WHAT IS FREEDIVING?& Freedive Cafe Episodes for Newcomers
WHAT IS FREEDIVING?
& FREEDIVE CAFE EPISODES FOR NEWCOMERS
Have you heard about freediving, but you’re still unsure about what it is?
Perhaps you’ve just seen the new Avatar movie and heard about the amazing breath-hold feats of the actors?
Surely you will have stumbled upon some striking images on social media of elegant breath-holding divers underwater with whales, dolphins and sharks?
Or perhaps like me, abiding images from Luc Besson’s 1988 film Le Grand Bleu were seared into your memory from a young age and you always wanted to understand that mysterious and slightly wacky subculture that dedicates itself to pursuing depth in water?
You may have a vague sense that freediving can be a profound mental and physical challenge, a practice, a discipline, like yoga or a martial art, or you may simply imagine that it’s a fun way to explore the local reefs you visit on your worldwide travels. Whatever angle you’re approaching it from, this article will help you understand the wonderful world of freediving…
Warning: The safest way to learn freediving is from a trained professional. Freediving can be dangerous if practiced alone and/or with unsafe techniques, so please do not try to teach yourself from videos or articles online then proceed to practice in the water!
A freediver prepares to dive, relaxing and breathing, resting on the freediving buoy.
WHAT IS FREEDIVING?
Freediving is simply any underwater activity performed on a single breath of air.
Unlike scuba divers who use tanks of compressed air to visit the world beneath the surface, we use the amount of air that we can inhale into our lungs, with a single full breath.
Anyone can learn freediving – humans are actually very good at it!
The world record for deep freediving, without any equipment, using only the arms and the legs to power oneself down and back up (the style know as CNF, Constant Weight No Fins), is 102m deep! That is more than the height of the Statue of Liberty!
Freediving is about relaxation and control. We need to relax both our physical bodies and our busy minds.
More relaxation means less oxygen consumption, which leads to less CO2 production (which causes the urge to breath), and therefore more comfortable, longer and enjoyable dives.
In a freediving course you will study how to relax deeply, let go of intrusive thoughts, and manage the sensations of the urge to breathe. With a little expert training anyone can learn to hold their breath for several minutes and dive 20 metres deep, or more!
For a deep introduction to freediving in podcast form, check out:
For a more emotional and philosophical look at freediving, listen to these:
A group of freediving students learn freediving lifestyle techniques in a Freedive and Thrive workshop.
FREEDIVING THROUGH HISTORY
Freediving is burgeoning as a sport in recent times, but breath-hold diving is as old as human history. Humans have always been drawn to live by the ocean and other bodies of water, for obvious reasons: water has provided abundant and healthy food through the ages.
Looking at the Sama-Bajau ethnic group of South East Asia, who today still utilise freediving as a means to hunt and survive, it is easy to imagine many such groups throughout the world through history, and easy to speculate that in many cultures the people were more familiar with the art of breath-hold diving than most of us are today.
For a deep dive into the ancient history and archaeology of freediving, enjoy my fascinating Freedive Cafe interview with Emilio Rodríguez-Álvarez:
A Sama-Bajau hunter catches an octopus. Photo Credit: James Morgan
DIFFERENT KINDS OF FREEDIVING:
Freediving is a multifaceted activity. The skill of breath-hold diving can be applied in many ways.
Most freediving takes place in the ocean, but it can also be found in pools, lakes and water under the ice.
FREEDIVING AS SPORT:
Freediving is a sport unlike any other in the world. In fact, I would argue that it is the most unique sport in the world and the only one where the entire performance of the athlete takes place on a breath-hold!
In freediving competitions, athletes compete with each other to dive the deepest, farthest or longest.
However, competitive freediving is less … competitive, than most other sports, and attending a competition is more often seen as an opportunity to test one’s own abilities in a controlled and safe setting surrounded by supportive friends.
Especially in deep freediving, we train our bodies and minds to achieve depths we previously thought impossible.
Do not think that deep competition freedivers are daredevils or crazy people. Freediving is an incredibly safe sport when the divers are properly trained in safety.
Freediving is about control, balance and self-awareness.
Most of the general public are completely unaware that freediving exists as a competitive sport. Most of them are shocked and surprised by the dives that even amateur and beginner freedivers take for granted, let alone the truly amazing 100+ metre dives.
It can be genuinely mind-blowing for many people and a great inspiration that many of the best freedivers in the world are older, more mature, or otherwise not those you would immediately associate with athletic prowess!
Anyone can learn how to freedive and do something incredible. Give it a try!
Some of my favourite episodes of The Freedive Cafe with top athletes include:
Here I am preparing for a dive in a competition setting. See the judge and various safety divers also preparing.
FREEDIVING FOR HEALTH AND PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT:
Anyone with a basic level of fitness can get started with freediving and do an entry level freediving course.
