This last autumn, I got an email out of the blue from Edmund Vallance, a writer for the Los Angeles times. He was interested in freediving and had pitched an idea to the Times--he planned to take a class with a local instructor and write about the experience. He had zero actual freediving experience and so would be exploring the class as a bit of a regular joe. I initially assumed that he'd want to take the first level class, but over the phone he expressed his love of a challenge and desire to 'maybe start with the intermediate'.
Under PFI guidelines, we do allow divers with no prior formal training to start at the intermediate level, with instructor approval. I've always liked this about PFI since I was self taught as a freediver, and I did not take classes until I decided to become an instructor, at which time I started in the intermediate as a prerequisite to instructor training. Intermediate material includes all the safety and techniques from our first level classes PLUS the intermediate material.
In Edmund's case, I let him know that he'd likely be a very challenged but okay to start with an intermediate. He'd done a little bit of scuba diving but--far more useful in my estimation--he told me that while he had no serious competitive swimming background, he liked to swim laps at least a couple times a week at the community pool and had done so for years.
Full article here: https://www.latimes.com/travel/la-tr-california-free-diving-20190113-story.html
A few notes/corrections: It looks like the editors added some info about classes at the end of the article and made a typo... intermediate students are capped at 133', not 433' (433' would be a little beyond the current world record).
Also, it's an oversimplification to say Nick Mevoli died of BO, but at the same time explaining chronic to fatal lung barotrauma is probably a bit outside the scope of an LA Times feature.