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Companionship in extreme sports: Meet freediver Rebecca Coales

posted on Wednesday, 27th May 2015 | find under Fitness
Ambassador to Sweaty Betty’s Bristol boutique and national champion in freediving, Rebecca Coales knows more than anyone how important it is to trust in your fitness community when it comes to stretching your limits. Traveling a record distance of 186m under water in one breath, Rebecca explains how companionship spurs her on in her unique and challenging sport…

Rebecca Coales Sweaty Betty Ambassador

Rebecca wears the Splash Bikini

To many, swimming is a solitary sport of clocking up lengths at the local pool or circuits in a lake. Unlike running or cycling, it’s tricky to chat in the water, and there’s normally no reliance on anyone to motivate you through the workout. This can be part of the attraction – giving you time out from the world to focus and immerse yourself in aquatic serenity.

Where swimming gets social

But the sport of freediving is somewhat different, bringing a whole new social aspect to the sport. As a freediver, I train myself to hold my breath while swimming, seeking to increase my distance in a pool or depth out at sea. I can’t freedive without someone being there as a safeguard, and I wouldn’t want to dive alone because I’d have no one to tell about the turtle, shark or starfish I’d just encountered!

With every dive I do, I face that primeval fear of running out of breath. I literally put my life into the hands of my diving partner. With adequate training and sensible practice, it’s a very small risk, but to keep that risk at a minimum the relationship with your buddy must be very intimate.

Your buddy is with you when you feel doubt or fear under pressure, and during moments of elation when you successfully stretch your potential and achieve a new personal best. This is a person who will see you at your edge – whether that be your physical or mental limit. We put our trust in each other and expose our vulnerabilities as much as our strengths. A top Italian freediver called Umberto Pelizzari once said ‘you scuba dive to look around, but you freedive to look inside’.

No compromise for safety

In a competitive setting, it’s sometimes difficult for us to know when enough is enough, especially when you’re enjoying the moment. My first freediving teacher told me to always have an objective for a dive, otherwise you can get distracted or fail to recognise that it’s time to come up for air. That may sound strange, as beginners always want to come up for air! But with experience, the urge to breathe isn’t as strong and I often need something or someone to tell me I’m at my furthest, longest or deepest yet and it’s the end of the dive. It can be frustrating when your buddy signals for you to come up, but it’s better to end a dive cleanly with plenty more oxygen left than on the edge of unconsciousness (which would mean disqualification in a competition).

We often practice rescues so that they become automatic should we need to employ them in a real-life situation. ‘Blacking out’ is actually a natural protective mechanism for the body. This is very rare in freediving, and having a buddy ensures you keep close to the surface and feel secure in the knowledge that someone is preventing this from happening. 

Competition day tactics

On the day of a competition, I like to get in a calm and steady mind frame with some gentle yoga. I can draw many parallels between freediving and yoga, which is why I practice them in a complementary way and feel a simultaneous progression when I mark a new milestone in either discipline. A simple flow sequence is a great way to ease into competition day. It’s also crucial that I review strategy with my buddy, as his or her face is the first one I’ll see at the beginning and end of my dive, providing a constant reminder of why I’m there.

Exploring the edge of your comfort zone helps you grow as a person. Freediving is very much a sport that requires you to let go of the ego. And its benefits far exceed the pool – encouraging us to let peripheral concerns melt away and hone in on the task before us, whether that’s in training, in the office or at home.

Support Rebecca as she competes in the World Championships this June, representing the UK for the second time. Follow her journey and find out more about freediving at omdiver.co.uk. Plus, find the perfect outfit for streamlined swimming in Sweaty Betty’s Swim Training and Beach Sport ranges. 
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