Ascent1bLIt’s a good sign when you’re diving so much your hair never has a chance to dry. It’s been a while since I last wrote anything but that’s also a good sign that I’ve been in the water a lot. I figured I’d take a break and do a little catching up before the end of the year. With that said, I’ve spent 90% of my in-water time freediving and the rest on scuba, including completing a Rescue Diver course (which I highly recommend!).

A few months ago I was irritated at my lack of progress in freediving and chalked it up to the fact that I couldn’t push limits because I wasn’t diving enough and I wasn’t diving enough because I didn’t have a dive buddy there to keep watch so I could push limits… So, finally I was lucky enough to find someone who turned out to be as passionate about freediving as I am. Long story short, we’ve logged a lot of dives.

What I’ve learned along the way is that discussing safety is paramount to building a foundation of trust in knowing that you both are on the same page and that you both know what to look for in signs of danger. Yes, same rules in scuba but with freediving it’s on a very intense level where turning your back for one moment can mean you won’t even know where to look for a body. We’ve learned to never be more than arms reach apart and how to tell just by a change in body movement when the other is going to dive – always one up, one down. I’ve found that I’m more excited to see my dive buddy succeed and reach personal bests than I am to reach them myself (maybe I’d equate this to spearfishers catching bigger fish). I know that I’m happiest when I can encourage someone to push their limits just a little, in the safest way possible, and see the smile of accomplishment on their face when they reach their goal. I’ve also found trust of a sort that I was previously unfamiliar with. It’s the sort of trust that comes with knowing that the person at the surface is familiar with how long my breath hold should be and has my back if anything should go wrong at any point. Trust is our lifeline.

We started off with the intention to do pool work where one of my goals was to push past my 40-meter mental block and reach 50-meters Dynamic. But the lure of the ocean kept us away from the pool for some time and it wasn’t until recently that we finally made our way back. I did a nice long, relaxed breathe up and began my attempt at a 50-meter swim. As I approached the point of slight discomfort, I began to adjust my form and make decisions about how to use my energy more efficiently. When I got to the second phase of discomfort something different kicked in and I listened to the voice in my head telling me that my dive buddy was right there if anything were to go wrong. I knew I wasn’t ready to pull out of the dive but I knew that if I didn’t have the months of trust built in that I would have. The mantra formed…he’s right there…he’s right there…keep going. And I did. I made it to 50-meters and felt fine and yep, he was right there. It was in that moment that I realized 50-meters wasn’t all about me or how I progressed but more about us. When I do 75-meters and beyond, it will be in part because we formed the necessary trust to take each other to the next step. Knowing that kind of trust is priceless.

In the amount of time that we’ve been diving together, quite a few spearfishers have lost their lives while hunting and of those, most were not diving with a buddy. I’ve read gut wrenching accounts from their friends and family, crying my own tears for the loss to our small community. I’ve followed subsequent discussions on how important it is to dive with a buddy, yet time after time, people still dive alone or don’t practice safe buddy procedures. To me, this is as sad as it is disturbing. The funny thing is that I get it. Diving on one breath is addictive and if no one is there to feed your addiction with you, you’re still going to get your fix and if you have to put food on the table, you do what you have to do.

I’m not writing to boast that I have a dive partner and I certainly do not write this to scorn those who don’t. I write this because if I didn’t take the time to appreciate the important relationship dive buddies have, then I would be doing a disservice to the person at the surface who I trust with my life. And in sharing, not only do I hope that my dive buddy understands how much appreciation I have for him, but that in reading this, others might see the tremendous benefits of diving with a buddy and really working to be in sync with that person.

When we’re in the ocean diving down the line and are hitting new personal bests, we know that when we turn around and make the difficult journey back to the surface, the person waiting there will do whatever it takes to ensure we make it back, alive or not…we’ll make it back. And that’s just it. Alive or not, there is someone there. And though our triumphs are personal and we take a moment to revel in them, there is still nothing greater to me than seeing my dive buddy through his journey to reaching goals. That is what takes my breath away and makes me smile.