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Freediving: Dive with One Breath

Photo credit: Yoshua Surjo (Ousia Freediving Academy)

I have always wanted to be a mermaid and when I found out about freediving from my friend, Elyas, I was determined to learn.

Freediving is underwater diving using one breath, without the use of any breathing apparatus.

I was staying in Surabaya and, due to COVID-19, I decided travelling overland to Bali was the safest option. My friend, Imelda, agreed to drive me to Bali. The car ride took about seven hours, departing from Surabaya to Ketapang Ferry Terminal in Jawa Timur, from where it took around one hour to arrive at Gilimanuk Ferry Terminal in Bali.

After some research, I decided to join Ousia Freediving Academy located in Pemuteran, Bali. It is a short 30-minute drive from the ferry terminal. We stayed at Kuda Laut Bungalows where my AIDA 2 freediving certification was to be taken.

Kuda Laut Bungalows
Kuda Laut Bungalows

My freediving instructor was Yoshua Surjo who is one of the most experienced and skilled freediving instructors at the academy. He is the first Indonesian AIDA instructor and trainer.

The AIDA 2 certification takes two and a half days and comprises both theory and practical lessons. You are required to pass the theory test and meet the requirements of the practical test to qualify: two minutes static, 40m dynamic, 16-20m constant weight.

The first practical lesson was static breath-holding, which required me to relax, take a deep breath, and stay underwater for as long as I could. The passing time is two minutes.

With my head and body fully submerged in the water and a snorkel in my mouth to breathe, Yoshua, with his soothing voice, guided me to do a body scan to relax and let go of the tension in every part of me. I focussed on the sound of the birds and cleared my mind of stressful thoughts. The stillness was a huge welcome and I felt my stress and tension drift away from me. With full relaxation, we can hold our breath longer. Once I was fully relaxed, I took a deep breath to fill my lungs, gently took out the snorkel from my mouth and started holding my breath. Once again, Yoshua guided me to relax my body, especially the tension in my neck and shoulders.

Everything was fine and peaceful until I had my first few contractions – our body’s response to let go of the carbon dioxide that builds up when we hold our breath. I was told to let the contractions flow through me and to follow its movement. I held on, despite my brain screaming at me to breathe! More contractions and slowly I got into a position to come up from my breath hold – hands touching the edge of the pool, feet down and finally I raised my head. Immediately, Yoshua guided me to do recovery breathing to fill my lungs with oxygen. It was an incredible feeling! My breath-holding time was two minutes on the second attempt.

Next was my first practical open-water lesson. It was a disaster, to say the least. I had never worn fins in my life and I felt helpless in the sea because I was trying to stay afloat. I was clutching the buoy for dear life. Yoshua pointed out that I needed to calm down, and to swing my legs and fins back and forth slowly so that I would stay afloat. I calmed myself down and, amazingly, it worked. Then, he taught me to do a free immersion, which is to take a full breath and to pull myself down with my arms using the buoy line. After many tries, I could only reach four metres; I was creating barriers due to fear.

Yoshua believes in customising his lessons to his student’s needs, so he decided that building my water confidence was of utmost importance before I could progress further. He brought me to Biorock for the next lesson. Biorock Indonesia focuses on the conservation and rehabilitation of coral reefs with Biorock technology in an effort to save corals through coral planting on metal structures.

We swam out from the shore and, after setting up the bouy, Yoshua told me to “play” which basically means to enjoy myself in the water. He wanted me to see the fish and corals so that I would be comfortable with the sea. Imelda came along to cheer me up. I observed Yoshua freediving like a merman and I was filled with envy. I took a deep breath and dived down. I saw some clownfish as I was diving down. I swam towards them so gently that the four clownfish were shocked when I was in front of them. I could see them looking directly at me in shock and I started laughing underwater. I was full of adrenaline and I knew that I must learn to freedive because there is a beautiful world underwater to explore.

I didn’t pass the certification requirements, so I stayed on and continued my freediving lessons. After every open water lesson, Yoshua went through my techniques with video analysis and that helped me to improve. I corrected my mistakes in the next lesson. Finally, I met all the requirements. I got my AIDA 2 certification and I was over the moon.

I had a fun dive session with Yoshua to celebrate. Coral and sea life is thriving in Pemuteran. I fell in love with freediving and I am glad I learnt freediving from the best teacher. Yoshua emphasised correct technique because that is the fundamental step to be a safe freediver. In freediving, you need to buddy with another freediver, so if you do not have the correct techniques, you are risking your buddy’s life and your own. Yoshua expects high standards from his freedive students in terms of proper techniques, hence I am 100 percent glad I was certified by him. On top of that, Yoshua is a great photographer and took some beautiful shots of me diving. That is always a plus point!

Photo credit: Yoshua Surjo (Ousia Freediving Academy)

I am not the fittest and it took a lot for me to push myself out of my boundaries to face my fears in order to get my AIDA 2 certification. I learnt to silence the noise in my head which always caused me to doubt myself. I learnt to believe in my inner ability. Freediving allowed me to understand my mind and my body better. The peace I felt diving to 20 metres is indescribable. It felt like I was flying and so weightless. I can’t thank Yoshua enough for not giving up on me and for opening up a whole new underwater world for me to play in and explore. Also, I found a Bali family with Yoshua, Catherine, and the friendly staff at Kuda Laut Bungalows.

I returned by ferry and train to Surabaya and immediately felt lost in the city and away from the sea. In Surabaya, I joined a freediving community called Apnea Surabaya. I practice freediving with them weekly and even joined a freediving trip to Pasir Putih.

Try freediving and you will not regret it when you discover the ability to dive peacefully with the creatures of the sea in their beautiful, colourful world.

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