Freediving is perhaps the ultimate connection between man and water. No tanks and other complicated gear—it’s just you and the silence beneath the waves.
While freediving is commonly believed to be an extreme sport, for most divers, it’s actually the complete opposite. This sport is open to anyone who wants to get in the water as you don’t need to have any experience in snorkeling or scuba to get started. Freedivers simply have to hold their breath—some even enter a trance-like state of mind by relaxing the mind and focusing on their breathing—as they explore the underwater world.
If you want to learn more about this serene pursuit and prepare for your first freediving experience, read on.
What is Freediving?
Freediving or breath-hold diving is a method of underwater diving that does not require the help of a breathing apparatus. Instead of using an air tank, you simply hold your breath for as long can until you return to the surface.
With freediving, you can only travel as far as the air in your lungs will take you. The incredible feeling of pushing yourself to your limits helps explain the appeal of this sport. Therefore, the most important part of your training is learning how to breathe properly.
But before you head underwater, it’s important to be prepared for the excursion—both physically and mentally.
How to Freedive
Divers normally start their training by finding out how long they can hold their breath underwater and then using this figure as the base number to work on.
The key to advancing and lasting longer underwater is to get used to taking slow, deep breaths. Breathe in for five seconds, and then breathe out for 10-15 seconds. Make sure that you breathe out for much longer than you breathe in to avoid hyperventilating.
When you have this breathing pattern down, record your pulse. You will need to have a pulse of 80 beats per minute or less while you are deep breathing in order to be ready to start freediving. If you keep at it, you will find that your pulse starts to slow down with your deep breathing exercises over time. You will gradually be able to descend further as your pulse adapts. You may not be able to hold your breath for longer than 11 minutes and descend to more than 200 meters below the surface like veteran freedivers, but you can certainly attain and best your own goals as you progress in the sport.
Keep practicing your dives, working on descending further with each attempt.
(For female divers looking for pertinent information about freediving, check out this helpful guide from SLO active.)
As with every other water sport, you’ll need to be equipped with a few basic pieces of underwater gear that will help you see, breathe, and move better in the water. But unlike in scuba diving, you won’t have to wear or lug around so many things, which will ultimately help you reach a near-zen experience while underwater.
Make sure you have the following before you actually go freediving.
There are really only a handful of things that you need to go freediving, and one of them is a good underwater mask. Aside from looking for a good fit, choose one with a low volume or low profile so it sits closer to your face, can be cleared of water more quickly, and reduces in-water drag.
- Aqua Lung Micro-Mask ($105)
- Cressi Nano 2 Window Free Diving Mask ($69.95)
- Picasso Deep Free Diving Mask ($54.95)
Another important piece of equipment is your snorkel, which should help you take a few breaths while submerged near the surface of the water. Of course, the use of the snorkel will require training (more on this below) as it involves fighting the urge to breathe before you are able to clear out your tube.
When choosing a snorkel, it’s best to find one that’s designed for freediving—preferably with a flexible, curved tube that stays in place so you don’t have to bite too hard and can focus on relaxing underwater.
- Cressi Freediving Corsica Snorkel ($19.95)
- Omer Sub Zoom Snorkel ($19.80)
- Cressi America Black Snorkel ($11.95)
Aside from your mask and snorkel, you’ll need a good pair of fins to help you swim more efficiently with much less effort. With a quality pair of fins, you can save your energy, lower your respiratory and heart rate, and travel further underwater.
As you advance through your training, you will want to upgrade to fins designed for this activity. They are much longer than standard scuba or snorkel fins. The traditional closed heel is preferred so you won’t have to worry about wearing more footgear, like thick booties. As for the stiffness, it should be relative to the diver’s strength and musculature. Our choices below include fins with longer blades.
- Mares Avanti Quattro Power Full Foot Long Blade Fins ($104.95)
- Beuchat Mundial Sport Freediving Fins ($94.95)
- Cressi Gara 3000 LD Fins ($114.95)
Make sure you learn how to freedive and earn the certifications required before you bring your free diving gear to the nearest open ocean diving spot. Do your research and look for a local diving school that offers serious practical and physical training specifically for diving without the use of scuba gear.
A basic freediving course will first get you comfortable in the water and demonstrate proper deep breathing techniques. You’ll learn how to clear your snorkel and how to equalize pressure under water. Like scuba diving, you will have both confined and open water levels to complete.
Fortunately, the only prerequisite in freedive training is that you can swim. You don’t have to be an athlete or Olympic level swimmer to plunge into freediving, but you should be in reasonable health.
Obviously, freediving is not something you should attempt to learn on your own. Even after earning your certification, it’s still a good idea to do your first dives as a certified diver in the company of a qualified freediving instructor or a dive buddy, at the very least.
Considering the many dangers of deep submersion (like passing out) without any underwater breathing equipment, you want to be with someone who can guide and assist you if trouble arises.
Levels of Freediving
Here are the different freediving levels or disciplines that you’ll be taught and eventually have to master when you enroll in a freediving course.
Static Apnea (STA)
Used to measure stamina, Static Apnea is done by floating face down in a pool while holding your breath. It’s also the only form of freediving that measures the duration instead of the distance.
Dynamic Apnea (DYN)/Dynamic No Fins (DNF)
Performed in a pool, this method of freediving has divers swimming underwater in an effort to cover as much distance as possible on a single breath. This is usually done with fins but in DNF, the diver dives without fins.
Constant Weight (CWT)
In CWT freediving, the descent is made using only fins and a small amount of weight to pull them down. They are not allowed to use guide ropes or any other object for assistance. Constant Weight Without Fins (CWF) is a variation on this discipline where the diver descends without wearing any fins, using only their own muscle power to propel themselves.
Free Immersion (FIM)
Similar to the CWT method of freediving, Free Immersion adds the element of allowing the diver to use a guide rope to pull themselves down. Without fins, this rope is their only means of propulsion. Divers can descend head first or feet first.
Variable Weight (VWT)
In VWT, the diver descends as quickly as possible by getting pulled down to depth on a sled and then pulls on the rope or uses the arms or legs to ascend back to the surface.
No Limits (NLT)
In NLT, the other extreme freediving pursuit after VWT, divers use heavy weights to pull themselves down, then surface using a lift bag or counter-balance pulley system. Divers can reach tremendous depths using this risky method, which is why it is only for the most experienced and advanced divers.
Freediving is not without its risks. In fact, it is often referred to as second only to base jumping on the danger scale. But with proper instruction and careful adherence to safety, you can focus more on improving your breath-holding skills while freely enjoying your peaceful underwater excursions.