluid goggles to make sure there is no air trapped and only then I glide under and make my first stroke.
I count my strokes and slowly adjust my force according to the depth I am and the speed I need before I start my free-fall. I equalize effortless. My last stroke is there. I make it count with a little extra push and get into my freefall position at around 23 meters. My eyes are closed and I fall deep , deep , deep into the abyss, I feel the pressure enveloping and compressing me slowly like a loving hand. I keep my mouth fill topped up. I hear my alarm, time for a last big ,mouthfill, and i glide deeper and deeper as it gets darker and darker.
I feel like in a trance. My hand touches the plate at 50 meters, I made it !
Now slowly turn around , not too much force on the first strokes to not damage my stretched lungs ( since the pressure on my body is now a crushing 6 atm/bar ) and gradually I build up the power of each stroke. I feel strong , I feel super , I glide , I look around , and there is William at around 20 meters. Focus, stay in control , the most difficult and dangerous part the last 10 meters. Slowly I start releasing a little air to reduce some overpressure building up in my lungs and surface . 2 clean breaths and a very easy recovery. I MADE IT !!!
I look around and see Wills father smiling , Will smiling , I am smiling and then an explosion of energy and I scream out of happiness.
Then 30 seconds later the expected payback comes for the lactic acid buildup (a good sign) and 2 minutes of heavy breathing later and I can start to really enjoy.
Wow, I ..., me .... , 50 meters constant no fins, the toughest discipline there is , how is this possible. A warm glow fills me from within. I am at peace with myself....
Dive profile 50m CNF 06 october 2009, Glenn Venghaus, Deans Blue hole, Long Island, Bahamas
The remaining days I finished of with some relaxing free immersion dives to maintain a high fun and enjoyment factor, but after 3 weeks of repetitive deep diving my lungs start getting tired and I start feeling the effects of pressure. So I don't push it any further, because Ii feel the risk of a lung squeeze is starting to get bigger, and finish the 2 weeks with a relaxing 55 meters free immersion in my pocket and the knowledge that I can for sure dive even deeper with some more rest. But my time's up.
Now it is over and I am sitting at home reflecting my training period. I feel good and now i know what is there hidden inside me. It is no longer hidden, I am a real freediver !
I dreamt it and now i did it.........
I would like to thank William, who helped me make my dream come true, David and Linda Trubridge for their lovely ad warm personalities that helped me beat the loneliness, Sam Trubridge for his help on trying to learn Hawaiian slingshot style spearfishing, Brittany for her soft and loving character and mental support, Robert King for his great companionship and good buddy work and Simon Borg Olivier for the long nightly discussions on martial arts and yoga and his warm personality.
Also not to forget Patricia Ribas for her love and support and Peter Wurschy for his help during my tough pool training preparations.