Mar 2020

Why Freediving is Fun and How to Get Started!

By Elena Vivaldo

Freediving is quite simply the act of diving and swimming underwater with no breathing apparatus, also referred to as free-diving, freediving or breath-hold diving. A freediver is usually snorkelling and spends more time under the water’s surface to observe interesting objects and marine life or simply to help increase fitness.

It only requires essential equipment, such as a snorkel, mask, and fins and obviously trunks and swimwear, we wouldn’t want to be seen promoting free diving as a nudist only sport!

What is Another Word For “Free Diving”?

The term “free diving” is also commonly referred to as “skin diving”, but it’s a term that isn’t used as much anymore. As such, for many people, it became synonymous with “free diving” or “breath-hold diving”.

Basic Freediving

The theory of freediving sounds rather simple. Take a deep breath, dive down, swim around under the water, check out the marine life, the sites and then go back up when you’re running out of air. Basic free diving should only be done at depths of around 1-5m if you are new to it and “finding your fins”. You do not want to overcomplicate basic free diving, so keep it in open water and preferably somewhere where you can’t get stuck underwaters, such as a wreck or a cave.

That being said, free-diving can also be a bit challenging and requires specific techniques and a lot of practice. The key is to start slowly and avoid overestimating yourself.

 Free Diving Techniques

  • To start with, you want to get your lungs used to taking in a lot of air and get them “warmed up”.
  • Take deep breaths (breathe in for 4-6 seconds) and slowly exhale. Repeat 4-5 times.
  • Then when you feel you are ready, apply the same technique. Take a very deep breath (approximately 4-6 seconds) and dive down.
  • Remember to slowly exhale whilst you are underwater.
  • When you run out of air, and you feel you need to breathe, slowly return to the surface.
  • Try to refrain yourself from taking in one huge gasp of air. Take in smaller and quicker breathes to recover.

Best Free Diving in the World

There are so many amazing free diving destinations that it’s very difficult to choose the best one. Virtually any great snorkelling destination will also be a viable destination for free diving as long as you can go to a depth that you’re comfortable with.

Top 5 Freediving Destinations

1. Roatan, Honduras

For many consecutive years now, Roatan is a hotspot for freediving and has hosted some of the world’s biggest freediving championships. Its turquoise waters attract professionals who attempt to reach world-breaking depths. But the spectacular sea conditions, are also a welcoming environment for new freedivers, with an extensive coral reef home to lots of marine life.

Roatan Freediving

2. The Bahamas

It’s hard to beat the variety of freediving options found in the Bahamas. Whether you want to free dive with sharks, the deep blue, wrecks, or see walls matted with corals, The Bahamas have it all. The country’s iconic underwater riches are one of a kind, making it a favourite freediving destination. With crystal clear visibility and diverse ecosystem, freedivers are bound to find a freediving spot that appeals to their interests and matches their level of experience.

Bahamas Freediving

3. Riviera Maya, Mexico

Mexico has fabulous freediving sites and stunning beaches all along its coast. But if you’re in the Riviera Maya, freediving the Cenotes is an absolute must. There are thousands of cenotes to explore, some more accessible than others, making them a top favourite for freedivers. These freshwater underwater pools have super clear and clean water and the ancient Mayans considered them as the opening to the underwater world. One thing’s for sure, freediving in the Cenotes is a magical experience.

Riviera Maya, Cenotes Freediving

4. Kona, Hawaii

Hawaii is known for its healthy reefs and colourful fish, making it a top freediving location. Whether you want to enrol in a freediving course in Hawaii, or want to explore more exciting freediving possibilities, Kona has some of the best freediving spots that Hawaii has to offer. Be ready to see first-hand the amazing waters teeming with fish, from critters to big sea life, such as turtles, manta rays and whales!

Kona_Hawaii_Freediving

5. Bali, Indonesia

Freediving conditions are perfect when diving in Bali, which is ideal for beginners. The waters are calm and clear, and there are many sites that make for an amazing freediving experience. As you comfortably glide through the water, you’ll be greeted by tropical fish and natural wonders and world-famous shipwrecks. It’s impossible not to feel a strong and pure connection to the water when freediving in Bali.

Bali Freediving

Cold Skin / Free Diving

Free-diving (or freediving) in cold waters bears a particular challenge. In extreme cases, you will already gasp for air when you first submerge yourself into the icy waters. As such, you will not be able to hold your breath as long as in lukewarm tropical waters even with a thick wetsuit. If you are not used to the cold and want to maximise your dive-time, you may want to consider getting a 7.5mm wetsuit. However, please consider that the extra neoprene may need to be balanced with additional weights if you tend to be a natural floater. If you counterbalance with a lot of weight and plan to venture into great depths, it is crucial to keep in mind that the suit compresses and becomes negatively buoyant at a certain point. Consequently, you will have to kick harder to get back to the surface. Never push your limits, especially with new gear!

Deep Free Diving

While free diving is usually used in the context of casual cruises along a bay using snorkelling equipment, free-diving is a competitive sport with multiple disciplines, all of which feature great depths. Whether it’s a discipline in the pool, in the oceans, with weights, or without fins, the depths professionals manage to venture to are nothing short of impressive. The deepest free dives are conducted in the No Limits (NLT) discipline. Male NLT divers can reach depths of over 200 meters!

Deep freediving

What Is the Difference Between Freediving and Scuba Diving?

Both free and scuba diving allow you to go deep and explore the underwater world. Freedivers need to go back up to the surface to catch their breath due to the amount of air they can hold in their lungs, while scuba divers carry an air tank with them. As such, casual free divers will rarely venture deeper than 15 meters. While free diving doesn’t require many skills, you need to be trained and certified before you can make dive trips with an air tank. So compared to scuba diving, freediving is easier to do, cheaper, much more casual and unburdened by scuba equipment.

