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Talya Davidoff: the 'Plattelandse Meisie' Freediver

Talya Davidoff was born and raised along the Garden Route in the Western Cape. She was born in George and grew up in Oudshoorn and is currently based in Oregon city, Oregon, USA. “Ek is ‘n regte, Afrikaanse, plattelandse meisie, “ she said. She is an accomplished Freediving Instructor, PADI Staff Instructor, NAUI Freedive instructor trainer, PFI freediving Instructor and holder of numerous national freediving and world spearfishing records. We asked her to tell us more about her dive life, experiences and training routines.

“My father owned one of the first scuba dive companies in Cape Town. It was called UDEC – Underwater Diving Equipment Company, he also headed up the False bay Underwater club in the 70s. I was brought up around scuba diving and freediving. I never took it on officially and only started diving after university. I studied marine biology at the University of Cape Town. After which I signed up for my open water diver course with Into The Blue in Cape Town. I remember my first dive and remember thinking I’m home and this is what I was always meant to do."

The owner of the dive centre, Theo Prinsloo, saw that and said I would make a great instructor. I continued my dive training with Into The Blue until I became a PADI Staff instructor. I really started diving after finishing University. Though I am PADI Freedive Instructor, I furthered my dive education and am now a NAUI Freediving Instructor trainer and PFI Intermediate instructor. I believe in continuing my dive education.

My father, while he was still alive, was one of the oldest and longest playing underwater hockey players in South Africa. As you can tell, I think he was quite a legend. With saying that, I was practicing breath hold twice a week and went to nationals when I was 21 years old. When PADI came out with the Freediver course, myself and 4 others had the opportunity to become the first PADI Freediving Instructors in Africa. I grabbed the opportunity and by the end of the Instructor course, decided that freediving is something that I really wanted to do permanently, forever and ever and ever, and ever. Shortly after that I went into the competitive realm. Now I train instructors and still compete.
While working with Dr Andreotti and Mike Rutzen, as the inhouse Marine biologist, Talya gained valuable experience as a diver. “ I was given an opportunity of a lifetime to work alongside Sara Andreotti and Michael Rutzen. I was employed as the in-house marine biologist with Rutzen, to learn the ways of Great white sharks. It was truly and incredible experience and I wouldn’t change it for the world,’ she said.
She remembers a dive experience that she found both funny and scary.  “As a scuba diver, myself, Mike Rutzen and Sara Andreotti were building the SharkSafe Barrier. We were building the test site in Shark Alley. We were moving a lot of concrete blocks and PVC pipe around. Doing a lot of rope ties and rigging. It was a lot of hard work. On this day, I swam down a bunch of pipes with attached ropes. Mike swam up to me and grabbed some of the pipes then proceeded to swim away from me. As he swam away, one of the lines wrapped around my snorkel and pulled my mask off. At the same time my weight-belt came undone. Luckily there was a concrete block in front of me with a hook attached. I grabbed onto it to stay down. I was in Shark Ally, without a mask on, without a weight-belt. Anyone, who has worked with sharks, knows the worst place you could be, is floating to the surface. So, I was just like: ‘OK, so now what? I’m just going to hold onto the concrete block until someone figures out what’s happening.
Eventually Sara saw me and swam over. I manage to signal to her that Mike has my mask. She brought me back my mask and helped me with my weight-belt. I remember being so outwardly calm but inwardly so panicked at what had happened. But we had to keep working. So, that’s what we did. I remember getting back up to the surface and Mike was sitting on the boat and he was like:
“While the rest of us were working, we could see you two girls were havin’ a girl-time underwater.”  I was like:  The cheek of it! But I suppose we were always like that. Giving each other grief and I think that made us a really strong team. I really enjoyed my time working with them.
In 2013, I watched ‘Sharkman’ and I was introduced to the idea of tonic immobility putting sharks in a catatonic state. I remember being engrossed by the idea and there was this incredible diver that wanted to portray sharks as a complex animal. Not just as this mindless eating machines. He wanted to show that you could interact with them, that they have personalities and I was blown away by this. I was inspired by Mike and the work that he was doing. He didn’t have to choose me. I wasn’t the best but he took me in and said he would teach me how to read sharks. I have had incredible experiences working with Mike and learning a lot of things from him. Being able to translate that into every aspect of my life. Mike not only taught me about sharks, he taught me about myself and who I was.

