‘All I Had to Do Was Remain Calm in Order to Survive’

Waimea Bay Ricardo Taveira by Butch Youmans

TapaReef talks to Ricardo Taveira of Hawaii Eco Divers about Apnea and Surf Survival Training

Image by Butch Youmans

We recently met Ricardo when we attended his Apnea and Surf Survival Training course here in Hawaii, and my goodness it was an incredible experience. Not only did we leave absolutely full to the brim with passed on expert knowledge from this exceptional waterman, but also utterly inspired by the ocean and everything it has to offer.

Ricardo is a passionate and dedicated waterman who has spent his entire life submerged in the ocean, taking to the water during the biggest of swells while also exploring it’s rich and diverse wildlife. Ricardo has dedicated his life to the ocean and those who wish to explore it and operates an environmentally aware diving business here in Oahu. He has trained a diverse range of people, from lifeguards to fire fighters, police officers, military, navy and of course athletes and professional surfers. Some of the North Shore’s biggest names have carried Ricardo’s knowledge to the water with them. He not only teaches in his beautiful home of Oahu, but internationally as well. 

Ricardo believes everyone has the physical ability to hold their breath and he looks to unlock this in his courses. He helps his students mentally take control of their body and safely navigate the ocean in a calmer and more aware way. He has carved out this wonderful existence in a magical part of the world and become a fountain of knowledge in an area that means so much to him. We had a chat to him about all things ocean, apnea and life.

Diving with sharks Hawaii Eco Divers

Q: Hawaii is known all over the world for its incredible waves, beautiful beaches, and diverse marine life. What do you love most about living on the island of Oahu?

A: I’m a big wave surfer and nature lover so this island has everything I love: blue, warm, beautiful big waves, great diving, every ocean sport imaginable and striking nature preserves. The dives here are so varied and all so special: shore dives, wreck dives, night dives, reef dives. I also love the laid back lifestyle here. The slow pace really allows people to take the time to appreciate life and enjoy everything the ocean has to offer.

Q: Tell us about your business Hawaii Eco Divers, and how teaching love and respect for the ocean and all its inhabitants is an important part of what you do. 

A: My passion is helping people find a deep connection with the ocean. A big part of that is helping them feel safe and comfortable in the various conditions and situations that the ocean presents. Another part of that is helping them to experience the spiritual connection that I feel when I’m in the ocean so that they can also feel the healing power that comes from the waves. I truly feel my gift in life is to connect people with the ocean. By engendering that feeling of connection my clients also naturally grow a sense of tremendous respect for the ocean and all the marine life within it. Everyone that comes our way leaves with the sense that they’re doing something to save the oceans - first by appreciating it and then by sharing that appreciation with others.

Apnea and Surf Survival Training Valparaiso, Chile

Q: What inspired you to create your Apnea and Surf Survival course, and share your knowledge as an experienced waterman? 

A: I’ve been a big wave rider for 30 years and I initially created this course for myself because I knew from personal experience that I needed to train intensely in order to survive the types of waves I enjoy riding. I took apnea courses with other organizations but they weren’t designed for my specific needs. Ultimately, I combined the apnea techniques from my previous training and paired them with my experience as a surfer, training to survive the specific conditions I had experienced over the past 30 years on these waves. After honing these techniques, it became apparent to me that my surfing peers, and other watermen as well, such as lifeguards and divers, would also benefit from these courses. And by benefit, I mean that mastering these techniques could potentially save their lives. I personally know two other big wave surfers whose lives were saved by the techniques taught in my course. This is so important to me. I care very deeply about the members of the surfing community and ocean sport community in general, and I want to prepare people for any situation they may encounter while surfing, diving or spending time in the water.

Q: How do you simulate the high stress zone in your training, and manage the risks involved with breath holds of all types, static, dynamic and under-stress?  

