TheLoneRider
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Freediving
Freediving Course in Apo Island with Jean-Jacques Gautier Apr 11-22, 2017

Freediving Certification Course in Apo Island with Jean-Jacques Gautier of Plongeurs du Monde

Program: FAKP (Future Apo Island Kids Program)
Teacher: Jean-Jacques Gautier
Organization: Plongeurs du Monde
Venue: Mario Scuba Diving and Homestay, Apo Island (barangay), Dauin (municipality), Negros Oriental (province), Philippines
GPS waypoint: 09°04'40.08"N 123°16'09.19"E

What is Freediving?
Freediving is going down the depths without the use of oxygen tanks - only one breath. With this breath, you go as deep as you can and as long as you can. It can be recreational, but it can also be fiercely competitive with alpha divers trying to stay a little longer and a little deeper than the other guy. Although counter-instinctive, there are proven techniques to hold the breath longer.

Jean-Jacques Gautier
While teaching yoga at Mario Scuba Diving and Homestay, I was privileged to participate in a Freediving course together with the 6 Dive Master students, as conducted by Jean-Jacques (JJ) Gautier of Plongeurs du Monde. JJ is a soft-spoken amiable man who radiates peace and calm - you could mistake him for a taller version of Ben Kingsley as the Mahatma. He has 49 years experience in freediving and has been a freediving instructor since 2004. He is affiliated with PADI, AIDA and the French Federation (Federation Francaise d'Etudes et de Sports Sous Marins). He has done dives with freediving legends across the globe. Without using the Zen word, he imparts relaxation, harmony, peace and mindfulness with what he teaches. He would often say, "do not fight with the water". With professional competence as a scuba dive instructor as well, he finds synergy between the two worlds despite growing industry discord against each other. It is a rare privilege to be tutored by one of the world's best freediving teachers.

Freediving Certification Course in Apo Island with Jean-Jacques Gautier of Plongeurs du Monde
pulling down on the 20m rope

Plongeurs du Monde
JJ is in the Philippines as one of the senior trainors of the Plongeurs du Monde, a non-profit french diving instructors training underprivileged kids for various dive certifications for free - Advanced Diver, Dive Master, Emergency First Response and Rescue Diver and Freediver. This is the organization's 7th consecutive year working hand-in-hand with Mario Pascobello's FAKP (Future Apo Kids Program).

Warm-Up
Formal class starts with stretches consisting of tricep stretches, neck stretches, side bends, forward bends, yoga-plow and twists. Breathing was essentially Pranayama (breath control) with Uddiyana Bandha (belly suction) and Kumbhaka (breath hold). All this is the same as yoga to me.

Water Training
Our training spanned static dives while holding the breath long, staying relaxed. The swimming component was for 400m with mask only and 800m with mask, fins and snorkel. This was followed by 5m dives beginning with a duck dive, going down and doing a somersault on the way back, keeping form and poise the entire time. The last component was on 20m-depth with a rope anchored to the bottom. We pulled down on the rope as far as we could manage.

The Trick
When the need for air becomes too pressing, instead of tensing and swimming-up to the surface, do the opposite! Still underwater, relax, move the head around trying to loosen up and just try to observe what you see instead of focusing on the increasing difficulty. You'll notice that you can actually stay a little longer. The initial panic is really just a scare - you still have a few more seconds. In 2012, German freediver Tom Sietas held his breath underwater for 22 minutes and 22 seconds! (Wikipedia)

Sunday One-on-One
On Easter Sunday when there was no yoga and freedivivng class, JJ was kind enough to take me to the water to practice with him 1-on-1. There was no time pressure. On static breath-holds, I was able to push my limits way beyond what I thought possible. I was surprised that beyond the panic-point (when most people would surge up to gasp for air), there was still more time left...a lot more although the discomfort increased progressively.

After, we proceeded to the 6m depth and did a series of duck dives. I was still having difficulty keeping my chin to my chest as I went down, since I wasn't seeing where I was going. I had it nailed and surprised myself at the considerable ease I had staying long at 6m before heading up. I was gung-ho. I repeatedly went at it, feeling more confident with every attempt. I was on new ground. What a rush!

