Freediving is an activity that requires a wide range of skills and dedication to get good at it. All expert freedivers spent years perfecting their diving before they could reach the high level you see them perform at today.
Text & Photo | Harry Chamas
Equalization is a skill which many budding freedivers find they need to work on. So here are five equalization tips for freedivers to help to guide you on your journey.
Seek knowledgeable guidance
Equalization is not complicated when it is properly understood. The problem is that most freediving instructors don´t have adequate experience or knowledge. So, of course, you will not be able to learn if your guide is almost as confused as you are.
Find a coach or instructor who has proven experience with both teaching and deep diving themselves. This way you can be sure that what you are being told is right. Advice like “try to relax more,” “equalize harder” or “maybe you have tight tubes” are possible warning signs that your instructor doesn’t know how to help you.
Once you do have the right guidance everything will become clear – what you should do and what your mistakes are will be evident. Then the mystery around equalization will cease to exist. You must see equalization as a skill, and understand that you have the same body parts as everyone else that has learned this skill. Once you do this your mindset will change and perfecting it becomes a matter of practice.
Equalization is not independent from the rest of your diving
I remember one athlete came to me and told me that all his diving is completely fine… he just needs to know exactly how to equalize then he will be able to go as deep as he wants. We spent some time building his awareness and understanding. Then he told me, “OK now I know exactly how to equalize, but I can’t do it.”
Why was this? The conscious mind is only capable of focusing on one new skill at a time. For this athlete, the new skill was equalization. To be able to hold the focus on this one skill means he should be in a situation that he is completely comfortable with (the depth he is going to) and all other diving skills should be automated. To automate a skill means that the subconscious mind has taken control of this action so it happens without conscious thought.
Because this athlete had not reached this level of training, he was constantly distracted from equalization during the dive and therefore made mistakes. The lesson to learn from this is to train your freediving in a wholesome way. The duck dive, finning, freefall and turn should all be controlled, smooth and effortless. Only then can you have the mental space to notice the subtleties of equalization.
Practice in comfort
Like any skill, we should learn it in its simplest form first, then slowly add complexity. Meaning first you learn the skill while dry. Then you can do it dry but with no air in the lungs. Then try it shallow in the water. Then slowly add depth as you become more confident.
As I mentioned previously, to hold focus and learn a new skill we must be comfortable with the situation we are in. Otherwise we are overwhelmed, make mistakes and become frustrated. Be gentle with yourself – look at learning to freedive as a long term process of learning and everything else will fall into place.
Equalizing regularly keeps the airway leading to our middle ear (eustachian tube) open. This means we will always need the same amount of pressure to equalize and we should be able to equalize for the whole session without anything becoming more difficult.
The first 10 metres is especially important because the pressure change is so fast (double in 10m). Try to get the first equalization done as soon as possible – at 1m would be ideal. Then continue to equalize before feeling any pressure build up in the ears.
Failing to do this will cause swelling in the eustachian tube, and either you will need to use more pressure, or you will be unable to equalize after just a few dives. If you do notice that your ears become harder to equalize throughout your diving session, there is a high chance that you are not equalizing often enough at some point in the dive.
In freediving we should always be as efficient as possible. We do the minimum we have to in all regards. Equalization is no different, over-pressurizing the ears will make you feel mentally uneasy, it will likely cause tension within the body and will make your equalization more challenging.
Equalizing gently is advice for all freedivers of all levels. Many people find equalization harder as they get deeper. For most of us, when something is hard, we react by trying harder. When talking about equalization this means we push harder. This is instinctive, but like so many other things in freediving, our natural instinct is wrong. If you do feel that equalizing is getting harder, this is a sign that you do not yet have the skills to reach the depths you are diving to. And it is time to get a coach.
For some people there is a tendency to equalize harder as they get deeper. This is a symptom of stress, and normally the diver is unaware this is happening. The amount of pressure that you need to equalize is the same no matter what depth you dive to. It is important that this is understood – if you feel like you have to equalize harder this is a sign that something is not right.
Freediving requires a huge range of skills. Equalization is one of them but a lack in any of the others will have implications on your equalization. We should always strive to improve all our skills equally.
This way we are going to enjoy a long and beautiful journey as freedivers. With knowledge, skills and practice we will definitely get better over time, and remember that there is help out there if you need it. I wish you many beautiful dives full of ease and pleasur