Freediving 101: A Brief Intro for Scuba Divers

Freedivers blend in to the undersea environment and get up close and personal with marine animals. Photo credit: William Winram

Scuba divers are accustomed to coexisting in the ocean with freedivers in addition to the ocean's native species, which include fish, sharks, coral, and crabs. Most underwater divers have witnessed them moving effortlessly up and down without inhaling, so close to curious marine life that it makes them feel envious. Freediving must intrigue you if you haven't experienced it yourself; it seems like an extreme sport. What is their method? How does diving without a scuba tank feel? Here's a quick overview of freediving for scuba divers and anybody else interested in learning more about this rapidly expanding sport.

You’ve Already Been Freediving

Freediving has probably been attempted by just about everyone who has swum in the ocean or even in a pool. Freediving is often defined as breathing underwater while swimming. Therefore, you are technically freediving whenever you descend below the water's surface, immersing your face and body while holding your breath.

Most first-time freediving experiences start by taking snorkeling a little deeper. Photo Credit: Yuval Perez via Wikimedia Commons

Freediving is more than that, though. It's also a novel technique to go unhindered through the seas. Freedivers, both amateur and professional, study and practice breath-holding techniques that enable them to hold their breath for extended periods of time and dive to depths that are beyond the capabilities of amateur scuba divers.

Elegant Thrill-seekers

While scuba diving and freediving share many characteristics—both involve getting wet, making your ears pop, and posing some degree of risk and exploration—there are also some significant distinctions.

First, freedivers have a different set of objectives than scuba divers, who often dive to explore and observe aquatic life. They may compete for the longest dive time or the deepest depth because they are frequently competitive. Freedivers can glide into the depths for a sensation of extreme quiet and relaxation, however many also like swimming with and watching marine life.

Second, relatively little equipment is used by freedivers. Instead of large BCDs, cumbersome tanks, and dangling gadgets, divers should go for an elegant wetsuit (if any), a low-volume mask and snorkel, and thin fins. Freedivers tend to blend in with their surroundings since they are so streamlined and don't blow bubbles, which enables them to interact with marine life in a much more natural way. "Scuba diving is like driving a 4-miles-per-gallon truck, where you have all the luxury of being wasteful," says world-class freediver William Winram. You have to be lot more deliberate and attentive when you're freediving.

Photo Credit: Karol Meyer via Wikimedia Commons

Third, the majority of freedivers do not need to be concerned about decompression illness or lung overexpansion, two serious health problems that scuba divers are warned against from the start of their certification course. Freedivers don't need to worry about a safe ascent rate, no-decompression limitations, or making safety stops, so they can ascend and descend as quickly as they like.

The biggest distinction is that freediving involves an investigation of the body and mind. The ability to establish a profound level of relaxation and tranquillity, use the least amount of oxygen possible, and resist the temptation to breathe underwater are all necessary skills for successful freediving. Despite being less time than scuba diving, freediving can be significantly more intensive. This is because freedivers do not employ breathing equipment to extend their duration or depth; instead, they rely only on their own expertise.

Many claim that learning to freedive can improve your scuba diving since it will teach you how to manage your body and mind more physically and mentally. Your ability to breathe more deeply and equalize your body's pressure will improve. Freediving is arguably more thrilling and difficult in many respects than recreational diving.

Mammalian Dive Reflex

The effects of diving on the human body are one of the most fascinating aspects of freediving. The freediver must work hard to achieve depth at first since they are positively buoyant from having their lungs full of air. The pressure on the body doubles after roughly 10 meters (33 feet), squeezing the lungs to half their initial size and causing the diver to become neutrally buoyant. A sense of weightlessness develops. As they keep diving, the process flips around, and the sink phase (or freefall) starts. The diver's body is now negatively buoyant and is being dragged down into the depths.

The act of holding your breath for any length of time need not be natural. This is where the Mammalian Dive Reflex comes in. It is a physiological reaction that causes your heart rate to slow down and directs blood flow away from your extremities and into your essential organs, enabling you to survive longer on the meager oxygen you have. An added benefit is that your lungs won't collapse under pressure at depth thanks to the enhanced blood supply to them. Freedivers frequently speak of feeling one with the ocean in this relaxed condition, which is similar to profound meditation.

Freedivers may beam with joy upon resurfacing following a lengthy dive due to the adrenaline rush.

Freediving: What’s in a Name

Freediving has been practiced for many years and for a variety of reasons. Ancient cultures had people dive for food, tradeables like pearls, or to recover artifacts that had gotten lost at sea. Past and present spearfishers use freediving to approach and sneak up on their target. For underwater photographers, the same holds true. Photographers can get quite close to their subjects when freediving without frightening them away with loud breathing or distracting bubbles.

Freediving has just lately developed into a leisure activity. Freediving is becoming more and more well-known as a competitive sport, although still being on the periphery of organized sport. Every year since the first international tournament began in the middle of the 1990s, new world records have been set.

There are numerous divisions within competitive freediving, each with a distinct discipline. Records can be achieved in each discipline individually, but for the majority of national and international competitions, divers must compete in multiple disciplines with a final cumulative score.

Swimming pools provide a regulated setting for pool disciplines. Static apnea and dynamic apnea are the two primary pool disciplines. Divers who participate in static apnea must hold their breath for as long as they can without swimming or moving. Divers compete in dynamic apnea to test how far they can swim on a single breath rather than in a race against the clock. You can perform dynamic apnea with or without fins.

A diver holding his breath in the static apnea pool discipline. Source: Apnea Koh Lipe

The focus of self-powered disciplines is on the freediver using their own energy to complete deep dives. A freediving line, which is a rope fastened to a buoy or float at the surface and weighed down by a weight or tethered to something at the bottom, is used for free immersion diving. In free immersion, freedivers pull themselves down the line until they reach their destination before pulling themselves back up the line. Another discipline that can be practiced with or without fins is constant weight, which entails the diver kicking to the bottom and returning back up without the use of a line. free

A freediver swims up the line in the constant weight discipline. Source: Coral Grand Divers Koh Tao

Assisted depth disciplines use no-limits categories and variable weights. In variable weight, the diver descends using weight before leaving the bottom and rising on a line once more. The diver is free to utilize any technique to descend and ascend in no-limits. A lift bag and a line assist the diver climb again while a weighted sled is typically used to descend.

Dangers of Freediving

Freediving is an extremely risky sport, there is no doubt about that. According to one publication, base jumping is the second most dangerous sport. While most fatalities take place outside of official contests, freediving competitions frequently see blackouts because daredivers hold their breath for longer and go deeper than their bodies can sustain.

Blackouts occur frequently at sporting events There are only two kinds of freedivers, according to Winram: those who have blacked out and those who will. Freedivers may also experience internal bleeding as a result of a pressure "squeeze."

However, similar to scuba diving, the risks of freediving can be reduced with appropriate instruction, adherence to safety precautions, and diving within your own boundaries. Numerous safety precautions are in place at competitions to rescue divers who do not surface when they should or who need medical assistance after surfacing.

Ready to Give it a Try?

It seems like a natural transition for scuba divers who love the ocean and want a challenge to give freediving a try. You'll gain a fresh view on the underwater world and develop your underwater abilities thanks to the sport. Speak with a local freediving or scuba diving school to get started. There are many certification programs available, including those from AIDA, CMAS, PADI, SSI, FII, and PFI. You will learn about the dangers of freediving, fundamental equalization and breath-hold methods, how to save a fellow freediver in distress, and how to dive farther than you ever imagined you could in a novice course.


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