I thought I've really reached my limit until JJ assured me I could do much more in the coming days - WHOA!

Boat No-Show
Again, for the 2nd day in a row, we waited on the beach for the boat that will take us to 20m but it was a no-show. It was very frustrating. I hope these chronological procedures for the day are mapped-out by a logistics guy so things are not left to chance or at least identify problem areas that can be addressed. Anything is better than getting a reassurance from the boatman he will come at 8:30am and not show up with no word whatsoever - leaving us waiting on the shore for nothing. I went scuba diving instead.

15m Dilemma
On the last dive of the last day, I went for broke. I would reach all the way down to the 20m depth - no matter what. Now was the time. If I don't make it back to the top, JJ was there for the rescue. On my dive, I pulled-down the rope until I could see the bottom. But on reaching 15m, I could no longer equalize as the volume of air in my lungs were too compressed for equalization. I knew this would happen. JJ told us what to do - to pump air back into our mouth and pressurize the mouth to equalize. But at that new depth, still nervous if I had enough air on the way back, I could not perform the 15m equalization. I pressed-on going down, but my ears were in pain. I had to start my ascent. That's the deepest I ever reached on this course - 16.6m.

Ending Thoughts

Hello Death
I've done freediving on my own for years, trying to go down as deep as I could but never pushed my limit beyond the first panic-point. With JJ's teaching, I gained confidence going further down until the next panic-point, and the next. So far, I've reached the 3rd panic-point before I head up to the surface. My burning question now is, how many panic-points can I ignore until I face the real deal - when I no longer have enough air on my way back? There was an element of Russian Roulette to it. By pushing my dive, every descent essentially brings me face-to-face with death - and then come back up to tell the tale. And this is what sets freediving apart from scuba diving. Scuba diving is a recreational pleasure (OWD) while the freediving is pushing your limit, getting a sense of your fragile mortality as you gasp for life-giving air when you finally reach the surface.

Yoga-Freediving Private Practice
For my own private practice, and also if I should teach freediving at some point (my certification papers are being processed), I would integrate yoga and freediving as one singular package - full asana, pranayama, freediving and meditation, in that particular order. I find freediving no different from yoga - the same elements apply. The stretching uses yoga asanas, breathing exercises are all pranayama, mindful descent is a meditative vinyasa, breath-hold going down is kumbhaka and remaining calm as the panic-point is reached is non-reaction. Indeed, freediving is aqua-yoga.

Gratitude
My profound gratitude to my teacher Jean-Jacques Gautier for being giving, for being 'there' for all of us, and for being a great example of a human being. With his prospect of coming back to the Philippines next year to conduct freediving courses, I eagerly look forward to working and learning from him again.

--- TheLoneRider

ps - If you want me to objectively write about a freedive experience in your dive shop, email me.

Freedive Training Blogs by TheLoneRider

  1. Freediving with Jean Pol Francois of Freediving-Planet July 22, 2017
  2. Freediving with Ben Meerhaeghe at SeaQuest Dive Center June 16, 2017
  3. Freediving Certification Course in Apo Island with Jean-Jacques Gautier of Plongeurs du Monde Apr 11-22, 2017

underwater pictures shot by Jean-Jacques Gautier



Reader Comments:

Chai MateoChai Mateo
(Apr 30, 2017) Sayang! I planned to go visit u there for freediving but schedule did not permit :( now you're in Dumaguete na, right? If u decide to teach, I'll surely join I'll try the trick next time coz up to now i still panic and go back up fast

Mario's Scuba Diving and Homestay

Mario's Scuba Diving and Homestay

  • Contact: Mario or Mila Pascobello
    Email: marspascobello@hotmail.com
    Mobile: 0906.361.7254 / 0915.819.3607
    Dive Services: fun dive, PADI diving courses, advanced OWD, rescue, EFR, dive master
    Homestay: rooms with private veranda, private toilet with shower

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