At times I’m struck dumb!!

Smacht Diver

Smacht Diver



Hard to believe of me for anyone that knows me. I’m not usually short of a word or six and once I have a few drinks in I can’t shut up and the volume increases,it goes to eleven. But its happened on more than a few occasions that I am stuck for words. Once you interact with the people I suppose its bound to happen and when it does, it strikes me dumb. Maybe not at the specific time. I may not always show it simply because I am not always aware of the enormity of the situation at that time.



The thing is fear. Blessed am I who lives near the Ocean and gets to spend my life diving in it, surfing on it or just admiring its wonder and beauty from the shore as the Sun sets on it. I love it with a passion and while I respect it to an almost religious degree, I rarely fear it.

Every so often I have a student come along with the fear of water, or if not water then open water. The vast expanse of the Ocean and the fear of being out of your depth several times over. If you can’t see the bottom it can feel like you are floating over an abyss. An endless pit of nothingness. Sometimes these people are part of a group of students and sometimes they are on a one to one course. Sometimes people come to me admitting they fear water and want help with that but sometimes they don’t announce it until the end of the course or as we are about to leave the shore. You can often tell someones ability in how they move in water during a pool session but not always. A person can be super confident in the pool and super nervous in open water.

These thoughts don’t always come to me at the time but usually I can spot them. I reassure the student and some of my confidence passes over to them and we go on our merry way. We do our dives, our skills and enjoy the liquid element. We may have a brief chat about it afterwards or we may not. Its only later the facts strike me or sometimes they are brought about by something completely unexpected.

I had one student who as part of a business group was down doing a discovery day. He had forgone the pool element for personal reasons and went straight to open water. As we had a large group I had a boat instead of the usual shore dive. At the end of the day he confessed to me that he didn’t think we would ever get him in the boat, then didn’t think we would get him out of it and never mind getting over to the dive line. The picture above is of him returning from a 4m dive. While I was happy with the result that day I really didn’t think more about it.

As a follow on to that course, a year or so later about 150 people were gathered to hear some speakers etc and the audience was asked to contribute events that had made a lasting difference in their lives. After a few had gone I recognised the voice of the student who I had chatted to briefly beforehand. He told the crowd that at his age not that many things were life changing events but the day freediving was. He admitted that he had never been deeper than his knees and that the memory of him conquering this fear of deep water led him to say “If I can do that after all these years of it holding me back then I’m ready for anything”. Needless to say I was stunned but happily surprised that something I was a part of had had such a profound affect on someone.

The lesson here isn’t about freediving but about the human spirit and the ability after so long, to still be able to stand up and say I’m going for it. To kick back the fear that was holding you back, grab it by the scruff of the neck and go for it. It’s not always apparent to me at the time but when I do see it or recall it, it makes me contrite, humbled, inspired and privileged to witness it.

You really should play with yourself more!

Jans photo of me



Photo thanks to Jan Ploeg





As adults we really should play with ourselves more.

That’s a headline and a half right there. For those of you giggling down the back, I am deadly serious. On the freedive courses we use play a lot. Obviously there are serious bits about safety, technique and we tend not to play with them. But we should always play with and play in water. Despite what you were told when you were growing up. The proviso being when its safe to do so.

We learn when we play. One of my favourite things to do in water is play superman. We do this by pushing off the wall underwater. At mid-glide you perform a roll of 180 degrees so that you are now upside down in the pool under water. Just like Robin Williams you get a different perspective. But its much more than that. Yes you may see and feel the water differently. Yes you may pop up and break the surface and yes you may misjudge it and hit you head off the pool floor. (common) But you keep playing and like learning to walk as a baby after you fall down so many times eventually you get the hang of it. Eventually you are streamlined, sleek and move with the water. Now you can literally do anything. You have just added another dimension to your movement. As terrestrial beings we can only move forward, backwards or side to side. As aquatic beings we can now add up and down to that. We can roll, pirouette, spin, tumble and above all play. The body learns and use makes master. Try this with fins and without. You must either use a nose clip or a mask and yes you will get strange looks from other pool users but if you are not getting strange looks from people on a regular basis maybe you are not living life to the fullest.

The last thing we do is blow bubble rings like in the picture above. The dolphin is optional and never in a pool guys, that aint cool. So to blow a perfect bubble ring takes a little practice. Neck weight is good or a small weight belt and hold it beyond your head. Lie down on the pool floor. You may need to start with an exhale or not full longs to stay down. Wait and let the bubbles from you, the mask etc disperse and the water column settle. Take your time. Wait for a second between attempts. Keep practicing. Yeah its a neat trick and looks nice but it also ends up with you on the bottom of the pool with empty lungs so go shallow and play a bit.

