Holding your breath in a wipe out

If you have been surfing a bit, you have probably experienced wipe outs that held you under long enough for you to start thinking that you NEED to breathe now. If that feeling occurs while you’re still being tossed around and not about to reach the surface, it’s easy to start panicking.

As explained in a previous post, this fear is more dangerous than the wipe out itself because it causes your body to consume more oxygen. Here are four things you need to know about holding your breath in a wipe out:

  • If you manage to relax in stead of getting scared you will have a lot more time before your body needs more oxygen.
  • Never exhale under water. The air you inhale contains about 21% oxygen. The air you exhale contains about 16% oxygen, meaning we normally only use 5 of the 21% oxygen we inhale. If you exhale under water you let go of perfectly good oxygen. Keeping air inside also makes your more buoyant and helps you resurface sooner.
  • When you feel like you’re about to run out of breath, you might even feel contractions in your abdomen, that is just your brain misinterpreting signals from your body. What your body is actually saying is that there is a lot of CO2 building up inside you that your body wants to get rid of. This does not mean that you need to breathe. This misinterpretation often leads to panic when still under water – for no good reason because you still have plenty of oxygen. When panicking though, that oxygen will go pretty quickly.
  • When you start having contractions, you are probably not even at half of your breath hold capacity.


So what can you do?


1) Try holding your breath and observe. When you feel the urge to breathe and the contractions, keep holding it. Notice the sensations in your body and remind yourself that they are not about needing to breathe at all. You still have plenty of time. It’s not dangerous, it’s just uncomfortable.

2) Practice holding your breath regularly. The more often you practice, the less sensitive your body gets to the CO2 buildup. That makes it less uncomfortable to hold your breath longer. Also, remember that most wipe outs only last a few seconds, you can hold your breath way longer than that!

3) Find ways to make yourself relax while holding your breath. A personal favorite is singing a slow song in my head every time I practice my breath holds, when I do it in a wipe out situation, it reminds my body of what is going to happen and helps me stay calm.

4) Take control of your mind during the wipe out. Tell yourself that you will be fine and remind yourself that you are perfectly capable of holding your breath way longer than the duration of that wipe out. When the uncomfortable sensations start, be conscious about it, smile, relax because you know better than to let that scare you.

So go practice your breath holds! Hold your breath in bed before you go to sleep or in the morning before you get up. Don’t do it while stuck in traffic though, and if you practice in water, ALWAYS have a partner with you.

At the first IN camp, all the girls increased their breath holds with at least a minute after just 20 minutes of theory.


Thanks to Kev Henry at Fusion Freediving for input!

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