 I am a coral reef CPR ambassador and I am constantly engaging with people on the management of coral reefs and coral reef conservation. While working in the Maldives, I worked with Dr Andrew Bruckner, to determine which coral species are more heat resistant or heat tolerant because we were having a lot of coral bleaching events as the water was over 30 degrees Celsius for over two months at a time, destroying the reefs. Our job was to figure out which coral was more heat tolerant and try and repopulate the reef successfully using different techniques.

Anything OCEAN today is relevant. Right now, One Ocean is doing a lot of plastic clean up. Out here, I have a river float to clean up the river.  I think our biggest issue is single use plastic in trash and think it is a really important thing that every-one can focus on. Conservation is important and we need to do something that might be a little easier for everyone. Something every one of us can do is to stop using single use plastic to prevent our beautiful animals from getting sick and dying from eating it.

Those of you following Talya  on social media will know that she is a Quarter-Finalist for Ms Health&Fitness 2020. Due to COVID 19 she did not  have access to a swimming pool or openwater training. “ I really had to up my game on dry training. I have taken up kick boxing, I run and do workouts every single day. I am training twice a day , six days a week. Working really hard and hopefully, at the end of this journey, I can win and get the $20 000 prize. My plan is to donate a percentage of the winnings, to the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust. I believe that femicide and rape is a huge issue in South Africa and I would like to support them by donating money to their cause.
“Most days I am up at 5am training, then I get into a couple of things with work. In the evening I train again. I do intermittent fasting – 20 hours fast, 4 hours eating period- which is not as hard as people think it is. I don’t follow a specific diet. I do follow one rule tough. That is, if you’re going to eat it, you have to make it. So, if I want to eat pizza, I have to make the dough, make the sauce and prepare the toppings.

With regard to my dry freedive training one of the best thing you can do as a freediver and it is very often overlooked, people think that they need to go and push depth – is, I do a lot of lung stretching. I do negative lung stretching and positive lung stretches. Our biggest limiting factor in freediving is the flexibility of our ribcage. You want to have a very flexible ribcage when you are freediving and I work a lot on that and also work a lot on equalisation training. It is probably safer to do that on land than in water.  I do a lot of dry stretching and EQ and also do a lot of Yoga.  Flexibility is important for streamlining and trim when you are freediving. I make sure to add those to my everyday routine.  I also like to do static tables. Specifically, carbon dioxide tables, where you are holding your breath for a certain period of time and breathing on shorter intervals as you go.

Her advice to divers to improve their breath hold and depth is simple. " Have the right coach and have the right safety measures in place. "I have learnt that I will not push my limits unless I trust the person that I’m with. At the end of the day you are putting your life in some one else’s hands. If I’m going to push my limits, I want to know and feel safe enough to do it. That is my mental block that I overcome by training or diving with people I trust, which is usually instructors. Other then that, to improve, I would say eat well, hydrate, hydrate so more,  and show up every day. Every single day. You don’t need to pump out personal bests. Do something small. Spend 10- 15minutes working on your goal and it will come.”

Her advice to aspiring freedivers is to be trained and become certified. “Statistics show that freediving is the second most dangerous sport in the world, after base jumping. If we look at these statistics it is normally an uncertified, untrained freediver, solo-diving, doing task loaded dives, like spearfishing. The easiest way that divers can prevent that is by being trained and certified. There are incredible instructors around the world that will teach you how to hack the system, how to breath properly, to work on your mental game and we give you the tools to be a safe freediver.  My number one advice will be to get certified and get insurance.

I am a DAN member and I think it is important especially if you are competing. A lot of people don’t think that DCS happens to freedivers. It does, so we can get bent and most of the time it is neurological, so it is very dangerous. If I don’t have DAN cover most hyperbaric chamber facilities will not accept me for treatment. That is important, especially for the travelling diver to have DAN insurance. I need to be covered where ever I ‘m going.

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