Wanting to learn to freedive has been a goal of mine for the past 13 years. It started one sunny South African day in False Bay when I snorkeled down and sat on the sand glancing up at the beautiful kelp forest that surrounded me while practicing to hold my breath. At that time there were no freediving teachers in Cape Town so I bought the only book I could find on the subject and started to teach myself. A mere month later and after only a few sessions in the ocean unexpected events prevented me from pursuing it any further.
Many years later, and while on SCUBA, I would often watch those freedivers who joined me on shark dives around the world with awe. They looked so graceful, flowing through the water with the sharks around them, while I felt weighed down by my SCUBA gear. I was envious of their skill and felt compelled to explore a new dimension to diving.
I’m one of those people that believes in learning only from the best and good friend Jeff Ayliffe told me about Trevor Hutton, a South African freediving champion and the only South African to have broken official world records. Jeff had done Trevor’s freediving course and raved about it. So in 2008 I got hold of Trevor, went for my dive medical and planned to do his next course. Unfortunately work pressures at the shark centre I had just created got in the way and I had to cancel. It was only when I got to the Bahamas in 2011 that I reawakened my desire and need to learn to freedive competently.
It was clear to me while freediving with the sharks and the gregarious spotted dolphins of the Bahamas that I needed help. With improved technique I knew I would be able to stay down longer, and feel more confident in the water, and in particular amongst the sharks. I would also be able to get shots of the animals in a way I had not been able to, them coming curiously much closer to me without the interference of bubbles.
In the meanwhile, and since my first attempt to do Trevor’s course, I had heard that Trevor, being who he is, taught many already competent freedivers. Since I was a mere beginner I felt intimidated so I explored the possibility of doing a course with other instructors whose professional portfolios were far less overwhelming to me. But while their courses seemed to focus on breath hold, what Trevor promised to teach me was far more appealing: techniques that would make me a better diver, one that could handle things if they went wrong, one that was in tune with her environment, confident and capable in the water. This is exactly what I wanted to learn, especially given the animals I mostly dive with and the local, often challenging sea conditions. Three years later I gave Trevor a call again, and a few weeks later I was on his next course.
Nervous at first, I braced myself for what I thought would be a tough course. But not only did Trevor turn out to be the most patient and thorough instructor, who offered a top class course, but he was able to judge my abilities and pushed me only as far he knew I could go – often a lot further than I knew I could go myself. The course included theory lessons, pool sessions and Blue Rock sessions where skills were honed, and then, what I had done it all for, ocean sessions! Soon I found myself stretching my lungs and holding my breath till they burned to stay down with the cowsharks of False Bay – heaven! Returning to the Bahamas remains my dream to really practice my new skills…
Do I now consider myself a freediver? No, it takes a lot more than what I have done to wear that label, plus I have equalizing challenges to overcome. Besides I’ll always be first and foremost a SCUBA diver, needing bottom time to support my private obsession, underwater photography. In addition, getting to know Trevor and meeting and diving with other freedivers, including Trevor’s friend, Herbert Nitsch, I recognize them to be in a class of their own. But for certain I have learned skills and a new way of the water which I feel driven to improve upon further – there truly is nothing comparable to only a breath of air in my lungs, the precious water against my skin, the stillness, and the sharks and fish fearlessly close – it is then in that silence that I really get to hear the Ocean and feel at one with Her.
With the records he holds and his years of experience, which surpasses any other South African freediving instructor, and the fact that he is also an awesome person, I highly recommend Trevor’s course – contact him via his website to find out when he is running the next one http://www.trevorhutton.co.za/
Thanks to Coral Wetsuits for my awesome red Shark Warrior wetsuit!
Watch my space!