A: Apnea training can be a very dangerous activity when not done properly. People are pushing their CO2 limits which can cause loss of consciousness - deadly if you’re training in the water without proper supervision. Therefore, the primary concern of my course and the first subject we cover is safety. We review apnea theory and learn to recognize the signs and symptoms of hypoxia before ever entering the water. We also review high surf risk management so that students learn how to avoid placing themselves in harm’s way. Next, we enter the water and practice apnea technique under close supervision while in pairs. During the training we focus on static, dynamic and stress apnea - first in the pool and then in the ocean. Every exercise we perform simulates a real life situation in the ocean. For example, we practice becoming disoriented and held underwater for 1 minute before then having to climb a surf leash to get to the surface. We practice having to hold your breath and swim with the dead weight of a surfboard pulling you back as though it were caught in the undertow of a wave. In each exercise we don’t focus on who can ‘perform the best’ - it’s all about safely pushing each person’s individual limits so the next time they get in the ocean, they are more confident and better able to handle dangerous situations.

Ricardo dropping in on a bomb at Waimea Bay

Q: What is the most extreme situation you have been in, where you were required to utilise the skills you teach on your course? 

A: As a big wave surfer, I’ve had several instances where my apnea training was absolutely crucial to my ability to stay safe and calm while in life threatening situations. One instance that stays with me is from a couple of years ago when I was surfing at Waimea Bay. I paddled out and immediately went for the first set. I didn’t catch it and a giant wave landed directly on top of me. It was so powerful I had to ditch my board and dive as deep as possible to avoid the massive churning happening overhead. That wave held me down for a long time but I had to remain calm and wait for crashing to pass. When it was finally safe to surface, there was still so much power in the wave holding me down that I had to climb my leash to get back up.  Once I reached the surface, I was only able to take two recovery breaths before the second massive wave landed on top of me. As I dove down to escape it, I was already having contractions (the body’s overpowering physical urge to breath) but I understood that it was just a natural response to build up of CO2 and all I had to do was remain calm in order to survive. I climbed the leash again, and again the third wave in the set crashed right on top of me. That third wave held me down the longest and it was only because of my training that I understood the ocean and my body enough to remain calm, fight the urge to breathe, and wait out the set.

The Hawaiian Islands are rated by Padi as one of the Top 5 Places to Scuba Dive with Sea Turtles

Q: What do you love most about your job, and the life you have created for yourself in Hawaii? And what are some of the challenges you face?

A: This job has been my lifelong dream. Every second of every day I am totally connected with ocean. I wake up and check the swell forecast every day for surfing and diving possibilities. Then I take people out and share my love for the ocean with them. I feel very fortunate. The most challenging aspect is retaining a heightened sense of awareness at all times to ensure my clients, who come from different backgrounds and skill levels, are safe and catered to when they’re with us. I enjoy taking out experienced surfers and divers on exciting tours but I also really enjoy working with people who are afraid of the ocean to help them feel confident in the ocean for the first time.

Q: What does the ocean mean to you?

A: Everything. My love for life, my career, my passion. It’s what I connect with on the deepest level. It’s my church. It’s when I feel God the most. It’s where I meditate, connect with myself and experience true happiness.           

Q: And of course we have to ask … how long can you hold your breath for?

A: About 5 min 45 sec - but this is not what I’m striving for. In surfing it’s not about holding your breath for 5 min because no wave will hold you down that long. Rather, it’s about how many times can you hold your breath in a row with short interval breaths in between. There are two types of apnea training tables we utilize in my course: O2 Tables and CO2 Tables. O2 Tables are sequences of breathing to enable longer breath hold. CO2 Tables are short, rapid sequences of breath holding to simulate being caught in a set, so for example, holding your breath for 1.5 minutes’ multiple times with only one breath in between each hold. Both types take my body and my mind to another level but I enjoy the CO2 Tables the most. I can hold my breath at any point for 4-5 min but in order to go longer than 5 min one has to be in peak performance: mentally prepared, hydrated, fit, rested, etc.

Thank you Ricardo!

For more information about Apnea and Surf Survival Training read our blog: Would You Benefit from an Apnea and Surf Survival Course?



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