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Why Every Surfer Should Do Apnea Training

Apnea & Surf Survival Course – The Netherlands

Most surfers can relate to the daunting moment during a wipeout when a wave sucks you down. Your stress levels rise as the ocean controls your every move. You may feel helpless while you’re forced to hold your breath way longer than you’d like. These critical moments are super scary and can be life-threatening if you aren’t prepared. According to the International Life Saving Federation, drownings account for approximately 1.5 million deaths a year worldwide! This is exactly why every surfer should do apnea training.

Apnea, isn’t that a sleep disorder or something? Well, yes and no. Apnea is the momentary suspension of breathing, more commonly known as holding one’s breath. So, technically holding your breath underwater is also considered Apnea. 

Luckily, there is a breathing technique that allows you to hold your breath longer, and gives you greater control in these tricky situations. Intrigued by this idea, we decided to sing up for Ricardo Taveira’s 3-day Apnea & Surf Survival Course (Hawaii Eco Divers), which included some serious learning and lots of fun.

breath hold training in pool

3-day Apnea & Surf Survival Course

This course was designed by surfers for surfers with two objectives in mind. Firstly, for surfers to increase their breath hold ability in stressful underwater situations, while being in control of their mind and remaining calm. Secondly, to make the ocean a safer place for all so everyone can keep the positive vibes flowing.   

Initiator of this course, Sebastiaan Heitkamp, is a Dutch physical therapist, surfer and water photographer. Last year he took this course himself during a trip in Chili and was very much impressed not only personally but also professionally. He decided to join forces with the founder of  the Apnea Surf & Survival Course by Hawaii Eco Divers, Ricardo Taveira to introduce this course in Europe. So, big wave surfer Ricardo flew in from Hawaii for the first Apnea & Surf Survival Course in The Hague, the Netherlands.

sebastiaan and ricardo

Day 1 – Theory

The 3-day training kicked off with a good mix of 20 wave, kite, wind and SUP surfers from around the Netherlands and Belgium. All super stoked to be in the room, and keen to become mind control experts ; )

ricardo about apnea

We started with the theory portion, which of course isn’t the most exciting part, but is nevertheless important. We learned about the physiology of apnea, which Ricardo identifies as, “Very important when we push our bodies to the limit. Understanding what causes our bodies to black out during breath hold training exercises, and how to identify signs and symptoms of hypoxia, is crucial in order to train safely.” 

While most healthy people can hold their breath for around two minutes. The current Guinness World Record holder, Aleix Segura of Spain, can hold his breath underwater for an astonishing 24 minutes and 3 seconds, with the benefit of breathing pure oxygen first.

The urge to breath comes mainly due to high levels of CO2, this is not yet hypoxia. Unfortunately, in most cases, the urge to breath causes panic and this often leads to drowning and death.

ricardo taveira classroom

Day 2 – Breathing Exercises

On day two, we’re out of the classroom and into the gym where we put what we learned into practice. We started with breathing and ventilation exercises, where the information about the importance of the diaphragm comes in handy. We practiced breathing and being conscious of our diaphragm, and practiced ventilation (both inhaling and exhaling) by deep breathing. This increases oxygen levels in the blood flow and raises the amount of oxygen-rich air that can be stored in the lungs, improving your ability to hold your breath. 

The majority of us were able to hold our breath  1 to 1,5 minutes prior to the course and with these techniques all of us reached 3 minutes!

apnea course group

We spend the next few hours in the pool where we practiced loads of underwater exercises. The base for these exercises were the breathing exercises we had previously learned. For some, holding their breath underwater felt calming, while for others it was harder to relax.

