Go on, give it a try. Take a few deep breathes in and out then see how many seconds you can hold your breath for.
It's something I've struggled with for ages. I have a nasty habit of bleeding air out of my nose as soon as I wipe-out, cos I have an aversion to water gushing into my sinuses. The problem is, doing this means you have bogger all air left rather quickly, which gives rise to an equally quick onset of a mild state of panic as you scratch for the surface for a gulp of that all important oxygen. The end result is that I tend to avoid the bigger surf because I'm not into self-induced near drowning experiences!
So I was stoked to find out that freedive guru Hanli Prinsloo was stopping over in Cape St Francis to host one of her renowned breath hold courses for surfers. An eclectic mix of big wave surfers, free divers and I (the odd one out!) met at Gumby's house on Saturday morning.
We started out with some yoga, as apparently this can improve your lung capacity by nearly 50%. The pain of putting your body into positions it had no interest in being in was outweighed by the amusement of watching John Elliot, all 6ft7 of him, trying to do the Eagle pose - which should be renamed the "Twisted Koeksister".
Duncan Scott obviously moonlights as a go-go dancer, as he had a freaky ability to bend himself rather easily into all the various positions. Give the man a tutu! Recovering between "Down Dogs" and "Lizards" it turns out Duncs stops water moering up his nose in a wipeout by pulling his top lip up and blocking off his nostrils, rather like an exaggerated snarl. Gumby does the same. Now no matter how hard I tried, there was no ways my lip was getting anywhere near my damn nose. Duncan calls it Muntu Mouth. Maybe I don't have enough African genes! Damn, not fair - as it's a flipping useful trick.
After practicing some static breath holds on the mats (at which I was particularly crap - a whole embarrassing 58 seconds compared to some ou's 4 minutes!) it was off to the lounge to learn some really interesting theory. Like for instance, it's much better to black out under water if you run out of air than gulping water in desperation. Turns out your throat goes into an automatic spasm when you pass out and stops water getting into your lungs - which effectively buys you another minute or two to get rescued.
One of the key points of the theory session was emphasizing that holding your breath is really a mind game - your mind wusses out WAY before your body actually needs air. All the guys had their own little mind games to help them through heavy hold downs. Gumby imagines he's just down there free-diving and looking for a mussel cracker, whereas Duncan says he has conversations with himself whilst he's getting thrashed under water. Says he gets the lil positive voice to calm down the panicky voice and bargain with it, saying just hold on for another 10 seconds....then another....then another. Hell, my panicky voice tells my calm voice to p**s right off! Must work on that.....
Then it was off to the pool - practising breath holds in the water. I managed to up my time to 1min20, although still wussed out before my body even went into diaphragmatic contractions (which is what starts to happen as you system starts looking for air). Some of the guys managed over 4 minutes.
A 45 minute swim session from hell followed - certainly realised how unfit I am! All in all an excellent day, and I'd highly recommend that any of you looking to improve your breath hold time email Hanli to find out when next she's in our area for a course.
She trains all SA's big wave chargers, so us average surfers can definitely learn a few tricks to improve bottom time and hence get you out there in bigger waves.