One Breath: The Mental and Physical Possibilities
By: Sierra Rafacz & Kim Rafacz
I can’t begin to describe the peace I felt underwater; the silence and pressure were comforting. While my anxieties were prevalent on the surface they disappeared beneath the waves. With absolute confidence, I can say freediving has changed my life and my eyes have been opened to a completely new part of the ocean.
As SCUBA divers since before I was born, my first vacation memories are of my parents introducing me to the beauty of the ocean.
About a month before my mom was coming to help me move home after my Freshman year of college, the Nova Southeastern University Academic Dive Program announced a series of freediving courses. The series would span Intermediate Freediver Certification, Safety Freediver, Freediver Supervisor, and Freediver Instructor for those appropriately credentialed. Coming from Arizona, most of our diving experience is in the Sea of Cortez in Mexico. There are amazing marine mammal encounters at one of our favorite sites and my family has talked for years about getting freediver training so that we could spend time with the Lobos del Mar (Sea Lions), silently in their world and uninhibited by tanks. This class was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and we knew that if we wanted to get trained in freediving we might as well get trained by the best! We briefly talked about the course, but there wasn’t much to say; of course, we were going to sign up!
As we stepped into the classroom Friday night, we had no idea what to expect. The course was taught by the PFI founder himself, Kirk Krack. Joining him in instructing were Brian Shreve (Training Manager at International Training) and Virgil Price (Instructor Trainer at Florida Freedivers). Needless to say, the company was intimidating and the bar was high. Freediving seemed both thrilling and daunting. I couldn’t help feeling my breath-hold skills would be inadequate for the class and it was all going to end up being horribly embarrassing for me. My mom, used to being confident in her role as a physician anesthesiologist, began to wonder why she thought she belonged here or had the capacity to do this! Always ready for a challenge – off we went!
In typical first-day fashion, we introduced ourselves. However, a question was added to our introductions. Kirk asked us to explain why we were taking the course. “I want to be free,” I said, knowing that without all the SCUBA equipment I would be much more agile as a freediver. “I’ve been freediving for a while but I want to be safer,” another answered. The experience levels in our class ranged from none at all to people who had been freedivers and spearfishers for years. I walked away from our first class humbled, a little intimidated, and excited for what the next few days held.
Kirk walked us through the first steps of freediving and safety the next morning. I did my best to soak up his information like a sponge. He talked us through the steps of dealing with a loss of motor control (LMC) as well as a blackout, explaining three blow-tap-talks, and steps thereafter. I was fascinated. I remember taking my Open Water SCUBA class as a young girl. My instructor had extensively gone over the dangers of freediving without talking about the joys, and it planted a little seed of fear in my mind. Yet, as Kirk went over the safety protocol, he made it seem manageable with the right steps. A huge weight fell off my shoulders as my anxiety about the class slowly dissipatedHe explained how uneducated and uncertified divers were giving the sport a bad reputation, and I was suddenly glad that I decided to take the certification class rather than attempting to teach myself.
The next few days we took what we learned in the classroom and headed to the pool to put the skills into practice. From there we went to the blue open ocean. We would spend hours working on our skills in warm water 600 feet deep drifting for miles in the Gulf Stream. Our carbon-fiber rig dropped weighted lines into the clear water as we floated in our own little ecosystem. Every skill for both technique and safety followed a natural progression. The instructors were incredibly patient and helpful, giving each of us personalized advice to enhance our experience. Before we knew it, we were capable of four-minute static breath holds, safely diving to 20-30 meters, and administering the safety techniques which, yes, did successfully recover two of our divers on separate occasions from an LMC!
My mom stayed after the Intermediate course to complete the remainder of the courses over the next 4 days. In her words, “I have never been more humbled, exhausted, or exhilarated as I was at the completion of the Freediver Instructor course. Freediving challenges a diver to be calm when physically challenged, relying on self and the mind-body connection rather than equipment. I was privileged to buddy up with Tec Clark and Larry St Georges for this amazing and challenging experience. At times, the instructors asked us to attempt skills that left us, the Instructor Candidates, looking at each other with wide eyes, a smile, and a nod of the head with ‘here we go!’ We had the confidence that they wouldn’t ask us to do anything they didn’t believe we were absolutely ready for. And they were right! We all got over our own speed bumps and successfully completed the Instructor course. Of all my certifications, I am most proud of Freediving. Correct – an individual doesn’t need a C-Card to call themselves a Freediver. However, once educated, the potentially life-saving value of certification is priceless!”
Testing limits, spearfishing for dinner, and relaxing with some aquatic friends, we are looking forward to what the future holds! We are also incredibly thankful for the NSU Academic Diving Program who hosted the class and PFI’s amazing staff. Our advice for anyone who even has the slightest interest in freediving: Do it! It may seem scary and impossible, but with the right techniques and safety measures, you will surprise yourself with how far you can go!