Moving forward, if you get bitten by the depth bug, the pursuit of new depths in freediving requires us to have a well-balanced level of fitness, and appropriate strength in the body, as well as a stable and resilient nervous system and a mind characterised by mindfulness and equanimity.
Developing these qualities not only makes a better freediver, but the benefits feed into all aspects of the diver’s life.
For this reason, it is common for freedivers to practice yoga, meditation, movement and a wide variety of complementary disciplines and training methods, to carefully watch their diet and alcohol intake and get adequate sleep, rest and recovery, to aid them in becoming better, deeper divers.
Freediving becomes a lifestyle. We recognise that the ocean is healing and transformative and often start to design our lives around our time in the water.
Some favourite episodes of The Freedive Cafe about personal development and transformations:
A student experiences the joy of having reached a new personal best in depth!
FUNDIVING & EXPLORATION
Your freediving skills can be used to explore coastlines, coral reefs, shipwrecks, underwater caves and much more. As a quiet and graceful visitor in the ocean you can more easily interact with the creatures that call the sea their home.
Without the noisy bubbles of scuba tanks you will find that fish and large sea creatures are more curious about you and may approach you and interact with you.
Sometimes the most fun is to be had just playing around in the water with some good friends.
Don’t forget to leave your camera at home sometimes so you can be fully present and truly mindful of the place you are in and how beautiful it is!
FREEDIVING FOR UNDERWATER PHOTOGRAPHY:
Incredibly popular these days, taking a camera with you while freediving means you can easily slip beneath the surface and get great pictures without all the equipment, costs and noisy bubbles of scuba gear.
Another advantage is that the fish and other sea life are less disturbed by the freediver and more likely to approach and join in the fun!
Underwater photography is a fine art in itself.
I have interviewed many of the world’s best freediving, underwater photographers on The Freedive Cafe Podcast:
Underwater photographer Fred buyle in action.
FREEDIVING FOR HUNTING AND HARVESTING:
For tens of thousands of years freediving has been a means for humans to hunt and find food, whether that is chasing a fish with a spear or harvesting seafood like urchins. It is a part of our ancient history and instrumental in becoming who we are as a species.
Although controversial, there is no denying that hunting for one’s own food is the most sustainable and direct means of taking sustenance from the sea, if that is how you wish to sustain yourself.
Please be aware that special attention must be paid to the health of the fish stock, and local regulations, in areas where you wish to hunt.
There isn’t much spearfishing related content on The Freedive Cafe but you might like this one:
A freediver chills out at the bottom of the dive line as a school of fish circles in curiosity.
FREEDIVING FOR ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION:
We can use our skills as freedivers to help keep the ocean clean. We can remove old fishing nets and do our part to reduce the tsunami of plastic waste flooding into the sea every day. Every little helps.
As freedivers we are uniquely positioned to see and understand the devastating changes taking place in the oceans and we can then take this information back to those on land who may not really comprehend the scale of the change. Especially our younger, and older, brothers and sisters.
Every time you go to the water, try to pick up some trash and take it away when you leave. Pick up some plastic from the beach (you will find it easily!) and put it in the recycling.
On my freediving courses we spend some time after every session filling up a bag with plastic waste. Environmental protection and improving the dire condition of our oceans and shorelines can easily become part of our freediving lifestyle.
Although it may seem a hopeless task, leading the way by example can have enormous trickle down effects, even if they are not immediately apparent to us.
Freedive Cafe episodes with discussions about the environment:
MC lost a leg in an accident, but she manages to find freedom and lightness under the water.
IS FREEDIVING DANGEROUS?
Freediving was once called the most dangerous sport in the world! But this is simply untrue!
In the history of modern competitive freediving only one freediver has died in a performance.
While it is indeed true that many people die each year while spearfishing and snorkelling, there are two simple reasons for most of those deaths – diving alone, and diving without basic safety skills such as you learn on a freediving course.
Freedivers who run into problems when diving alone and black out (lose consciousness), are unlikely to survive. On the other hand, a diver who dives with another set of eyes on them, after having learned the safety guidelines and rescue techniques of a freediving course, will be safe from harm, even when blackout occurs.
When done with the knowledge and skills you will learn from an experienced instructor, freediving is probably the safest of the ‘extreme’ sports.
Freedive Cafe episodes that go into depth about freediving safety:
Enjoying the last of daylight and finsihing off the pool sessions!
Freediving is a remarkably colourful and varied activity that can been practised for many different reasons.
It is a transformational skill, a sport, a leisure activity, a meditation, a healthy exercise, a vehicle for exploration, a mode of therapy, and a way of life!
Anyone can learn freediving and discover a new universe under the surface of the ocean, and uncover the deeper layers of the soul.
Some classic Freedive Cafe episodes to take you deeper and deeper….
About the author:
Donny Mac is based in Dahab, Egypt
where he teaches freediving and other complementary disciplines
for those looking for a deeper dive into the world under the ocean
and a deeper look inside the self.