Shallow Water Blackout & Banning Breath Holds in Swimming Pools around Australia - Response after 60 Minutes Segment

Nam Baldwin 27.10.2014

Shallow Water Blackout & Banning Breath Holds in Swimming Pools around Australia - Response after 60 Minutes Segment

Hi Everyone,

It’s Nam here, last night 60 Minutes aired a segment regarding the very real dangers of Shallow Water Blackout (SWB) and after receiving a few enquiries today I would like to share with you some of the important distinctions between what our program ‘Breath Enhancement Training’ (BET) covers, it’s benefits and the safety education versus the message of trying to ban any & all forms of breath hold training.

Firstly my deep condolences and sympathy to the families and friends that have lost their loved ones to such an unfortunate accident, we are in total agreeance that there needs to be more education & understanding of the topic and that safety is of utmost importance. We have trained people from 8 years to 76 years old & we have never come close to having a blackout, simply because we are educated and practice safely.

We absolutely understand the concerns & motivations of those campaigning against all forms of breath hold training, however with an estimated 17 to 23 million surfers in the world (& growing!) we are training people who are 100% without doubt dealing with multiple breath holds in nature as a part of their sport/hobby via wipeouts and having to go under the next few waves too. Our program is of huge benefit to surfers who must deal with this type of stress and we know that we are helping people avoid dangerous panic situations with our education and safe training practices.

Firstly I would like to look at the SWB cases highlighted during the interview, in both cases the individuals were under high levels of exertion, trying to achieve maximum times & distances underwater, covering 25-50m at a time with minimal rest intervals. Here’s an example of one case:

5 lengths (25m) with 5 breaths - I’m supposing 5 breaths at the end of each 25m lap
5 lengths (25) with 4 breaths
2 lengths (25m) with 3 breaths
2 lengths (25m) with 2 breaths
1 length (50m) with 1 breath
1 length (50m) with an empty lung i.e no breath
She was finishing this last lap on an empty lung when she blacked out, & I’m not surprised, I’ve held my breath for 7 minutes and I’m sure I would black out too!

To finish with 50m on an empty lung after her previous repeats is looking for trouble, heres why:
Every time she did the previous sets of multiple 25m laps & taking fewer & fewer breaths, her oxygen saturation would have been dropping slightly, meaning she was heading towards a hypoxic state.
The second last 50m with 1 breath would have dropped the oxygen saturation even lower and the icing on the cake was then attempting the final 50m on an empty lung (no breath), an even further drop of her oxygen saturation. This 50m attempt is a huge challenge for even very well trained & educated free divers, the amount of time she would have been underwater and the exertion of previous sets was very demanding and had lowered her oxygen saturation too much, hence the black out.

It’s therefore quite obvious that doing repeated maximum underwater holds or maximum underwater laps with minimal recovery time, a lack of education & no in water supervision and you have yourselves a very dangerous & even life threatening mix. As a safety diver to a former world record holder in free diving I have seen the limits being pushed many times and my program is designed to educate participants on how to safely improve their confidence in breath hold situations and to avoid black out situations completely. Maximum holds are not necessary to gain confidence & make progress.

BET Training involves very short breath holds, equivalent to what every surfer or surf athlete will encounter and cannot avoid as a part of making progress in their chosen sport or hobby. We wipeout and that’s an accepted part of the sport. Every surfers goal at some point will involve surfing bigger waves, whether that means jumping from 1 to 3 foot waves, 5 to 8 foot and then there are my experienced chargers who are preparing to jump from 20 to 30 foot waves and beyond! The phenomenon of all surfers wanting to surf bigger waves is not about to stop and I will do everything that I can to educate all levels on how to become more comfortable in these wipeout situations, how to prepare themselves so they drastically reduce their chances of panicking and blacking out and also how to recover in the most effective ways from challenging scenarios.

This preparation involves swimming distances underwater which mimic the length of a wipeout or hold down. For example, if we are training for 6 foot wave scenarios, these waves will hold you down for roughly 6-8 seconds and that’s how long we’ll hold our breath & kick underwater is performed, this doesn’t sound like a long time however when you have a high heart it’s not comfortable at all! The kicking is increasing levels of carbon dioxide and because you are not breathing it out it’s making you feel uncomfortable and anxious, a similar experience to what is felt when wiping out. But with an education of what the body & mind are doing and gaining an understanding of your limits, we can practice and easily change this experience.

This type of training is not about stationary, long, drawn out breath holds, instead we do short holds with activity over very safe distances. We ensure that carbon dioxide levels increased during these short breath holds which create a very strong urge to breath, no one wants to do maximum holds in my sessions! Oxygen saturation drops approximately 3-5% (tested) which is going from on average 98% (normal for most people) to 95%. To blackout it will need to drop to the low 60s% or less. During BET Training I have never recorded less than 88% and that was only whilst training the most experienced Big Wave Surfers, where this training is extremely important & they have the need to train that bit harder to accommodate being held under 50ft+ waves. But I must stress that surfers wishing to increase their confidence to surf bigger waves should seek the guidance of a VERY experienced professional and NEVER EVER train alone.

BET methods are also very much about ‘Recovery’. Whilst the drills are designed to put us under a little stress, the recovery components ensure we are using the best possible techniques to recover from each repetition. In the real world of surfing this equates to understanding your capabilities and making sure you are breathing effectively and making the most of your time when sitting out the back between waves. BET builds awareness, making sure that you aren’t putting yourself in danger by taking off on your next wave before the body & mind are ready.

I believe that education & training in short breath hold work that is in alignment with a sport that naturally requires you to do it is a vital tool as long as it is taught and practiced in a safe manner. People have car accidents, is the solution to ban all people from driving? No, the solution is to deliver better training & education & avoid to dangerous driving methods.

The tools and techniques that are taught in BET have many benefits outside of surfing and can dramatically change a persons capacity in dealing with other types of stress. There have been so many clients that have voiced how this training has changed their lives in ways they wouldn’t have imagined. The training develops such a great capacity to deal with stress, anxiety & performance across the board, allowing individuals to perform better in everything they do.

If you would like to ask any questions about our training methods please send us an email at

Thank You, train safely and never train alone.