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Increasing Cold Water Bottom Time

Thread Status: Hello , There was no answer in this thread for more than 60 days.
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Wave Sailor

New Member
Oct 26, 2001
I've been practising in a 17ft deep warm (82 deg F) pool trying to get my times up for abalone diving. Typically in a session I'll start with 30 second dives to the bottom, improving gradually over an hour to my person best of 1:50. After lurking for a while and reading all the tips on this forum, I've learned to get into a relaxed, dreamlike state, improving my times dramatically.

In a shallower pool, I've trained for a few weeks to get my underwater finning time to about 50meters underwater using cheap scuba fins.

So I go out the last few weekends getting some newbie lessons on cold water gear (i.e. hooded vests are a good thing!) before I finally last week end have my gear together and find a good spot where the abalone are plentiful in 15-20 ft of water.

I figured my freediving skills up to this point would make me Joe Studly Abalone Hunter. Wrongo!

Last weekend I found myself in a 2-3 foot swell with 5 foot visibility hovering over ghostlike images of kelp. I have a two piece 7mm wetsuit with hooded vest which keeps my torso warm but has a little flushing in the arms and legs. The 24lbs of lead strapped to me to keep me neutral at 15 feet are also not helping me feel comfortable. With an hour of diving, I can't seem to do any more than touch the bottom before I get an overwhelming, almost panic stricken urge to get to the surface. After scaring myself by getting one of my fins caught in my own ab iron line at ~10 feet, I decide to call it quits.

Now just touching the bottom is not going to get me any abs, but touching the bottom + 15 seconds will, because I saw at least one legal sized ab on my trips down.

So I'm wondering if I can get past my current limitations in cold water purely psychologically (i.e. clamp down and force myself to stay down longer, knowing I have the breath hold capacity) or if I'm going to have to get a better wet suit to get myself warmer. My current set up will keep me from shivering after a couple hours in 50F water, but I am not exactly comfortable. Or, perhaps I just need to keep going out to get myself used to the cold/swell/visibility?

The reason I think my limitations may be psychological is that the time I got my fin stuck, it took me 10-15 seconds to get free - time I could have used to hang out at the bottom, so its clear that I have some reserve there. Later an old timer on the shore told me "if you see and ab, pop it, you have more air than you think". I've reached the point in my training where I think I can hold my breath indefinitely. Its only the spectre of SWB that keeps me from pushing things. Is it reasonable to try pushing my whimpy ~30 sec times to about ~45, knowing that my pb is 1:50? Or am I using more oxygen in cold water?

Also, when I got to 1:50 in a warm pool, the last 30 seconds or so I'm having contractions. I'm not sure if I get any contractions when I get my urge to breathe in cold water, causing me to bolt to the surface. Perhaps the spookiness of low vis is causing me to overreact to the first hint of needing air?

Thanks in advance! This forum has been a treasure trove of freediver info!

I wouldnt recommend you to force yourself to stay under water any longer. But to by practice and experience to get comfortable in cold water.
While beeing a bit paniced you use much more oxygen and therefore you really cant compare the times in pool..
Dive safe.

Most of the barriers in cold murky water are psychological. It can take months of practice to get comfortable. As Tuomo says, don't force yourself to stay down longer. Don't even look at your watch. Just spend the time in the water and get comfortable. This may be a heretical thing to say but you might even consider leaving the ab iron at home for a few times as you acclimatize to the environment.

Cold and anxiety will definitely limit the performance you had in the pool. The main solution to anxiety is practice (and a good buddy). The solution to cold is a good wetsuit. A proper freediving wetsuit with flexible neoprene, attached hood and no zippers has a remarkable effect on physical comfort, psychological comfort and swimming efficiency.

Good Luck!

Tom Lightfoot
since tom is saying that the barrier is phycological.....

i would say that to increase your bottom time (bt) you should try to reach that "dreamlike" state you tried to reach in the pool

if you concentrate on the line on your way down, and then the bottom in a systematic fashion looking for abalone or the like, once your there youll be surpried at how long you can stay under. Most of my longest bts are when i lose myself in the underwater world or in my thoughts and the you sort of just realize that you havent been to the surface in a while
which can be kinda scary but youll get used to it

and get a buddy it doesnt sound like you have one..

oh and ya get a good fitting wetsuit i helps alot

good luck
comfort factor

i can't relate to water below 76 degrees F, but i can relate to the overall comfort factor. like vince said, you kinda have to lose yourself. i try to get in rhythm with the ocean and just try to go with it. being at the top is the least comfortable for me, but when i have to be there, my body's limp as a noodle. the comfort factor can be maximized through several things. experience in the same environment is probably the biggest factor. other things would include knowing you have a buddy there and also being warm enough to where you're not shivering.

a huge mental aspect of it can be related to working out. when you say i'm going to do 10 reps of this weight, then your body will pretty much pooter out when you get to 10. if you're a boxer, you never want to focus on the target but a line straight through it. it just seems that if you set a depth in your mind, your body will limit it's performance specifically around that depth. and since i spear, i know first hand how manual labor at the bottom eats up your air, so you now have more of a challenge to overcome.

so i guess i'd suggest taking your mind off just getting to the bottom and think about how you're going to pop those puppies off the floor when you get to them. :D

safe gathering,

I'd say screw the dream like state, it sounds like hypothermia to me. Go the closest wet suit shops and have them put seals on your suit. When there ask about other cold freedivers. Join then for hot steamy drinks, plan a dive, go do it.

