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The Joy and Misfortune of Spontaneous Travel

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Freediving in Koh Tao, Thailand

As I plunge deeper and deeper into the water, the pressure builds up, the water gets colder and darker, and my lunges begin to scream for a breath of air.

I am freediving in the Gulf of Thailand on the island of Koh Tao which is a little island off the eastern coast of mainland Thailand.

I have always wanted to take a course in freediving.

As a kid, I grew up snorkeling almost every weekend along the coral reefs of South Florida but I wanted to be professionally trained.

There is something so primal and pure about freediving. It is just you and the water. It brings you back to the old days when you had to hunt for food with nothing but your body and a spear.

I love the purity of it. I love how it involves a strong mental and physical aspect. I love that it forces you to be present and live in the “now.”

Every random thought, unintentional body movement or contraction, mental stress, anxious moment, or inefficient movement, uses oxygen and deprives your brain and body of this essential nutrient.

There is very little room for error. There is a real chance of losing motor control or even blacking out in the water. If you follow your training, it can be very safe, but you don’t want to deviate from the plan.

My Personality is BAD For Optimal Freediving Performance

As a Type A person, my engine is usually running on all cylinders. My mind is always racing. My body is always running. I have a tenancy to live in the future. I tend to sway in the direction of anxiety and the most common word people have used to describe me is intense.

These are not great qualities for an effective freediver.

In freediving you must live in the moment. You must breath to a point of deep relaxation before you dive down and maintain that relaxation throughout the dive. You must not stress or think too much because brain metabolism requires the use of oxygen, and when you are diving down into the depths of the ocean on a single breath, every bit of oxygen counts.

It was such a challenging and rewarding experience to be able to devote 6 consecutive days to pursuing my level 1 and 2 freediving certification. It forced me to confront my fears of deep diving and fighting the strong urge to breath. It forced me to push pass my limits of what I though was possible. It forced me to relax and live in the moment.

The Big Realization 

There was one pivotal moment I remember vividly while I was in the water.

I was really getting stressed out and anxious about diving deeper. I was putting a tremendous amount of pressure on myself to perform. I could feel my heart racing and my head pounding.

Out of nowhere I heard my mind say silently to myself: “Stop putting so much pressure on yourself. This is supposed to be fun. Enjoy the process.”

At the thought of these words, a smile appeared on my face and I decided to just have fun and enjoy the process.

I realized it’s important to challenge ourselves and do things on a regular basis that scare us. It is the only way we grow. But it is equally important to stop putting so much pressure on ourselves and just enjoy the process.

It is interesting what happened when I relaxed and decided to have fun.

My performance increased. I ended up finishing the course with an 87.5 feet (27m) free dive and a 3:15 breath hold.

This never would have happened if I let my stress, anxiety, and fear get the better of me.

Final Lesson

So what is the final lesson from this experience?

Challenge myself. Do something every day that scares me. Stop putting so much pressure on myself and always remember to have fun.

Sincerely,

Matt Westheimer

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Everyday Heroes in Thailand

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Railay, Thailand

Many times we can find everyday heroes all around us.

I witnessed a hero in action the other day.

We just arrived in Railay, Thailand a few days ago for a week of rock climbing.

The setting is extraordinary. Giant limestone walls overlooking the ocean are views that you’d think you can only find in the movies. It is the type of beauty that only mother nature could create.

The variety of climbing here is incredibly vast. They have everything from beginner routes to expert level. There are short climbs of 6-8 meters all the way to 100m+ multi-pitch routes.

One of our favorite areas to climb is a place called the Diamond Wall. It is a site perched on top of a hill with amazing views and great routes. There is also a hand ground organic coffee place on site which is an added bonus for coffee lovers like us!

It was our second day climbing at the wall when I witnessed something scary and inspiring at the same.

When you climb the walls in Railay, it is not compulsory to hire a guide. It is open and free to the public. As long as you know what you are doing and have your own gear, you are free to climb on your own. Most people, including us, hire a guide to make sure we are safe and help us navigate the walls better.

On this one particular morning, there was a duo there who were on their own.

From the moment I saw the climber on the wall, I knew they were people I needed to stay far away from.

The way climbing works is you have a climber who is attached to a rope, you have another person called the belayer who is attached to the other end of the rope. As the climber ascends the wall, he clips his rope to the wall to protect himself if he falls. If he falls, the belayer is there to hold the rope and keep him safe. At least, that is the idea granted that both parties know what they are doing.

This party did not.

You could tell from the beginning the climber did not know what he was doing. After he got about half way up the wall, it was very apparent that he was in serious danger. I only realized that because I heard one of the local guides frantically trying to tell the belayer he needs to take better care of his climber.

At this point, everyone around was concerned. The climber was stuck on the wall in a dangerous position. The belayer either didn’t seem to care or was ignorant to the fact that something was wrong, and he would not listen to the guide who was trying to help. Not only would he not listen, but he was being rude and condescending to the guide.

Here is the thing. The guide was getting paid to work with another group. He had no allegiance or direct responsibility to put himself in a position to get ridiculed and yelled at.

So why did he do it? Because it was the right thing to do.

Not only that, but he wouldn’t back down.

He took a stand for the climber on the wall no matter what.

He put his feelings and his ego aside because helping another individual was more important than staying comfortable and quiet.

Moments later, he threw on his harness, attached himself to a rope, and literally ran up the wall barefoot to rescue the climber that was in a really tough spot.

This man was certainly a hero.

It was a great reminder that we must stand up for what is right, not just what is easy.

It was a reminder that we must be courageous, even if it means we might be judged or ridiculed.

It was also a great reminder even though we may not think people are looking at us, they are. It is important we always act with integrity and set a good example for other people to follow.

Thank you, Mr. Climbing Instructor for demonstrating such courage out there on the wall.

People were watching, and you inspired all of us.

- Matt Westheimer