After conquering a few mental fears equalisation is normally the biggest obstacle that most spearfishers will encounter.
The reason we need to equalise is because it bloody hurts you if you don’t. How’s that for a good enough reason?
Seriously, hydrostatic pressure (10m ocean depth is equivalent to 1 mile high in the sky. We take approximately 10 seconds to arrive at 10m). That’s why we need to equalise. As you descend the water pressure increases hence the pressure increases inside your ear canal, hurting your tympanic membrane (ear drum) – you have to “equalise” this outside pressure by matching it with air pressure that you have inside you. Equalising maintains pressure balance between the middle ear space, the rest of the body and surrounding water. The Eustachian tube comes into play here, this tube runs from the back of your nose to the air space of the middle ear. The tube is generally collapsed, opening when the “clearing” (equalising) process eventuates. When you experience the “crackle, pop” sounds you are equalising, relieving the pressure on the Tympanic membrane and sinus cavities. Correct technique and equalising before you experience discomfort is the key to comfortable spearfishing, and ensuring there is no chronic damage to your eardrums.
There are several methods to equalise. Some spearos are lucky enough to be able to “hands free” equalise or it’s nerd term VTO – Voluntary Tubal Opening, this descriptor to me sounds like something from an adult science fiction fantasy. I usually despise these spearos, imagine being able to have two hands, two arms free! You could dive with two spear guns and catch twice as much fish! Ha-ha. However VTO is not entirely reliable, if you have some congestion difficulties may occur; when you begin to get down to a reasonable depth the limitations of VTO appear. Pear shapes can happen very quickly as we are descending at 1 second a metre and if not managed smoothly by way of another efficient equalisation technique you could perhaps develop ear troubles, such as barotrauma to the Tympanic membrane (tears to, or, burst eardrum).
An extremely efficient method that will suffice for even the most ardent spearo here on the east coast is the Frenzal Method of equalisation. I implore everyone who reads this to take the time to watch this YouTube clip. It’s awesome.
Aharon, the creator of this clip, describes the steps of achieving Frenzal extremely well, it will be a tube opening experience for many of you reading this. I’ll let the clip finish this article.
I will summarise. Never dive when unwell; allow two weeks after congestion has cleared before you dive again; equalise before descent; equalise before discomfort is felt; never equalise on ascent.
Take care and see you down there!