Both of these playful acts do something other than make you feel like you are 8 years old again which in and of itself is no bad thing. It builds up what the master calls Aquaticity. If you ever watch Umberto dive just for fun you can see the way he moves isn’t diving, isn’t swimming. Its more like a dance, a flirtatious movement with the water where both elements, body and water really become one.  It’s beautiful to watch and even more beautiful to emulate. So go play.


Describing the why?



After the first two questions every freediver gets asked, how long can you hold your breath? And how deep can you go? The next question is usually why?

It’s not an easy question to answer but in another way it’s simple. Why indeed? It’s not exactly the adrenaline junkie high of wing suit flying or free climbing but I think all these extreme sports have a common thread. Part of it is certainly the possibility to connect with nature and experience the beauty of marine life and seascape. To swim with large creatures like dolphins, mantas, sharks and whales is a reward in itself and one I have been privileged to experience.

But the bigger part I think is connectedness, the feeling of really living, of being more alive in that moment than in many years of life before this. I think this connectedness is universal but is always seen or felt in endeavors of this type or in nature. The climber at the top of the peak, the kayaker at the end of the rapids, the wing suit flyer or base jumper when they finally deploy the chute and we all breath a sigh of relief. These are extreme examples but I only use them to illustrate the point. You probably get the same feeling when looking at an ice clear star studded night sky or sunsets that could only be painted in colours available to an almighty higher intelligence, like the ones we get on the west coast of Ireland here.

When not looking at the beauty around me or if diving deep just on a line in blue water, I usually close my eyes. So, diving blind may not sound appealing but it’s incredibly relaxing once you get into it. The hangs I sometimes do at depth are intense but in a really subtle way. It’s usually a slow descent using my arms to pull down to about 10 metres or so. Then I turn round and hold on to the rope. At this point I should be neutrally buoyant, so not rising or falling. With my head now right way round I wrap my arms around the line and close my eyes. When I am very relaxed my head falls to one side. I can feel my heart rate getting slower, slower and slower. The pressure at this depth is there but not uncomfortable, just a gentle squeeze. It’s as if the whole world is gone or doesn’t exist. Trance like, dream like, there is nothing else involved in that space. Just me and the universe. I am part of it and it also is an equal part of me. If I do slowly open my eyes at any point all I see is the melancholy green of my beloved Atlantic or the intense vivd Blue of the Red sea if in Egypt. But mostly they stay closed. Its incredibly difficult to put the sensation into words. You can feel a great bright white light of energy, but you don’t see anything. You feel energised to bursting point with life but, also relaxed. Think of the film Avatar when they connect with the earths energy force. That’s it, that’s the connectedness, a brief glimpse of the “meaning of life” for the junkie without having it explained. The mystery still remains. Like a dream you knew you had and it was good but you only remember fleeting parts of it.

After a few minutes of this bliss the body’s signals take over and just can’t be ignored any longer. Contractions of the diaphragm are becoming stronger and the urge to breathe is becoming overwhelming, but a big part doesn’t want to go back. A big part wants to stay there. Surrounded by this serenity who would want to leave it? As Jacque Mayol says in the Big Blue “you have to have a good reason to come back up”. Fortunately I have several good reasons to come back up.

Not least is the desire to take that first breath again and prepare to go back down. That’s the why.



You should always meet your heros

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Most people say “don’t as you will be disappointed”. Of course there are loads of unsung heros in the world. This day last week I was lucky enough to meet one in the flesh and all I can do is highly recommend that you try as well.

Doug Allan, has been behind the lens on so many epic nature shoots but the ones I am most interested in are the under water ones. Think Blue planet. As part of the promotion for his new book Freeze Frame he is doing a tour of lectures around Ireland and the UK. Doug is an absolute gent. As I waited to get my copy of his book signed  (you have to don’t you) there was a six year old kid there with his mum. The way Doug spoke to the child with passion and enthusiasm speaks volumes about his character. In essence one child was going out of there with an ambition to become a wildlife photographer. I think after his talk there were many more adults wondering how they could do the same.

Dougs book is a coffee sized volume of stunning photos but with each photo is the story behind it so its not just a coffee table type of book. Sometimes the stories are funny, sometimes instructional and sometimes poignant.

Hiss concern for the environment and appreciation for wildlife shine through in this book and in his talk. Doug has never had any instruction in the art of photography or film making so as he says if he can do it so can you. You also get the sense that he was destined for this role in life. Destined to bring us, the world famous scenes from the Blue planet and Life in the freezer amongst others.

His nonchalance when describing interacting with Leopard seals, Orcas, polar bears and other “dangerous” natural life belies his understanding and experience. He describes how from his point of view there’s no point in getting close to film an animal if all you are filming is its reaction to the film maker. So in most cases a “relationship” or tolerance is built up over a period of time until he is accepted in the water and natural scenes go on as they would if he wasn’t there at all. Small wonder then that the natural wildlife film maker spends so long in the wild, in uncomfortable conditions just to get that one minute of film that can be used. Some of his footage has even been used by marine biologists to get a better idea of whats happening in an environment. The jet propulsion bubbles of the penguins in Antarctica comes to mind.

