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My experience in learning diving with a bad and good freediving club as a beginner diver

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miklcct

New Member
Oct 19, 2020
13
2
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I took an introductory skin diving class in 2017 by the local scout association (which consisted of a theory lesson and a lesson in a 3 m pool). However I didn't continue diving afterwards as I didn't get interested.

My interest in diving started this year (2020) just before summer. I got the idea of diving as an activity to do in the summer when it is too hot to swim. However, I had a perception that "diving is a dangerous sport" so I was afraid of it and didn't start early. The reason that I thought diving is dangerous was that, in freediving, BO / LMC is a real danger, and people also got "lung squeeze" or bleeding due to the pressure, while in scuba diving, when a piece of equipment goes wrong, or when you run out of air and do an emergency ascent, there are so many possible dangers like lung burst, nitrogen narcosis, etc. There was also an accident earlier in this year in local waters that, a scuba diver was lost and only found on the next day 27 km away (!!!) after a search-and-rescue operation. Luckily he was not injured when found.

Before that, in the past few year, when I was swimming, apart from swimming at the surface I also liked swimming underwater and playing with my buoyancy such that I could sink for float whenever I want. However I only stayed within 10 m as I thought that it would be dangerous going deeper with only swimming skills but not any diving knowledge, as it started to resemble freediving rather than swimming if my intention was to go deep rather than getting underwater occasionally to explore.

I got the contact of a few freediving clubs and chatted with their head instructors, including instructor C from the largest freediving club, and instructor O from another. I hadn't got through my mental barrier in June. However, in August I was tempted to learn diving again because it was really too damn hot to swim and I was so bored, and because it was my last chance to learn diving in a hot place (I plan to emigrate permanently next year to a place where the maximum sea temperature is only 18°C - which is good for swimming but too cold for diving - while the sea temperature where I live ranges 16°C - 29°C), I finally decided to learn diving such that I won't regret later in my life. I went to the largest and most famous freediving club with instructor C, but that's when my bad experience began.

I first contacted C and told him I want to learn diving, and explicitly asked him if it is possible to complete the course before the wetsuit season, and he told me that it was possible because the water is still warm until October. I then asked him if it is possible to learn AIDA 2 or PADI Freediver directly as a beginner, he then told me that if I had a scuba diving cert I should do AIDA 2, otherwise I should do AIDA 1. Moreover he also told me that, if I performed well in AIDA 1, I could top up to AIDA 2 by paying the difference in price and completing the remaining lessons (shore dive and boat dive) afterwards. The AIDA 1 course included a theory lesson (4 hours), and an STA + DYN pool lesson, and the AIDA 2 course included the same theory, STA + DYN, then a half-day shore dive (down to -10 m), and a full-day boat dive (down to -16 m), and a written exam. I then signed up for the AIDA 1 lesson according to his instruction.

I had an expectation that, in the AIDA 1 lesson, I would learn how to use my equipment (fins, snorkel, mask) properly that I could get comfortable with them, such that I could top up to AIDA 2 afterwards and complete the whole course before October before the club stopped operating in the winter. That club ends its open water lessons by October / November and resumes in May, so if I couldn't complete the lessons by October, I needed to continue next year from May.

The theory lesson was done early September. AIDA 1 and 2 pupils took the same lesson. It was taught by another head instructor P. There were 4 pupils in the class and if I remembered correctly, most or all others had scuba experience. One was even a scuba instructor. In the theory lesson there was a part which describe diving equipment. However, the main focus was on how freediving and scuba diving equipment differ, and the instructor also mentioned that "all scuba diving gears work for freediving" so I don't need to get a new set if I already have them. At that time I already had a snorkel (which I bought 2 years ago by mistake, I wanted a swimming snorkel but got a diving snorkel instead) and a wetsuit (probably a surfing wetsuit as I did sailing and windsurfing in the winter in the past). However, the instructor didn't do any demonstrations on actually putting on mask and snorkel.