In the pool, we learned to breath according to CO2 and O2 tables which prepared us to get our bodies working well while feeling the effects of high CO2 levels and, eventually, low oxygen levels. 

underwater in pool

We did numerous underwater exercices with our training buddies, like swimming underwater while trying to use as little energy as possible. Because these are serious workouts lifeguard Bart Haveman  kept an eye on us, making sure everyone was safe. Thanks Bart, Awesome!

underwater breathhold

“It’s vital to remain calm and in total control of your mind and body.”

pool training

Day 3 – Surf Rescue

How can you get somebody out of the water safely? What to do when you encounter a drowning person or if you suspect spinal injury? All realistic scenario’s if you’re near the ocean somewhere. So, time for the CPR and surf rescue training part of the course. We learned the crucial tools that could save lives. We practiced in groups so teamwork and clear communication were important, and surprisingly harder than expected!

Surf rescue training

Back in the pool we learned more dynamic apnea and surf survival skills. One of the exercises included paddling on your surfboard while being aware of your breathing, followed by a wipeout simulation. This involved swimming two lanes underwater which really challenged our abilities. 

During the surf rescue training we learned how surfers have the responsibility to keep the ocean as safe as possible. If you’re ever in the situation where another surfer needs help, you should know what to do. This also corresponds with the mission of Surfing Medicine International. Most surfers have knowledge of the ocean and spend a fair amount of time in the ocean. If every surfer would know the basic techniques to save someone, not only the surfing world would become safer, also the number of drowning victims would decline drastically.

We practiced with simulated conscious and unconscious victims, which was challenging and awesome at the same time.

surfer rescued on surfboard

“What makes this course so effective is that each exercise simulates a real situation found in the surfing environment.”

rescue swim

Finally, we focused again on stress apnea exercises simulating wipeouts or long hold downs. As surfers, we all know that wipeouts can be nasty. Being thrown around like you’re in a washing machine, not knowing which way is up or down. To simulate this, we got pushed around by our training partner, being turned up and down. There were many laughs as we all tumbled around the pool. 

wipeout surf training

Making the Ocean a Safer Place

Dutch surfers are not accustomed to big waves in the Netherlands. But when we travel, we are being confronted to this power of the ocean with often minimal preparation and training. So wouldn’t this course be even more useful for us?

This course helped us to have more trust in our own capabilities. Knowing that you are able to hold your breath longer then you’d ever thought was possible and being able to stay calm in tricky situations has done a lot for our confidence. But we’ll need to keep practicing to get better and more comfortable with it. Taking into account rule number one: never train apnea in water without an experienced buddy!

There’s so much more that we learned that we’d love to share with you. But even better, go and check out this course for yourself. Not only for surfers but for all athletes this course would be helpfull. And even for daily life it could be inspiring. 

Surfers will feel more confident and comfortable in bigger waves; you’ll be feeling the big wave stoke in no time!  

We highly recommend this course to all surfers and ocean lovers. Let’s make the ocean a safer place together!

surfer shakka

About Ricardo Taveira  

Ricardo Taveira is a Brazilian living in Hawaii and owner of Hawaii Eco Divers located on the North Shore of Oahu, He is a big wave surfer, PADI master trainer and rescue diver. 

Ricardo identified the importance of breath hold training for all ocean lovers, so he travels the world facilitating these courses under the Hawaii Eco Divers banner. 

He has trained numerous WSL pro’s and well respected big wave pro surfers.

As Ricardo says: “Breath hold training is all about controlling your mind. Everybody has the physical ability to hold their breath, but most people don’t know how to prolong the amount of time they’re able to hold their breath. Most people can hold their breath quite easily for 1 to 1.5 minutes without any problems. However, as soon as they have the urge to breath, they panic and want to breath. With our training we can double their breath hold time in a couple of hours.”

Ricardo Taveira surfing big wave
Ricardo Taveira – Big wave surfer
Image gallery

Photo credits: Sebastian Heitkamp (most photos) and others from course participants.

Interested in this course?

Check Hawaii Eco Divers for upcoming courses and dates. More info about upcoming courses in the Netherlands check out the Apnea Surf Survival Course the Netherlands Facebook page.

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