Constant Weight- No Fins
This isn’t meant to scare you away. It’s just one of those experiences I had.
At the end of the training day, we would usually ditch the fins. Fins, on a good day, cramp the feet and maybe make blisters. If we were to chase newer students around the reef, supervising their after-class activities, then fins it was. Otherwise, I can remember trying out my CNF skills on chill reefs a scant 15m depth.
These shallow reefs were picturesque and also a bit dangerous. The giant clams could suck the skin off your finger and the Napoleon Trigger Fish were much more aggressive than Barracuda. Otherwise, it was warm and comfortable with the reef splayed out below you like a tapestry.
I’d swim down, breast stroke style- bare feet, bare hands and just pushing water with the fins God gave me. I’d reach the scratchy bottom, dead coral and new sand, and relish the neutral buoyancy at 15m. I just stood there, my half-full lungs no longer providing buoyancy. Scuba divers would swim by and snap photos. Then, I would swim myself to the surface.
If there was a socially-acceptable way to dive naked, this was it. If you practiced the same discipline but for pool lengths instead of depth, it would be called Dynamic No Fins. DNF. DNF requires no further gear than a mask of some sort and your appendages. It has a free feeling to it that is intoxicating.
I love the purity of this discipline, having dabbled in pools and shallows. I never tried CNF for depth aside from the reef excursions. I wasn’t geared towards being a world-class competitor. I just wanted to teach.
Brother Peter was a bit like me; large, strong, and a bit dense. He got it in his head that he could hit 20+ meters on a CNF dive, no problem. He was a very strong diver and had no problems hitting 30+ meters on a bad day.
He wanted to do 25m CNF. I told him to hit 20m and work up to 25m the next day. He descended, looking strong, confident and very Swiss. I waited on the surface, watching his safety, Michael, dive to check up on him. They both came into view from the gloom and everything looked fine. Michael and Peter were solid divers and I genuinely had no doubts about their ability.
Peter came up, grapsed the buoy and started his recovery breaths like normal. I peeked my mask above the surface to see him start to convulse.
This is called a Samba. Formally, it is a loss of muscular control (LCM) due to low blood oxygen. Basically the brain’s higher motor functions shut down, but with uncoordinated and often violent movements. Peter’s Samba was no different.
Michael and I recognized this Samba and grasped him hard. We had to keep his mouth above water until he gained control. In practice, this is supposed to be a calm, coordinated movement where we pull the stricken diver over the buoy and gently ask him to breathe.
This was the real deal. We were surprised and worried and acted out of instinct. If Peter was the burger, then Michael and I were the bun. Michael and I grasped him in a double bear-hug and shouted. We were supposed to remove Peter’s mask to encourage breathing, but we were too freaked out. Peter was twitching like he was having a full seizure. Peter is a big guy. His movements were strong and erratic and I worried we would lose our panic-bear-hug on him. He flopped like a fish for what seemed like an eternity.
But in a moment, it was over. He relaxed. He took a breath. He looked at me through his slightly fogged mask and pushed me away. “What are you doing?” Michael released his bear hug, too. We three floated there, bobbing in the pretty, tropical waters, wondering/understanding what had just happened.
Big Pete, who was pushing 45m dives (with fins) and holding up consistent 5 minute static breath holds was recovering from a near blackout in (our) arms.
He pushed me. “back up,” he was panting. We gave him space.
After a minute he said he was okay, and I pinned one of his arms to the buoy. Just in case. “Pete, how was that dive?”
He answered with complete honesty. “That was a hard dive.”
I was looking at this dive watch. “How deep?”
I shook my head. “I told you no deeper than 25.”
“Felt alright,” he said, getting defensive.
At that point, Michael and I shared a look. I turned to Peter. “You had a massive Samba on the surface. Michael and I had to keep you from sucking water.”
“No way,” was all Peter said.
By that point, Michael and I were both pointing to the boat, a crusty longtail fishing boat that was our home base. Peter was done for the day and he knew it. Any loss of muscular control, real or imagined, was an automatic time-out. No diving until the next day.
Pete swam strong to the boat and hauled himself in with no assistance. His episode is not unique in the freediving world. Sometimes, on accident, you bust your limits and rely on dedicated buddies to save your ass when you do.
Peter when on to dive the next day with no problems, and dove even deeper with CNF in the following days with no problem.
The CNF record is 103m last time I checked.