The Difference Between Freediving and Snorkelling

  • Snorkelling

Snorkelling usually consists of swimming and floating on the water’s surface, whilst looking down through a mask, and breathing normally through the snorkel.

  • Freediving

Freediving, you need to hold your breath, dive and swim underwater simultaneously. You need to be extremely fit to be good at it. It also requires you to be an advanced swimmer, while you don’t necessarily need to be able to swim to snorkel (if you can’t swim, it goes without saying you need a life vest!).

Both snorkelling and free diving require the same basic equipment. Free-diving, by itself, requires no equipment whatsoever; however, most make use of a diving mask and fins.

How to Train for Freediving?

There are different exercises you can do to improve your capabilities as a recreational freediver. Being able to hold your breath longer, will enable you to observe more of the spectacular ocean floors on each breath, thus fully immersing yourself in the experience.

Dry Training

This is a training method you do out of the water, for obvious safety reasons. Going on long runs, long uphill hikes, the rowing machine, cycling and anything else that consists of long-distance and endurance training. The aim is to increase your VO2 Max and to boost lung capacity and efficiency. Another dry method is to challenge yourself with breath-holding contests. Holding your breath is a perfect training technique and you can do them in a flat position on a sofa or bed.

Overall fitness

While relaxation is the most crucial aspect of free diving, physical fitness is not insignificant. If you happen to be fit, you will find it easier to free dive for far more extended periods. Both strength and cardio training can be conducted while holding your breath. This helps your body by adapting to anaerobic respiration. However, you need to be careful when doing this to avoid passing out. Never do this alone.

Stretching

Stretching and Yoga postures are incredibly beneficial to freediving, as they increase strength, flexibility and body coordination. Please do not perform these exercises while breath-holding and find an expert teacher, who will ensure you are executing the postures and breathing techniques correctly.

Wet Training in a Pool

Training for free diving in a pool should always include an instructor. Pool training is especially beneficial if you happen to live in an area with cold water during the winter. If you ever feel light-headed doing this, you should stop immediately. If you’re in the pool all alone it is recommended to avoid diving altogether and work on your fitness by swimming on the surface instead.

Is Freediving Dangerous?

Free-diving can be extremely hazardous. If you over-estimate yourself or misjudge your weights, it could very quickly kill you. There are a couple of rules everyone should strictly follow, such as:

  • Never free dive alone.
  • Equalise at least every 3m on the descent (never on the ascent!). If you cannot equalise – abort the dive!
  • Never free dive after a scuba dive (due to decompression sickness).
  • Don’t overweigh yourself with diving weights.
  • Remove the snorkel from your mouth once you descend.
  • Consider your intervals between deep dives.
  • Don’t turn around rapidly to avoid a deep water blackout.

World Record Freediving

Because freediving itself is a hybrid between snorkelling and scuba diving, it is not actually a competitive sport. However, it is becoming more and more popular, and it hosts numerous competitions all across the globe throughout the year.

Natalia Molchanova

Alexey&Natalia_Molchanova freediving

Known as “the world’s greatest freediver”, Natalia Molchanova is the most decorated free diver, beating 41 world records and winning 23 gold medals.

Unfortunately, in 2015 she went missing during a free diving lesson in Formentera (Spain) and was presumed dead. This tragic accident serves as a shocking reminder of the dangers of freediving.

The legacy she left behind is carried on by her son, Alexey Molchanov, a world champion freediver in his own right. For example, in early 2020 set another Guinness World record for the deepest dive under solid ice, reaching 181 metres.

Herbert Nitsch

Herbert_Nitsch freediving

Herbert Nitsch is perhaps the world’s most famous free diver. He is a multiple world champion and holds a total of 33 world records. He’s also named “The Deepest Man on Earth.” This prestigious title was given to him when he set a world record in 2007 in the “No Limits” discipline at a depth of 214 metres. He then surpassed his own record by diving to 253.2 metres in June 2012. He can hold his breath underwater for more than nine minutes!

Are you ready to take the leap int the freediving realm? Feel free to share your thoughts or to brag about your experiences in the comments!

Photo Credit(s): Nick Gray, californiadiver, Bernard DUPONT, hawaiifreediving,  fathomfreedive, crystaldive.com,  Divot, Heirich.

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Elena Vivaldo

One thing's for sure, I slowly drifted into becoming a PADI instructor.
I took my first breath underwater when I was 10 while on holiday in Turkey, and got my open water certification at 16, in Thailand.

Initially, diving was simply something I enjoyed doing while on holiday, but at some point, I decided to up my game and to make something out of it. I've always loved travelling, and diving gave me the freedom to travel and work at the same time. So I took my first step towards becoming a PADI pro, and I did my divemaster internship in Tenerife. I worked on the island for a few months before heading to India to further hone my diving skills.

Years later, and with many dives under my weight belt, I've had the great opportunity to introduce people to the underwater world and to explore many exciting dive destinations. There is nothing I like more than seeing new dive sites around the world (my weakness).

When not teaching, I continue to share my love for diving by writing about it. As a copywriter, I can blend my diving and writing skills to create insightful content. But more importantly, I've found a way to stay connected to the world beneath the waves even when I'm out of the water.

Diving Qualifications:
- PADI Open Water Scuba Instructor
- PADI Speciality Instructor: deep, wreck, night, enriched air, O2
- EFR Instructor
- Scubapro Level 1 Technician

Dream Diving Destinations:
- Palau
- Cenotes, Mexico
- Galapagos
- Vancouver Island, Canada
- Sardine Run, South Africa
- Mass coral spawning, Great Barrier Reef