How to survive a hold down

How to survive a hold down

Luckily in the UK, we don’t get monster waves like Jaws that’ll keep you underwater for minutes at a time. But if you’re a regular in overhead waves, or making that transition to getting out back and finding yourself trashed by solid set waves, you need to handle being tumbled and held under.

Here’s our quick guide on how to survive a hold down;

Change your mindset

Whilst there are physical things you can do to survive a hold down, the first place to start is in the mind where the fear is more scary than the reality. Let’s start by dispelling a few myths.

Have you ever tried holding your breath? Go on, try it now and count how long you can manage. We reckon you can go about 30 seconds, if not more. As a beginner/intermediate surfer, the chances of you surfing waves where you’ll be held under for longer than 10 seconds is extremely unlikely (unless you have no regard for your own safety).

The truth is when you’re underwater, it seems like an eternity but in reality, it’s no more than about 10-12 seconds. And if you get caught inside and wear a few waves on the head, chances are you’ve got time to come up for air before the next one.

Knowing that you can hold your breath for longer than you’re likely to be held under can massively change your mindset and increase your confidence.

Learn to relax

If you fight the waves, panic and desperately try and scramble to the surface, you’ll expend energy and oxygen a lot faster. Learning to stay calm and go with it will make a massive difference. Trust us.

Remember how long you can hold your breath for in normal circumstances, try some meditation techniques or take up yoga. Being more relaxed will give you that added confidence of knowing that you can handle what the waves throw at you.

You might also find it useful to know what happens internally when your body is depleted of oxygen. You’ll get a better understanding of the feelings that arise so that you can work through them and stay relaxed. Do some research online or book yourself onto a freediving/surf apnea course. You’ll find out the methods that freedivers use to hold their breath underwater, and how the body reacts when CO2 levels rise.

Improve your lung capacity

On a physical level, improving your lung capacity will allow you to take on increased levels of oxygen to give you added seconds underwater. Plus, being physically fit will naturally boost your confidence to handle yourself in bigger surf.

Doing regular high intensity interval training (HIIT) will really improve your lung capacity. There’s also breathing exercises you can do, but if you’re a serious swimmer, you could look at specialised hypoxic training. It involves swimming different drills whilst reducing the amount of breaths you take. Talk to a swim instructor at your local pool who can take you through some drills and help you train effectively.


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