You can see the dates and venues here and like his facebook page. You can buy the book at the talks as well. Its well worth going to if you have any inclination to nature and think how often does a chance to meet someone like this come up?

Living or just existing?


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It’s a valid question. I think!

You read and hear in so many formats that very question. Maybe Alan Watts sums it up best. Many of the self help or self development books and gurus seek to clarify or help us answer it.


Is it better to have the well paying job that you hate in order to try and live the life you want at the weekend? Or better to have uncertain income but the joy of living fully everyday? Answering your call instead of the organisations.  Exploring your creativity instead of being stifled by the rules and wants of the organisation.

There’s no right or wrong answer to this. There is only your answer. Justify it anyway you want to logically but if it’s not right then it won’t sit right within you. It will keep you up at night, it will gnaw at any given moment and a feeling of dissatisfaction will prevail. Do whatever you “feel” is right but search for it first. Live life, don’t exist.

Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.”

Theodore Roosevelt.

We can also gain much inspiration from a man like Burt Munro, the world is full of ordinary people doing extraordinary things but we tend not to hear much about them as mainstream media continues its dumbing down run to oblivion. If you haven’t watched it go see the Worlds fastest Indian. Hopkins said it was one of his best films to work on as it was more him, his own character. The tapestry of your life is always just in front of you, always just ahead and something we should pay more attention to. It’s up to you where you will put in the stitches. The alternative is to have someone else do the stitching for you.

Perhaps the easiest way to drill down through the dross is to answer the ultimate question.

What will they say about me when I’m dead? Good. Bad or nothing at all?

Run fat boy,run!!


50, Fat, Diabetic, Ahead of you.

Had my first run in a few months. I rarely enjoy a run, I do enjoy the satisfaction of having done it at the end but don’t think I have ever got the runners high and sometimes, like last evening the scenery and weather is spectacular. Lets be clear I am a plodder, the earth shakes as I trundle down the road while slim long legged gazelles saunter pass me. That’s why I usually go somewhere quiet to run. I have two short loops near my house the longest of which is 5k so that will give you some idea of the lack of level I am at. The music does help and I consistently find myself sprinting ahead when a faster part of the song comes along. I think this is good.

Runners (I think) call this fartlek training, all I know is that it helped me lose weight over the years and it’s how I run. I have no mad desire to do more or certainly not much more. Ran a few 10ks but that’s it. (for the moment) So from being a pretty overweight 17.5 stone I managed to get down to about a 13.5-14 stone. Here’s the reason’s why I think.

1. I was aware that my weight was holding me back in freediving. I am a reasonably sized guy anyway so most people were shocked when they heard my true weight, I used to carry it well.

2. I was aware of where I was going, at the time I had a reps job, in the car a lot and stopping for tea and sweets and shit along the way so I have no doubt that 20 stone was in sight.

3. I didn’t lose it in three weeks or months but probably more like two years. I started to train consistently 3 nights a week to the extent I got pissed off if I missed one and felt guilty about it. I cut the sweet stuff to weekends only.

4. I transformed my swims from being like a slow walk to a more intense mixture of distance and sprints with drills etc thrown in. So the heart all of a sudden was challenged and had to beat a hell of a lot harder even though the overall distance may have been less.


Now maybe its body dysmorphia but anytime I feel I am putting on weight again I get paranoid and start training hard for a while and get back to cutting down on the crap.

All this has made my freediving better no question, probably because I have more confidence in myself rather than out and out fitness but also my physical health and mental health are far better. So go get a pair of shorts and runners, do it today and commit to building a better heart. You know you can do it. It will stand to you forever.


Surfs up brah!!!

Surfs up




If I’m not under the water I’m on top of it. I have been surfing a few years now and know what I can do and what I can’t. I am a longboarder so to the uninitiated that’s a super long board 9ft + that means its easier to catch a wave but a little harder to do tricks on. I don’t do tricks so it’s not an issue for me. Longboarding usually, but not always uses smaller waves so think head high and below and anyway that’s what I am most comfortable in. Sometimes you surf and its shit to be honest, but sometimes its hard to describe in words, its so good.

Depending on the state of the tide, swell and wind you can be paddling a lot and still just not get there, as the wave is either peaking too early and closing out/breaking into white water. Foamy white water is all fine and well to bring you back to shore but what you really look for is glassy green walls to carve up and down on or trim and glide your board over. Then, if feeling good and solid you can try to walk out to the front of the board and hang ten or five, so one foot or two feet over the front edge or nose. I can’t do this. At present I usually only get to a foot of the front of the board before I have to shuffle back or lose the wave, fall off. My favourite thing is to hunker back down so I am really low to the board and try to control it that way and if I’m lucky trail a hand through the green wall of glass as I go.

