Photo courtesy: BDW
We’ve all been there, that hold-down after getting nailed by a wave and rolled round like a rag doll, that feeling that you’re not coming up and fast running out of air.
Inevitably in this situation your movements become faster and more desperate the longer you are under. This will use up what oxygen you have left in your body even faster, causing you to panic even more.
Over the years there have been many suggestions on how to deal with a major hold-down or wipeout, but the fact is there really is no perfect way to train for it. Many surfers say they try to relax during a long hold-down, which is what we should all do in an ideal world, but actually putting this technique into practice can be easier said than done.
A more practical solution is to increase your lung capacity. This will enable you to take on increased levels of oxygen and give you valuable extra seconds under water. Specialised training in a pool can help you prepare for this unavoidable situation and is known as hypoxic (low oxygen) swimming training. And with the big autumn and winter swells a few months away, now is the time to start.
Hypoxic (low oxygen) training was developed some years ago and can significantly help swimmers to maintain a smooth stroke when the pressure is on over a set racing distance. Or in your case, help make the inevitable hold down less daunting.
To really improve your breath, start a weekly programme consisting of two sets of 12 x 25 metres front crawl, which should initially be swum at a steady pace that you are comfortable with. After each 25m take 30 seconds rest and after each 12 x 25 metre set take several minutes rest to recover.
Each week reduce the number of breaths you take per stroke: start off at one breath every four strokes and increase it by one stroke each week until you get to eight. As you get better at holding your breath you may wish to increase the distance you swim. Once you have adapted to breath holding you may wish to increase the speed at which you swim from a steady to a moderate pace.
A good way to test your progress during a hypoxic training programme is to swim as far as you can underwater every six weeks and record the distance. If you suffer from respiratory problems like asthma then extra care should be taken.
Article by Lee Stanbury, Surfing-Waves.com resident surf fitness guru, author of the Complete Guide to Surf Fitness. Lee has worked with top surf athletes Ben Skinner and Oli Adams, and developed fitness coaching with the U18 British surf team.
Check out Lee's surf fitness website at fit2surf.com.