I went to a dive shop and bought fins and mask, and brought them with my existing snorkel and wetsuit (which was not a strict necessity but highly recommended) to the STA + DYN lesson afterwards in mid-September. As the pools were closed under COVID epidemic measures, it was conducted at a sheltered beach. It was the last STA + DYN lesson before the pools were reopened. It was taught by another instructor A. There were 3 pupils: me (doing AIDA 1), a girl (doing AIDA 2), and a boy (doing PADI Freediver). The instructors (both P in the theory lesson and A in the STA + DYN lesson) spent a lot of time in breathing / relaxation technique when teaching STA, and guided us doing STA from 1', then 1'30", and finally 2". I had no trouble doing them but the girl doing AIDA 2 didn't get past 1'45" (so she couldn't complete that part).

Then I got a lot of trouble going into the DYN part. The instructor A told us to get ready, put on out mask, fin and snorkel while he was going out to set up the lines and buoys. However I didn't even know what's the proper way to attach my snorkel to my mask! Every snorkel was so different that there was no one way to put it on. My snorkel had a 8-ring and the one next to me had a clip. Moreover I had heard that in the theory lesson that, divers remove their snorkel when the breath-up was completed, put it on the buoy and begin their duck-dive. I couldn't understand how the heck I could remove my snorkel when it was attached to my mask. I asked the instructor and he was really surprised that I didn't even know how to wear a mask and snorkel! (What's the point of doing AIDA 1 then?!) Finally I wore it but I still didn't understand how the heck I could put my snorkel away before the dive. The instructor just told me to disregard that my snorkel was still attached and remove the mouthpiece.

The DYN line was set up to be 18 m, perpendicular to the beach that we started at the shallow part and went out deeper. The first time we were instructed to do from a few metres behind the shallow end to the deep end only. We were given a neck weight while doing that. My breath up was not good as I couldn't stabilise myself at the shallow beach while wearing fins and I was still having trouble with my snorkel, nevertheless I completed the course. The second time we were instructed to go to the deep end, pull the vertical rope connecting the buoy and the DYN line at the bottom to turn, and returning to the beginning of the line making 40 m. I still couldn't fully relax in the breath up because I was still not comfortable standing on the beach with fins and wearing my snorkel. I performed the course, went to the deep end and pull the rope. I immediately popped up and I panicked at that moment. I tried to get back down to the line but I couldn't. I was still so high in the water. I aborted the attempt at about 35 m. None of the other 2 pupils could complete the whole 40 m course.

Finally came the rescue part. I performed so bad that some of my action might hurt my buddy, e.g. I grabbed the neck while trying to bring the buddy out of water and tried to use brute force when removing the mask (I didn't know, or forgotten that the proper way of removing the mask was to pull the nose), because I was so stressed at that moment given my fins, snorkel, and the thing happened on my DYN before. I couldn't stabilise myself standing up with fins on.

I officially completed my AIDA 1 course because there was no completion requirement, but given all the bad things happened above the instructor had no confidence on me. Moreover I couldn't complete the 40 m DYN requirement so I still needed to have a supplementary lesson if I wanted to continue. The girl didn't complete both AIDA 2 STA and DYN requirements and needed a supplementary lesson as well. The boy completed the PADI Freediver requirement (because the requirement was only 25 m so it was fine for him despite not completing 40 m) and could went on to the shore dive.

The pool was reopened. I signed up for another supplementary lesson for my STA + DYN in early October. It was taught by the head instructor P. She demonstrated the DYN technique more thoroughly including starting and turning. I asked her about my snorkel again and she, again, thought me that I would know how to wear it (attaching it to my mask) when I bought it from the dive shop. Although I completed 40 m that night my rescue technique was still lacking a bit. She then told me that she still didn't have confidence to let me top-up my AIDA 2 and continue to my shore dive and boat dive this year, and as the club would suspend operation soon, she advised me to practice more and sign up again next year. To me this was not possible (because by next year when the club resumed operation I would have already emigrated). I was so disappointed at that moment. I spent a large amount of money in getting the AIDA 1 which meant nothing to me.
 

