By Linda Paganelli
Your freediving buddy can affect your performance much more than you think
Throughout my freediving career i realized, on several occasions, how much my training was influenced (for the better and for the worse) by who i was diving with. This has very little to do with the amount of trust i have in my freediving buddy as a safety freediver. In fact i had safety divers who i really trusted with my life but that never helped me progress as much as training with freedivers who dive deeper than me.
For me freediving has always been a psychological activity more than a real sport; say, more like golf than tennis to make an example that everyone could understand.
The amount of fitness and physical strength is not nearly as important as the mental confidence and psychological strength. For this reason, training with freediving buddies who are diving shallower than me (which is almost always) plays nasty tricks on my self confidence: i see them looking up at me with a mix of awe, respect and a that look you give to crazy people when you think they are going to kill themselves; i can feel when they are nervous about doing safety for my deep dives; that’s when i usually start doubting myself and think: “Uhm, well, maybe i AM crazy and i shouldn’t be doing this and if i do it i’ll die”, which is really not how you want to approach your deep training!
On the other hand, training with people who are diving deeper makes me feel so much at ease. The stress is about their dives, and not mine, they don’t think i’m doing anything crazy, because their dives are deeper than mine, and when i see them diving it’s easy to convince myself that if they can do that, i can do it too.
Most of the times i had some breakthrough, or did personal bests with an easy mind, it has been in one of these occasions.
The first one was when i passed the 70 meters mark in Constant Weight. At the time it was a very big deal as there was only just a couple of other female freedivers worldwide who could do that. I don’t think it is a coincidence that it happened just as i was training with a freediving legend, Herbert Nitsch. He was doing regularly 90+ meters dives every day, and in that same period he passed the 100 meters mark for the first time; he only had me as a safety diver and we had to move outside of the Blue Hole to get enough depth for his dive. I remember i was nervous about the whole set up and about doing safety for such a deep dive, but i didn’t want to say anything to break the trust he had in me. When he came up from his dive i felt this uncontrollable urge to do something cool too and i told myself: “If he can do 100 i can bloody do 70!” And so i did, and with great ease. To this day, that is one of my best memories about freediving.
Unfortunately it does not always happens that you find a freediving buddy who you trust and like to dive with, who has your same training schedule, matching dates and who dives deeper than you. But luckily a similar situation presented itself to me just recently; i was in Dahab only for a few weeks and decided to do some training solely because it was too hot outside of the water, so i had no ambitions whatsoever. Someone asked me to help him with his deep equalization problems and i accepted so we started to train together. His progress went so well that soon he reached 91 meters. Soon after another deep freediver joined our training sessions and so all of a sudden my 70+ meters Free Immersion dives felt like a joke, and i pulled out a couple of personal bests after just a few training dives, despite some significant health problems i have been going through since last year.
Since my training was going well, i signed up for a competition that was planned during those days. My buddy was there to hold my hand just while i was doing my breathe-up, and also because of this i managed to set a new Italian record in such a calm, happy and confident way. That dive is another one of my best freediving memories!
Not everyone is the same; not everyone fights the same demons and meet the same obstacles. Other freedivers will have completely different issues to deal with, such as equalization or oxygen tolerance (even though i believe that most of these more physiological obstacles in reality are just “masked” psychological fears which manifest in different forms – because ultimately, if deep inside you do not want to do something , your subconscious will find the way to sabotage your conscious self without you even knowing what’s going on inside your head).
In any case the bottom line is, don’t underestimate the importance of your freediving buddy/team; not only they can save your life, but they can give you the mental strength you need to do what you do.
Freediving is not an individual sport, look around you and you will know that you have someone to thank for most of your achievements!
And so i would like to thank my buddies who became my friends too, Alex Lozano, Alenka Artnik and Nanna Kreutzmann! Thank you for the support, your presence and the laughs.
All photos are from Nanna Kreutzmann.
Linda has been freediving since 2002, participated to several competitions and record attempts and broke 16 Italian records and 1 continental record.