What is Freediving? One of the most extraordinary sports in the world!

What is Freediving…?

 

Hello and welcome to another blog from OceanSense instructor Trainer Matt, as I attempt to answer a very simple yet complicated question “What is Freediving?”

This is probably the most common question we get asked by the general public and after a brief explanation, is often followed by something along the lines of “Wow! I could never do that’ or “Isn’t that dangerous?” and sometimes the occasional “You must be crazy!!”. 

As a team of freediving instructors on the east coast of Australia, we teach all types of people from all walks of life. People who surf, spear fish, snorkel, scuba dive, practice yoga, breathwork… the list is endless. For many, Freediving is a way of life, and for others is just something to practice on the weekends. Whatever it is, one thing is for sure. Freediving is a completely natural activity that is safe, fun and almost absolutely everyone can do it.

What is freediving

Let’s start from the beginning…

Ever since humans were on the planet, we have always looked for sources of food for survival from wherever we can get it. It’s a popular theory that at one point long ago, humans actively went to the oceans to escape predators and retrieve food (The aquatic ape theory) which explains why we have less fur, downward facing noses and a phenomenon called the Mammalian diving reflex. These changes actively make us more hydro dynamic and help us stay underwater longer to gather food and in some cases treasure. 

It was documented that 8,000 years ago, the Chinchorian people (ancient people from Chile) used to Freedive for food and to collect goods to trade on the ocean. We still to this day have cultures who depend on Freediving for day to day existence, for example the Bajau people. For hundreds of years, the Bajau people from south east asia, have lived at sea, and natural selection may have made them genetically stronger divers with some divers claiming to spend up to 13 minutes on one breath! Amazing! 

Now think about this, for the first 9 months of our existence, we are submerged in water and in fact until we are born and learn to walk, we can be thrown into water and hold our breath for up to 1 minute completely naturally and our mammalian diving response is activated (please don’t throw your baby into water!) Now imagine if instead of losing that natural ability, you kept submerging yourself in water instead of growing up, going to school, getting a job blah blah blah. 

It’s not surprising that cultures like the Bajau people have actively evolved to become master Freedivers! Over the years, Freediving has grown rapidly and more and more people are finding ways to reactivate this dormant part of our history concealed in this modern day life.

Today, Freediving has many different uses for the more modern world and the answer to the question “What is Freediving” is often split into 2 categories. Sport and Recreational.

In 1949, a daredevil Hungarian called Raimundo butcher decided for a bet that he would dive down to 30m underwater which at that time, scientists said would surely kill him due to increased pressure. To their amazement, he returned to the surface unharmed and the first official freediving depth was documented. This set off a huge chain of new records being set and the sport of freediving was born. 

The film “The Big Blue” by Luc Besson (1988) is perhaps the first real movie to bring freediving into the mainstream media. It is based on two legendary competitive freedivers, Jacques Mayol and Enzo Maiorca, which documented their friendly rivalry to be the first human down to 100m in the discipline of “No Limits”. 

The sport of Freediving has evolved over the years and many different disciplines have been created across the pool for distance and ocean for depth. The deepest a human being has ever been submerged is Herbert Nitsch with a staggering 214m in 2007 in the discipline No Limits. Every year, there are Freediving competitions held all over the world as people gather to compete against each other and themselves and strive to push their limits! 

What is Freediving as a recreational activity

Now for most people, the sport of Freediving might seem a little intense and you might not see yourself baffling scientists or setting new world records! What’s more likely is you have seen videos on social media of mermaids, freedivers or blue avatar people holding their breath and diving into the ocean! Whatever has piqued your interest, you’ll be pleased to know that with a little training and time, you can be one of those people and join your local community of underwater breath holders, and that’s where recreational freediving comes in!

The term Recreational Freediving can be anything used to enhance your in water experience and that you are doing for fun on one breath. You don’t have to be diving down to crazy depths, or spending minutes underwater. You might simply just enjoy interacting with marine life or diving down for instagram shots. 

A Lot of people who come into freediving may use Freediving to enhance a specific water activity, for example surfing. Surfers often have to battle with big waves, which incur long hold downs and will actively need the surfer to hold their breath, which under these conditions can be challenging and induce panic. Learning how to breath properly gives the surfer the tools to be more confident in the surf and hold their breath longer. 

On the other hand, you may get a spearfishermen who is looking to learn how to freedive to dive deeper and stay down longer to get bigger and better fish. As mentioned previously, there really is no standard for anyone wanting to Freedive – we are all born to do this…

It is really important though (que the instructor interruption), that you do invest in learning how to do it properly. This will not only accelerate your learning and progression as a freediver, but it will also create a safety conscious mind and give you the tools and skills to be a safe and confident freediver. No matter where you do your freediving course in the world, or which agency you do it with, they will all teach you the basic fundamentals of how to become a Freediver. 

Now, a question that we hear A LOT and perhaps a common misconception that people tend to have about freediving is “Is Freediving safe”? 

The answer to that question generally is Yes, but it has its risks like every sport. The statistics show that only 1 person has ever died in a freediving competition, and according to DAN  (divers alert network) between 2006-2011 around 59 recreational free divers die per year. 

Why is this? Simply put, people unfortunately think Freediving does not need proper training and because of its minimal need for equipment, it can be performed relatively easily by anyone near a body of water. Ignoring the consequences of getting their brain hypoxic. Every year, across the east coast of Australia we hear of deaths happening from untrained freedivers or people breaking the golden safety rules. 

The number one rule in Freediving is to NEVER DIVE ALONE, closely followed by DIVE WITHIN YOUR LIMITS. If you are thinking of getting into freediving, wherever you are in the world, take a course and find buddies. Your future self will thank you for it. 

So in conclusion, the question “What is Freediving?” is far more than just taking a breath and swimming underwater. Each year, more and more people find freediving and it affects their lives in many different ways. It brings people together, gets people out in nature, keeps people healthy and helps them explore new worlds. With Freediving being one of the most natural ways to explore the ocean and the world’s fastest growing sport, perhaps the real question is “What will Freediving be to you”?

Freediving Instructor Trainer Matt

Matt

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