At worst its a decent workout for the arms and body. At best its Zen.

The waves have been created by powerful low pressure storms way off in the Atlantic, the earths rotation has sent this swell in to land in one direction or the other. It’s traveled hundreds and hundreds of miles to get here keeping its energy intact. As it hits shallower water it starts to peak up, just before it breaks and disperses all its latent energy. As you finally stand up on this wave, you are connected to the wave, harnessing its energy, feeling part of its energy, you and you alone are now part of the earths vital force.

On a recent day at a local quiet beach I pretty much had the place to myself. The sun was shining down onto a glassy calm sea only interrupted by the soft, slow, regular, pulsing swell. Imagine yourself relaxed on the board.The wave caught easily with just a few paddles, nice slow bottom turn to bring you to the shoulder and the good wave keeping its shape all the time. As you glide in, looking down you see the ripples in the sand below and that shimmering effect of the sun on the sea through clear water. Dancing, mesmerizing, spiritual, connectedness and you standing Olympian above it all. All too soon it’s over. No drama, just a short paddle back out and wait for the next one.

It doesn’t happen all the time but when it does, like the Guinness ad it’s worth the wait.

Back to school & the slaughter of Dolphins

the cove runs red


The Cove runs red.

September 1st sees the traditional start of the Dolphin hunt season in Taji, Japan. Please join us tomorrow at St.Stephens Green at 2.00pm until 5.00 opp the shopping centre to show our disgust.You can see all the details here.

So a while back I had asked for help off of any teachers that might be in a position to let me speak to 6th class about the film The Cove and dolphins in captivity. The thinking behind this is pretty simple. There are concerned individuals all over the world campaigning on this. Guess what, the companies that own these parks are just that, companies. You can reason with an individual but not with a company whose direct responsibility is to its owners/shareholders. It’s the major flaw in capitalism and brains as intelligent as Charles Handy have struggled with it.

So I don’t think any of these places will shut down because it’s the right thing to do. In their opinion I am sure they think they are looking after the animals as best as they can. I am sure they have won awards for their welfare or maybe not.  One thing I am sure of is that it’s just business. So educate the children, their customers. Positive peer pressure can spread worldwide via social networks etc. Once the kids stop going, the parks reason to exist stops. Hit them in the pocket take away their customers and watch them close. Seaworld may already be feeling it due to the film Blackfish from the same people that brought you the Cove.

Anyway on this basis I asked for help and was kindly let in to an Educate together school in Kilorglin, Co.Galway. In total we had about 60 students 2nd, 4th and 6th class. I showed a few photos and videos talked a small bit and then had Q and A. The questions these kids had were stunning. At times we may look at the youth of today and despair with some of the culture and the non stop texting but I am pretty sure all generations do that. Questions varied from the bends for a scuba diver to sharks and even down to how the dolphins would need to be rehabilitated to the wild if the parks did close down. Some of the kids had already seen The Cove. 

Energy levels in the classroom were high and while I was there about an hour the level of respect I have for teachers was raised considerably. Schools now back from summer so hoping to do a lot more of this in September and keep it going till we get it stopped. If you are a teacher or know of one please pass them on this info and I would love to talk at their school. I usually try and work it into the course schedule due to travel costs being what they are but all cost are borne by me. They can contact me by mail here.  I have been lucky enough to swim with wild dolphins in the Atlantic. The encounter has been repeated a few times since. But at all times the dolphins were free and able to swim off at any stage. This only made the encounter better and its the only way to interact with marine mammals.

The kids are alright.

Back to class

Back to class

Depths of the mind

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Walking in to the Ocean is like walking in to your soul.

At the start you just sit on the edge of the shore, on a rock and everything is fine. Everything is secure, everything is familiar. The gentle lap of the swell is calm and peaceful. Fins on and you fin out just a little bit. The Ocean floor falls away to the depths as you get further from the shore, further from security, further from the familiar. So too the wanderings of the soul or mind.

At some point we can no longer see the Ocean floor, we know it’s there but we just can’t see it. Same in the soul, we can’t see it or comprehend it but we know it’s there. We don’t know where it will lead us, afraid if we go too far down we may never come back. Like in The Big Blue sometimes you need a good reason to come back up. Time and time again though, we do come back and so with each passing episode we go deeper and deeper.

Exploring one or both. I don’t think we should be afraid. It’s what we are here to do.

If you are reading this blog chances are you have a relatively privileged life. Compared to two-thirds of the world anyway. Of course there will be someone better off than you but also someone one worse off. If you are not on the constant search for food or water for survival it’s beholden to you and your duty to humanity in my humble opinion, to search your soul and explore. Find out. Explore the planet, the beauty of nature, the Oceans and yourself.

Plumb the depths, its worth it.