Like every regular Saturday on the beautiful island of Xiaoliuqiu, I am heading to Dafu harbor with my old motorbike, a buoy at the front, and my fin bag on my back. I already know I will not be able to park next to the beach. And as expected, it is packed with scooters, kayaks, stand-up paddleboard, and of course, freedivers. The sun is shining on the beautiful ocean and on the dozens of freediving buoys floating around the “so-called white cake.” 99% of them have beautiful wetsuits, 85% have carbon fins, but how many know what they are doing? As I am watching with a smile the tremendous growth of my beloved sport, I hope that all of them are well prepared, well trained, and ready to act in case of an accident.
When I started freediving in Bali, I was not allowed to train by myself before to have finished the third level of my freediving journey, which will match the AIDA 4 level. I was astonished when I arrived in Taiwan to witness all these AIDA 2 practicing by themselves. I was less surprised, though, when I started hearing about accidents happening. The ocean is not our friend. We are just humble guests at the table of Poseidon. To be safe, we need to train to react fast and to react right. I am far from certain that it is the case at the moment.
Aware and Prepared
And this is where the AIDA FEMR course is entering the game. The AIDA Freediving Emergency Medical Responder course was released in August 2019. It was developed by the founder of “The Diver Medic” Chantelle Newman, AIDA Medical Officer Oleg Melikhov, and Education Officer Brian Crossland. This course aims to prepare every freediver, whether he/she is AIDA or not, to react right when confronted with a bad situation. And this is valid “In the water” but also out. I was thrilled when I heard about and booked my place for the Instructor course in Seoul. With more and more people conducting independent training regularly and starting to freedive deeper, I was sure this course was crucial for the development of freediving.
It was challenging to find accurate pieces of information about freediving injuries. Take, for example, lungs and trachea squeeze. How to face them? Besides going to see a doctor who knows nothing about freediving, drinking a lot of water, and stopping diving like… forever. Freediving is so new. We have to admit we know very little. We even do not know the consequences of all this hypoxia and Hypercapnia on our health in 40 years.
It was relieving to find answers to all my questions. In the significant majority of “spitting blood after dive” cases,” it has nothing to do with a lung squeeze and everything with a trachea squeeze. This, of course, does not change the fact you have to rest and stop diving immediately. But it is reassuring to know your lungs are not damaged.
A freediver is as good as his safety skills.
Freediving is still depicted as an extreme and dangerous sport. The media like to play on the sensational. The terrible (In my opinion) Netflix “Home game” did not help change our sport’s image. Yes, freediving looks dangerous, but no, it is not. After all, freedivers know what they are doing, aren’t they? At least, this is what I thought. But during the FEMR course, I realized I knew little about the ocean and its dangers.
How to manage a Black-out? How to react if you get stung by a jellyfish? What to do in case of a strong allergy reaction? What exactly is barotrauma? When freedivers have a risk of decompression sickness? When and why breathe pure Oxygen? What if you bang your head while exploring a swim through on green island? How to deal with the wound to avoid infections? And what about the neck injury?
I was a safety diver for the Australian national freediving championship. I like coming at least two weeks before the event to dive with the competitors, to build trust. During one of the pre-competition practice, we had a lot of strong currents. As I focused on my job, I did not realize the current pushed me just under the platform. I banged hard my head under it. My neck was painful for at least a week. I figured it would pass with time, and luckily it did. But I should have rested, immobilized my head, and go to the hospital for a check-up. It could have resulted in a concussion, brain damages, and other delicacies. At this time, I did not know, and nobody advised me to do so.
Another example: What if you miss one equalization? Beginners think it is ok if they feel a little pain. After all, it is just a little. Often they come back and are telling me they have water in the ear. It happened to me. I used to jump on one foot, thinking the water was going to go out. But If this feeling follows a dive during which the equalization was difficult, it is not water. If you do not equalize properly, the middle ear’s reduced gas volume is compensated by blood and tissue fluid. Ultimately, the blood vessels become over distended and rupture, bleeding into the middle ear space. The feeling of water in the ear is this and, it takes days to properly heal (“so imagine if you rupture your eardrum”). This small injury can occur at a very shallow depth (1m to 2m). If you do not equalize appropriately by the time you reach this depth, the barotrauma is likely.
What about drowning? Learning the right things to do can preserve lives. Imagine you are coming back from the far away 35m mooring buoy in Dafu, thinking about your tremendous progress, when you see somebody drowning. These few moments following the accident are crucial, and life can depend on you reacting the right way. We all should know where to find the closest Automated External Defibrillator (AED) (by the way, there is one In the Petrol station next to Dafu in Xiaoliuqiu). Using one within the 3 minutes increases the survival rate by over 80%. Yes, 80%.
These are examples, among others. There are so many scenarios, so many situations can go wrong. We all should be prepared. It is an essential part of our sport, and I think a freediver is as good as his/her safety skills.
So what about you? Are you ready to pass to a whole new level? To be a reliable buddy that everybody trusts and wants to train with?
Take a course, EFR, EMT, or the AIDA FEMR, and be ready to act if you have to.
It is time to change the public perception of our sport. It is time to make freediving safe.