Cold is cold, you are in a bind, you need to stay warm (sympathetic n.s.), and stay very noodle like on the surface (parasympatheric n.s.), the words chill out do not apply.

Totally ditch the clock, do your normal breath-up on the surface and take a little bit of that noodle like feeling with you, in order to hunt well you must first feel safe and comfortable, perhaps a little crafty.

The is a safety first sport, try to find someone to dive with, preferabley a triathelete, who knows cpr, and has a great sense of humour.

Seals are not just for seals,


Doug Morgan,
Lantzville, B.C.
Warm and cozy

I've had the experience of learning to relax and feel totally at ease freediving in an overhead environment (which is a bit unnerving if you haven't done it), only to find myself becoming apprehensive and downright afraid in the same caverns as the months passed (water temp a constant 70 F year-round). With fear, my bottom times decreased dramatically from over 1:30 to less than a minute.

Why did this happen?? . . . I dropped about 20 lbs. (of love handles, not muscle) through increased training and better diet, so I began getting cold much faster despite being in much better c.v. condition. I could no longer relax but I dreamed alot . . . . about getting dried off and warm!!

-How did I solve the problem?? -Do like the Navy Seals and learn to tough it out??? -Not this old boy . . . I did what freediver 48 suggested to you . . . I bought a good 5 mm wetsuit, and now my bottom times are up around 2 min.
Hey, thanks for all your replies!

Looks like I may just have to bite the bullet and get a wetsuit that'll get me warm in 50F (north cal.) water. I currently have a cheapo ex-rental closeout 2 piece 7mm wetsuit that I've supplemented with a new hooded vest. I've got the funds for better but I've been waiting to make sure this is a hobby that'll last before I upgrade. I really dig the "dreamlike" state you guys are talking about and for me that's a big part of the draw. If that's the state you have to be in for optimal bottom time, I'm not sure I can get there unless I'm totally warm. Is it possible to get in the "dreamlike" state while not completely comfortable? Doesn't Eric Fattah dive in cold water to decrease oxygen usage? Or do you have to be a Zen/Jedi Master of some sort to get to that point? I can hang out in my current wet suit setup for a couple hours in 50F water without shivering, I just don't look forward to it. On the other hand diving around in a 70-80F pool in a 3mm jumpsuit is something I look forward to, and try to do several times a week.

The "off the rack" suit that seems to fit me best so far is an Xcel polar tridensity with chest zip and hood made of Yamamoto rubber. But the guys on this forum are so in love with Picasso/Omer two piece no-zip suits that I may have to try one on before I make a decision on what to buy. The no zip suits look like they'd be really tough to take off, though. And its pretty hard finding a shop that carries euro freedive equipment.

Oh and just so you guys don't think I'm totally rolling the dice with my life, I'd like to say that I'm not really all that crazy about abalone, but am really getting into freediving, and I happen to have a girlfriend that loves abalone but can't breathhold dive (yet). So guess who gets to watch over me while I dive? She's a strong swimmer, so I figure she could revive me or tow my unconscious carcass to shore if I blackout for some reason. But yeah, I guess an experienced ab diver would a better bet for a buddy. Though even with an experienced buddy at the surface, I think my mind would fill with those odd creepy thoughts that you get when 20 feet down in 5 foot visibility!

Best Regards,
Omer may still have some suits on close-out in your size. My brother picked up an Omer 5mm 2-piece for $148 US. It's a very nice suit, with nylon on the inside so it can be donned dry. Check out <http://www.spearfishing.com/omer/>. Contact Mark LaBocetta at the email address listed on the site - very helpful.

Picasso may also have some suits left on close-out. Contact Roger Yazbeck to help you at <roger@yazbeck.com>. He is very nice and will do a great job helping you find the right size, etc.

Remember that any suit tight enough to be efficient will take some effort to get on/off. But the difference in comfort/warmth is significant.

My Picasso 5 mm is closed cell on the inside, so cannot don it dry, but it goes on just fine if wet. A dilute solution of hair conditioner in water (about 1-10) makes the job a breeze. I make it up in a plant mister bottle that I keep in a plastic bag in my dive bag, and spray it into the suit - liberally into the arms and legs - before slipping the suit on. It's really no trouble to get it off either.

It takes me no longer on/off than it takes my brother to don his nylon-lined suit, and I have no trouble donning it sitting in a canoe (though the conditioner makes the hull a bit slick).

Hope that helps. [You can use your old suit for playing in the surf and your hooded vest makes a nice piece for warmer water, when you need only a little extra insulation.]
On the subject of suits I find the Escalpez titanium lined 2 pieces excellent. They keep me toaty for upto 6 hours in the chilly waters of British summer, and they slip one without the need of talc or hairconditioner ;)

Secondly I scallop dive - I suppose a little like your Ab diving but no prising necessary, just pick 'em up and bag 'em. The best picks are at about 30ft. On getting to the bottom I remain stationary for a few moments listening to my heart rate and when it decreases I move off - slowly - and start searching. I find this increases my bottom time considerably. Word of warning - I dive with a shoulder bag and sometimes you can come into a very nice patch and can pick up 5 or 6 nice sizes ones. This extra weight has on occasion caught me out and caused a little extra effort in surfacing. I therefore always end the dive 5 seconds early - just in case.

Just thinking about it makes my mouth water - will be counting the days until I can fish them again in March.

ya its possible to be in a dream like state when uncomfortable

2 weeks ago i had a cavity done and i was in such a dreamlike state that i didnt even notice he has drilled until he told me to sit up...

it just takes practise

i think that people call it alpha waves or beta waves or something like that i dont know.
oh well good luck
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