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miklcct

New Member
Oct 19, 2020
13
2
3
28
The only thing I could do afterwards was to start a new AIDA 2 course in another club which operates throughout the winter. I signed up for a course in another small club by instructor J. He is a new instructor and only started teaching last year. There was 4 pupils in that class, all but me had scuba experience. Two girls, who were friends, tried to learn freediving on an overseas trip but failed because they couldn't get past the equalisation point. In the theory lesson I brought my existing mask and snorkel and he told me to buy a new snorkel immediately. The blue one below is my old one and the pink one is the one I bought afterwards.

View attachment 56710

He also demonstrated that how to wear his mask and snorkel, and only at that moment it became obvious that I couldn't do the same using my old blue snorkel because it had a purge valve at the top, preventing me from pulling it out before duck-diving, and only at that lesson I knew that snorkel has to be worn on the left rather than on the right.

In my AIDA 1 lesson by P, the pupils didn't have much problem in doing Frenzel. However, in this lesson, all the other 3 pupils used valsalva in their scuba diving and needed to practice Frenzel. (I knew Frenzel already as I self-taught myself when swimming - I knew that valsalva was an inferior method with greater injury potential).

Yesterday I did my shore dive lesson by J. There were 3 pupils, me, a boy (Jacob) from the same theory lesson who had trouble doing Frenzel, practiced to the point of vomiting and finally could got it, and another boy (Tim) from another theory lesson. In the morning we did STA + DYN at a sheltered beach and in the afternoon we did -10 m practice. J was much better than my previous instructor A. For the STA, the teaching method was different. The previous club A and P guide us to do 1', then 1'30", then finally 2' all at the same time, and taught a lot of "relaxation" and "body scanning" skills. However, J didn't taught any of these. Instead, he taught STA like when we are practicing with our buddy, asking my previous time first, and suggest a target time for us to do, one by one. Which meant the first time I did I was already targeting 2' (as I did 2' in my previous class), and the second time I targeted 2'15" and completed it. Then he taught buddying and rescue. He taught everything in detail, including the communication before the start such as setting a target, arranging safety check, and for rescue, every step in detail as well including where to grab when pulling the buddy out, removing the nosepiece of the mask, the proper way of doing artificial respiration. I performed much better when compared to before, with only minor issues.

In the afternoon finally we got to the shore dive. We started by getting up and down pulling the line, I could get to -10 m without any problem. However they needed a few tries to get down. Tim got cold despite wearing a wetsuit (3 mm two piece) and needed to get out of the water to get warm under the sun before getting back. However I didn't feel cold despite not wearing a suit (my intention was to complete my diving course when it is still warm enough to dive without a suit, as wearing a suit is not comfortable). The air was 26°C and the water was 27°C. Finally everyone could get to -10 m by finning, and they thought that it was easier to get down by finning when compared to pulling the line.

Also I established my weighting. In the morning doing DYN, the instructor told me to wear 2 kg, and finally 3 kg. In the afternoon, he suggested 1 kg first, however when I got to -10 m it was way damn too heavy that I sank within a second there. I then ditched my belt away and I was perfectly neutral at -10, without bobbing up or sinking down, i.e. my weighting to get neutral at -10 m in the sea without a suit is 0.

We all 3 passed the shore dive lesson. I'm looking forward to the boat dive lesson in early November to reach -16 m.

TL;DR I got interested in diving this summer, signed up for an AIDA 1 course in September, the instructors didn't teach well and I couldn't do the things well, and couldn't continue to AIDA 2. I started another AIDA 2 in another club and the lesson was much better that I have got to -10 m successfully and established my neutral buoyancy that I'm looking forward to complete it.

