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Disclaimer: Safety is the first priority. Don’t practice any breath training in water, in traffic, or in any unsafe environment, especially without supervision. To access Mark’s guided breath warm-up, check out Mark Healey’s Guide to Heavy Water, and enter code INERTIA10 to save 10% at checkout.


I love breath-hold work so much, because, on any given day, you can get yourself to a breaking point and deal with that discomfort. Multiple times a day within a few minutes.

When borrowing concepts from freediving, it’s really based on a controlled environment, having time to breath up, getting as calm as possible, spending that time dropping your heart rate. Whereas surfing larger waves is pretty much all the worst things you could do for an efficient breath-hold. Your heart rate is maxed out. You’ve done a lot of cardio, because you were just paddling or swimming or kicking. Tons of adrenaline in your system. So it’s taking some of these concepts from freediving and applying them to a big surf situation.

One thing I’ve learned is to take a modest breath rather than filling your lungs to the brim such that it’s a strain on your system.

For me, it’s a full breath, but not an uncomfortable breath when I’m going to get caught inside or I need to do a breath hold in a surf situation. I’m comfortable. I don’t have to tense up to hold that air in.

Pro Tips
1. You are not the same every day. Your diet, sleep, mood, and stress levels will affect performance.
2. Breathing for freediving and surfing are very different.
3. Don’t wait until the very last second to take a breath.

1. Hold-Downs

You’re not getting held down that long when you think about it. It feels like a long time because you are under physical and mental duress when it happens, but tacking on an extra second and a half to the breath-hold is not going to hurt you. To me, it’s more valuable to do that than to risk taking water down the windpipe as this wave comes. Sometimes whitewater appears to be moving consistently, and then all of the sudden some part of water will just squirt and cover a bunch of ground before the mass of the whitewater actually hits you and you’re choking.

Nobody wants to be waterboarded before a breath-hold. It’s not good. I’ll give myself an extra second, and I’m comfortable. Then, it’s off to the Macarena-ville underwater.

2. Rhythm

As soon as I see that I’m screwed, I’m starting my breathing rhythm. I start a pace of breathing the same way a runner who’s done a lot of marathons knows their pace and comes off the starting line at that pace. This is a breathing pace I’ve learned because I’ve done a lot of breath work and cardio work and I know what works for me that I can maintain. I’m doing that all the way up until about two seconds before the wave hits me and I go under the surface.

3. Visualization

A big part of putting yourself in extreme discomfort is that you find the mental mechanisms that work for you. For breath-holding, I know what works for me as far as picturing something in your mind or different tactile sensations. What’s optimal is different for everybody. It can depend on mood.

Sometimes I’ll imagine a fish that’s coming close, and I need another 15 seconds to get it. Sometimes I’ll pretend I’m listening to metal music and pretend I’m in a mosh pit.

Sometimes, I’ll consider how violent the water feels on my right foot. Just hyper-focus on someplace on my body. It depends on the day. This is where you have to figure out what works best for you and the only way to do that is to be in uncomfortable situations in a controlled environment.

Because I’ll tell you what: what you think might work for you right now usually does not work for you when you’re under extreme mental duress. You have to go to those places and find what works for you.

Editor’s Note: Safety is the first priority. Don’t practice any breath training in water, in traffic, or in any unsafe environment, especially without supervision. To access Mark’s guided breath warm-up, check out Mark Healey’s Guide to Heavy Water, and enter code INERTIA10 to save 10% at checkout.

Mark Healey Breath Exercise

Mark Healey knows a few things about holding his breath during a beatdown. Photo: The Inertia/Steele

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