philip sumner

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philip sumner

 I sat down with Philip Sumner on the roof of his downtown LA, loft apartment to get a deeper look into the sport of freediving.  What I came away with was a profound understanding of the mental and spiritual aspects that make up this experience.
 
What is Freediving?
 
Freediving is basically diving to depth in the ocean on a single breath.  It’s a combination of snorkeling and scuba diving but you have no tank.
 
When was the first time you went?
 
I began in late 2009.  It started on a run along the ocean, while I was running I had a vision of diving with long fins, those are what you used for freediving which are different from other type of fins.  I am not sure why but I must have, at some point, seen that or been exposed to it and on that run I knew that I was going to be deeply involved in the sport of freediving.  I went home and told a friend that I was going to get into it and within a month I had gone past 100 feet.
 
Where have you done this?
 
Primarily Laguna Beach, Catalina and Hawaii where I went to train with Kirk Krack and Mandy-Rae Cruickshank who are both world record holders and recently in that movie The Cove as dolphin divers. Hawaii was by far the best experience.  The water was perfectly clear.
 
What do you like about the sport?
 
I think I am always attracted to simplicity or stream lined concepts so to me it’s a very pure form of sport.  Like if I was going to be a musical act I would do it by myself and do as much as I can myself.  Or if I was building a house I would want to do as much as I could by myself to keep the vision clear.  And my favorite number is the number 1 because I feel it’s a whole number, it’s an infinite number.   So there is something about the simplicity that is appealing to me in its complexity, I am attracted to the challenge of it as well.  There is an element of danger to it.  In the spear fishing world, which I am not a part of, people are untrained and go out alone.
 
There is an element of it that requires an interesting relationship between your mental and your physical self because you have to be prepared, you have to be focused and control your thought all the way down.   I feel that an interesting thing happens where your body allows you to go to the depth that you can go to.  Even though it’s this weird thing based on time and pressure. . . in my experience your body knows exactly when you need to turn around.  Your body will be notified and you’ll get to the top just fine.  If you’re in tune with everything it seems to me to be a very  . . . I don’t want to say safe . . . but intuitive thing.  I find it interesting that it feels like there’s a plan for your dive beyond your mental preparation.
 
What equipment do you have?
 
I have a couple sets of long fins and a bunch of different masks.  The best masks are low volume because you have to be clearing both your mask and your ears the whole way down so you want less air volume in the mask.  There are specific wetsuits that compress less at depths.
 
Are you wearing a dive watch?
 
Yes I was wearing one in Hawaii.  They are really advanced.  They keep track of everything like you can monitor depth, time, turn around time, etc.
 
How long can you hold your breath?
 
Static, 5 ½ minutes.  Static means just calmly submerged in a pool.  On a dive it goes quicker.  So a 130 foot dive takes about a minute and a half.  The dives themselves are fairly quick.  I think on my deepest dives I'm only down for like a minute 20, 30 seconds.
 
What is a price range for the fins and the mask?
 
There are different grades of fins and materials.  You can get anything from plastic to carbon fiber.  You can pay maybe $150-$500 for a set of fins.  Masks are probably around $60 to $100.  Wetsuits vary as well.  There are a few things to buy including weight belt and things.  The cost is pretty high but not as much as scuba diving.  I think I spent about $1000 to get everything.
 
Have you been free diving in LA County?
 
I haven’t been in Los Angeles yet.  I would have to do some research but there is a dive shop in Malibu that sells some equipment. So I would imagine there being places around there.  Mostly you want to get off the coast because the clarity is so much better.
 
 What fitness level would you recommend this for?
 
I think anyone can do it.  When I was in Hawaii there was a paraplegic guy who was doing it with a scooter with propellers mounted on his legs that he could control.  I would say people of any fitness  level could try out the sport.  To be decent at it and to go to depth you definitely have to train.
 
Are there any tips for learning to hold you breath longer?
 
Yeah, just practice holding your breath.  There are a lot of exercises that help flexibility of your chest.  There are certain methods to breathing correctly and the most efficiently that involve using your abdomen instead of your chest, which allows you to hold a lot more air.  It’s not really lack of oxygen that you experience.  It’s the build up of carbon dioxide that triggers sensors in your body that tells your body it’s time to breath.  There are exercises to build your tolerance to carbon dioxide.
 
Anything else you would like to share about the topic of freediving?
 
Let me equate it to a couple of things I have been thinking about lately.  I believe that there is only good and that there is resistance and there are things that appear to be bad or difficult or hard.  But I think those are all illusions.  I think those words are just silly words that people made up.  In my experience with freediving, that is true.  I guess that relates to the idea of controlling your thought.  You can’t go down and have "no fear."  You can’t include those things.  You have to dismiss the idea of fear all together.  You can’t be clinging to the idea of being brave because that involves an insinuation of danger.  So I feel like in the act of freediving you experience closely . . . . freedom from these perceived restrictions and rules and problems.
 
There are all types of reflexes that your body has, mammalian reflexes.  So in the act of the dive a lot of things happen that happen in sea animals.  They happen in seals and porpoises and still exist in the human organism.  So if you get to a certain depth your lungs will actually fill with plasma, your spleen will release more blood cells, your lungs can compress to the size of your fist.   I remember the first night I went deep.  It’s difficult to explain but I felt very different that evening.  I felt like I was exposed to something that was a part of me but seemed to be something that was way beyond me.  After that first night I felt physically expanded.