One of the things we have been told time and time again is that the Philippines is one of the best places in the world for scuba diving. If you know anything about scuba diving, training and certification is required to dive with equipment, and the effort and time this requires varies based on how deep and long you want to be underwater.
After a hard day’s dive with our new friend Mitsuo.
J and I have debated for some time about getting certified, but just didn’t really want to set aside the time and work out the logistics to make it happen. However, knowing we were going to the Philippines, we didn’t want to pass up a chance to go diving if we could, so I started searching and making inquiries about the possibility of doing a one-day dive experience. Our lovely B&B, Hale Manna (which, might I add, was a steal at $70/night for a triple room), connected us with a local tour company called Freediving Philippines and I was excited to know we could squeeze that in our itinerary.
Come Saturday morning, we wandered down the beach to another resort to do our “classroom” training for 2 hours before practicing in the pool and then eventually in the ocean. When we arrived, we were a little surprised to find out that freediving is drastically different from scuba – no oxygen tank required! We would be diving with just a mask, snorkel, wetsuit and flippers! So, we wondered, what could this class possibly have to teach us about swimming as far as we could go underwater and holding our breath for a long time?
Well, as it turns out, a lot. First, we needed to know the basics about freediving: the goal first and foremost is to relax so that you are able to most efficiently use the oxygen you will store in your body by holding your breath as long as possible. Another big part of freediving is making sure you equalize the pressure on your eardrums from inside your ear drum versus the water outside your ear drum. In the video below, you can see us pinching our noses, which helps to ‘pop’ your ears as you go down. We also learned you shouldn’t dive while you’re congested, because you’ll have lots of sinus pain. Good for me, I was congested! I contracted some kind of virus right before we left and my congestion unfortunately didn’t clear up before we were ready to dive, so I was a little worried.
I figured it would be okay to at least try out diving in the pool first to see how I’d fare. First, we learned the methods of “belly breathing” and did a series of attempts to hold our breath. Sara and I averaged around 45 seconds, pushing our limits to about 1 minute total. J did much better and was able to go for 2 and a half minutes! Then, one other ‘student’ who joined us for the day, our new Japanese friend Mitsuo, was able to hold his breath for over FOUR MINUTES. Seriously? Are you freaking kidding me? (Edited to add: He was a really nice guy, though!)
After determining we were prepared to try our new skills out in the deep blue sea, we headed out to the beach. On this particular day, the waves were quite choppy as a low pressure front was moving in (an ominous warning for the rest of our trip). The waves made the simple task of snorkeling out to our buoy spot extremely difficult. Some of us even had to be towed out by our instructor, Wolfgang.
Once out in the middle of the ocean, our next task was to try diving down a few meters to get used to the equalization. The only problem was the water in the first few meters was extremely murky, so we couldn’t see what we were diving into. Again, for some of us without substantial water sport experience, this was a little too much to handle, so I gave it the first shot. After Mitsuo the professional breath-holder, that is. After each dive, we had to give the ‘OK’ sign to indicate we weren’t suffering from oxygen deprivation.
Just beneath the murkiness, you could see the ocean floor! It wasn’t too deep, and each of us took a few turns going down, though it was difficult to stay long as we weren’t able to relax much with the waves. Even though it wasn’t perfectly clear water or a vast expanse of beautiful sea creatures that we were hoping for, it was great practice for future diving excursions. Check us out!