I have a few questions for discussion:
  1. In the club by C, AIDA 1 and 2 students take the same lesson together with those without scuba experience signing up AIDA 1 at the beginning and those with scuba experience signing up AIDA 2. Is this a general practice over the world?
  2. Was my expectation correct that I expected to learn how to use my diving equipment (fins, mask and snorkel) in AIDA 1?
  3. In my first class the instructor taught a lot of breathing, relaxation and body scanning techniques in STA practice but in my better second class the instructor didn't taught these and went straight to doing 2' STA after teaching essential diving skills like pre-dive communication, safety check, recovery breathing, etc. Are these supposed to be taught in detail in beginner-level AIDA 1 and 2 courses?
  4. Most of the instructors I have met always suggest wearing a wetsuit all over the year because they place so much emphasis in keeping warm (and also for protection as well). However, the sea temperature here in summer can get as high as 29°C or even above (I once measured 32°C in a sheltered bay this summer!). Under that extreme heat under the sun I got so exhausted even when not moving so I couldn't swim for anything long. That's my exact reason I want to try diving.
    I'm so afraid of heat that I stop high-intensity swimming training in the summer when the temperature is over 28 - 29°C where heat stroke is a real concern. I currently prefer 16°C - 20°C when swimming naked, and I've been in the water as cold as 5°C, naked of course. Therefore I don't do marathon swimming in the summer here when the sea is 29°C, but I completed a 14 km swimming race in January when it was only 19°C in the sea. I'm looking forward to ice-swim after emigration. So, in general, how warm will you ditch the wetsuit and dive on skin? Do you think 25°C is fine for diving suit-less? Also, do you think that a 3 mm one-piece surfing wetsuit is enough to dive in the winter when the sea temperature is 16°C in the winter? I feel that I float so much in that 3 mm already, and I feel so uncomfortable with a bulky wetsuit so I want to avoid as much as possible to retain my freedom. (You know, freediving is about free of bulky gear)
  5. I establish that I need no weight to dive in sea water because I am neutral at -10 m without weight. Is it a common occurrence that people need no weight to weight properly in sea water? What will be the implication if I dive in fresh water instead where I expect my neutral buoyancy depth without weight to be only about -5 m? My instructor J told me that he used 1 kg weight in 3 mm suit. I asked him how much he use without a suit but he has never dived without one because he is afraid of cold. After the lesson yesterday he said he also got a bit cold in his 3 mm (in 27°C). Is anyone here whose neutral buoyancy point is at -5 m or above, or even sink right at the surface without weight? How does this affect your dive?
 

DivingNomad

Well-Known Member
Sep 21, 2015
206
91
68
I can't believe that they wouldn't show you how to wear and adjust your equipment in the first course and expecting the dive shop to show you how to wear or use your snorkel, that is terrible! I'd have asked for a refund if I were in your place. I also most definitely would NOT mix different skill and course levels together as an instructor especially in beginner courses. As far as I know, there are also limits on the maximum number of students an instructor can take in the water at the same time, for my agency, it is 5 students max in free diving courses and 8 students in scuba courses (in general) under ideal conditions without assistants but the number drops down if the conditions aren't ideal.
 

miklcct

New Member
Oct 19, 2020
13
2
3
28
The instructors in the largest club are the best freediving competitors here, but my feeling is that they only know how to teach people who scuba dive to freedive. Their way of instruction is fine for scuba divers because they already know how to use fins, snorkel and mask, buddying, weighting, etc. The biggest barrier to teach scuba diver to freedive is Frenzel.

However I'm the exact opposite. I have no scuba experience at all and I already know Frenzel, so what I need to learn are those basic diving skills mentioned above.

From what I seen is that most people who learn freediving already have scuba experience, is it true or not?
 

DivingNomad

Well-Known Member
Sep 21, 2015
206
91
68
The instructors in the largest club are the best freediving competitors here, but my feeling is that they only know how to teach people who scuba dive to freedive. Their way of instruction is fine for scuba divers because they already know how to use fins, snorkel and mask, buddying, weighting, etc. The biggest barrier to teach scuba diver to freedive is Frenzel.


This is no excuse for the way they treated you at all, AIDA 1 is specifically for people who practically know nothing about free diving or about equipment or any diving, it is starting from zero and hence they should have done their job and covered what they should have been covering by AIDA's standards! "Assuming" that you know something and not giving you what you are entitled to receive in terms of instructions per the agency's standards, is a violation of standards and unprofessional. I teach diving and I NEVER assume that the student knows the basic skills required in entry level courses even if they had prior training. I go by the standards for the respective course and don't assume or short change the students. I had students who were "navy" divers and they still have to go through all of the training required by standards. I always discover that these "all knowing" student experts were lacking in their skills and knowledge.
 
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