Nothing is more fantastic than free-diving in the waters of my own beautiful homeland. Floating face down on the surface of Walden Pond, in the world I forcibly left behind, instructor, Nick Fazah, from East Coast Divers is by my side as I prepare myself, physically and mentally, to descend head first, into the deep dark, on a single breath. I breathe through a snorkel, in for two seconds, hold for two and out for five, my back and legs tremble with cold shivers towards the end of every exhale. Even two layers of open cell wetsuites, a 3.5 mm topped with a 5 mm, can’t compete with New England water temperatures in October. I get chills from the frigid water sneaking through edges of the suit while I try to relax my body, meanwhile, in my mind I go through the sequence of procedures I’m to do next…equalize, remove snorkel, reach, sweep, equalize, kick.
I focus and breathe in my final relaxed breath, filling and expanding the diaphragm first, then chest, then shoulders, gulping one last bit of air into the throat. I free my mind and am ready. Bending at the waist, I bring the legs up and descend swiftly with arms outstretched overhead, maintaining eye contact with the line which leads the way. Sweeping my arms through to position, I equalize, again and again, kicking strong, long strokes to deliver me deeper and deeper.
Nick effortlessly follows suite, descending downward after me while watching my every move intently, making mental notes as to what I am doing, not doing, and what I can do to improve.
We begin to emerge upon a colder and darker atmosphere, the thermocline acts as an invisible blanket, separating the warmer, lit water above from the black, abysmal waters below.
…the thermocline acts as an invisible blanket, separating the warmer, lit water above from the black, abysmal waters below.
I know we’ve arrived at 10 meters (33 feet) because Nick’s mask light has turned on. Our lungs are compressed to half their original size, the depth hugs at my chest but I keep on, kicking less, equalizing more, naturally sinking, calmly and silently. The line goes by faster and faster…
20 meters (67 feet) and we’re enveloped in liquid darkness and icy temperatures. I’ve stopped kicking and started falling, falling through the layers of water. I focus on stillness, in order to counteract everything moving and shifting.
My mind tries stopping me, “This is so hard. Why are you doing this? What’s the point?” But I don’t stop, I commit myself to the dive, to the pond, and the thoughts pass. I tell myself to keep going, that in this moment, this is all there is, and this is all that counts.
I tell myself to keep going, that in this moment, this is all there is, and this is all that counts.
I don’t see Nick, but I know he is there, because I see his light, which is reassuring.
The line is my only visual reference in the darkened depth as I reach the plate 26 meters (86 feet) below. An indescribable sensation of happiness, accomplishment, and intense freedom grows inside me.
An indescribable sensation of happiness, accomplishment, and intense freedom grows inside me.
I’d smile but my mask would leak. It’s now time to turn, I grip the line with one hand as my body swings 180 degrees like a pendulum, passively orientating for ascent.
I kick as hard as I can to propel myself up from the watery depths which pull me down. Heading towards light and air, I ignore my body’s want to breathe, I know it is lying. I watch the line, meditatively, going beyond thought, going beyond the source of thoughts. I notice the camera man, Julian Honma, in my peripheral, fluttering around me, and glance at Nick who kindly reminds me to inhale spare air through my mask, so I do, and it’s magical.
About five meters to go, and I’m tranquil and unhurried. Breathing has somewhat lost its attraction. I’m now positively buoyant, so no kicking required. I drift upward, like I’m on a ride to the surface. I don’t look where I am going, instead I look straight ahead to the line, Nick right beyond it.
We return into the world of light and autumn, our journey is over, we take a well-earned, refreshing breath filled with energy and enthusiasm for life.
Five recovery breaths, and an “okay” signal later, awareness gathers and joy and laughter fill the air.
Back on land after a fun-filled, productive day of diving. Nick Fazah on my left and Julian Honma on my right.
Photos taken by Julian Honma, retouched by yours truly
Determined to free-dive to the very bottom of Walden Pond, I return two days later with John Small, a free-diver, also trained by Nick Fazah. At first I find myself getting stopped at 15-18 meters (50-60 feet) due to unnecessary worry about equalizing. After an hour of diving without success, I speak with John about it. He provides some mind altering words of advise, “If your ears don’t hurt, just keep going, don’t stop”. The next two dives, I reach the bottom, with grace, and plenty air to spare, approximately 27 meters (90 feet) deep, an extraordinary moment when what I’ve been been training hard for is suddenly flawless.
…an extraordinary moment when what I’ve been been training hard for is suddenly flawless.
Nick Fazah from East Coast Divers for organizing two incredible days of tailored level two training which provided effective skills that made THE difference. Thank you for being a stand for me to make it to the bottom of the Walden Pond, you knew I could do it, even when I didn’t think I could, your reassurance is what help make it happen. Thank you for your generosity, lending me a 5 mm wetsuit, your mask and making other amazingly helpful gear recommendations. And thank you for connecting me with other fellow free-divers in the area, which provided me to free-dive two additional days, one of which had me achieve my goal.
Thank you to Julian Honma for taking me (a total stranger at the time) on board for free-diving on Friday, and for helping to arrange the transport that day. Thank you for your extremely, helpful free-diving advise on recovery breathing and the like. And thanks for coming out with Nick and I on Monday, I realize it probably wasn’t easy with your school work, so I appreciate your making the time. Really big thanks for filming. All of the photos here were extracted and edited from the videos that you took. You did an excellent job, and are a talented free-diver.
Big thanks to John Small for supplying and lugging all of the free-dive and emergency equipment on Friday and Wednesday, as well as for helping me a great deal with transport on Tuesday. Thank you showing me around Walden Pond and most importantly for your words of encouragement which shifted me from the mindset of “I can’t do this” to “I can do this, keep going!”