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Garrett McNamara on Breath Training Techniques

By Garrett McNamara

Astral began in class V whitewater where staying calm underwater is an essential survival skill. We’ve always admired surfer’s extensive experience remaining comfortable in extremely chaotic water. So we caught up with Astral ambassador / big wave surfing legend, Garrett McNamara, to see how he trains his breath for extended periods of time underwater.

When it comes to breathwork, back in the day, I would do ‘hold my breath exercises’ while exerting energy. 

I had a quarter mile track I would run, and there were four benches on one side. At each bench, I would stop and do 10 push ups, breathe out, take another big breath, and then do 10 dips, blow out, take another big breath and do 10 leg ups.

Holding your breath while exerting energy, makes it so that when you’re underwater, holding your breath, it’s super comfortable. 

I credit that single routine, those three little exercises, to always being comfortable underwater. Still to this date, (knocking on wood) I haven’t had an experience where I was not enjoying being under the water.

Now, there’s so many new techniques, so many amazing teachers, so many amazing practices. 

So now, I’ve implemented hyperoxygenating my body before I go out into big waves, and during a big wave session. That’s three seconds in (breath in for three seconds). Then ten seconds out (breath out for ten seconds). You put your tongue on the roof of your mouth, and (kinda like a snake) you pressurize the air, so the oxygen goes into your bloodstream. 

That’s a very calming oxygenating technique.

When you’re free diving, you never want to hyperventilate. When you hyperventilate, it enables you to stay underwater a lot longer, comfortably. But you’ll stay so long, you’ll pass out. You don’t know when the shut off is. You don’t know when the black out is coming if you hyperventilate ahead of time. So when you’re free diving, never hyperventilate. 

But when you’re big wave surfing, and you want to stay comfortable under water, you hyperventilate right when you see that big set coming…do a quick 20 breaths (in and out, quickly). And then you do a couple calming down breaths. And then you’re ready. 

You’re hyperoxygenated and your shut off switch, or your fight or flight switch (where you’ll panic) is turned off. So you’ll stay (underwater) as long as you need to, comfortably. Then when you finally come up, that’s the only time you can actually breathe.

So the hyperventilating is actually good for big wave surfing. 

Garett McNamara

Astral Ambassador, Garrett McNamara, broke the record for the largest wave ever surfed and remains one of the world’s most influential big water surfers and watermen. A pioneer of big wave surfing in Nazaré, Portugal, he is featured in HBO’s docuseries 100 Foot Wave.

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