What is Free Diving? Debunking the Top 3 Myths of Free Divers
Are you curious to know who exactly free divers are?
You’ve most likely heard the term freediving floating around before. Did it perhaps paint a picture of superhumans whose extraordinary lung capacities, supreme physical fitness and unshakable mental agility takes them into the deepest darkest depths of the ocean and back? If you’ve ever watched the iconic freediving film The Big Blue, this is most likely true for you.
So, what is free diving exactly?
Freediving (also known as apnea diving) is the act of diving underwater using only a single breath, without the aid of any breathing apparatus such as scuba cylinders or snorkels. Modern freediving breath hold techniques derive from ancient methods that our ancestors used to gather vital resources found only underwater, such as seafood or pearls.
Nowadays, certain myths about freediving have evolved, leading many of us to believe that freediving is something we could never experience.
Well, if you’re someone whom the water calls to, and you’d like to experience the tranquillity of the ocean’s depths in a whole new light, then read on as we debunk the top three common myths about freediving and show you the wonderful truth of how you could become a free diver.
Myth 1: Freediving is only for the super fit in peak physical age (20s and 30s)
This is simply not true.
Age is no barrier. Some of the freediving world record holders are in their 50s! Take Croatian man, Budimir Sobat, as an example. In March 2021, at age 56, Budimir broke the world record for static apnea by voluntarily holding his breath underwater for an incredible 24.37 minutes. What’s even more astonishing is that Budimir took up freediving when he was 48 years old.
In fact, it’s been suggested that, as aging leads to a natural slowing down of your metabolic rate, being older is advantageous in freediving.
As for your level of fitness, the consensus is that your relaxation capabilities are primary to your physical fitness. However, it is important that you can comfortably swim around 25 meters and being generally healthy is beneficial when it comes to practicing freediving breath hold techniques and equalisation.
Myth 2: Freediving is incredibly dangerous
Again, this is far from true.
Worldwide, there have been approximately 80,000 freediving competitions carried out, involving over twelve times that amount in training dives, and only ever one fatality recorded. Just one!
Historically, incidents where spearfishermen have gone out diving alone and sadly drowned, the press have dubbed these as “freediving fatalities,” which unfairly fuelled this myth.
However, like any other water sport, freediving does have its risks. The notable one being hypoxic (also known as shallow water) blackouts. These happen when a lack of oxygen underwater causes a loss of consciousness. To mitigate these risks, freediving has some simple but effective safety protocols in place to protect free divers.
Myth 3: If you didn’t like Scuba Diving, you won’t like Freediving
Not at all.
Whilst scuba diving and freediving are both water sports, they are quite different in nature. Just like tennis and football are both land sports, yet the techniques and equipment are vastly distinct.
The main disparity is that in scuba diving you’re taught that once underwater you must never hold your breath. Whereas freediving is all about going underwater using only one breath.
Anyone who has done scuba diving will know of the term the bends or DCS (Decompression Sickness). This happens when a change in pressure causes nitrogen (from scuba cylinders) to dissolve into your body’s tissues and forcefully release during the ascend. Picture your favourite bottled soda. When the soda is bottled, invisible gasses dissolve into the liquid. Then, as you twist the lid open (lessening the pressure) those same gasses try to forcefully escape, making that popping sound and fizzing up your soda. The same thing’s happening with the nitrogen in your body.
As freediving doesn’t use any breathing apparatus, it doesn’t involve as much dissolving nitrogen gasses. So, the bends aren’t as problematic with freediving as they are with scuba diving.
The other major difference is that freediving is first and foremost a mental sport. You rely on your freediving breath hold techniques, efficiency and mental agility to dive deeply. Whereas scuba diving involves learning and understanding the mechanics and synergy between your breathing apparatus and your body.
Benefits of Freediving
Now that you know what freediving isn’t, let’s look at what freediving is and the benefits you’ll receive when you give it a go.
1. Better self-confidence and reduced stress
Freediving focuses on learning meditative and relaxation techniques that are required to slow your heart rate down before, during and after a deep dive. This sport is about learning to truly trust yourself, through total body consciousness, bringing you into the present moment completely. These skills are invaluable in building self-confidence and managing stress in everyday living.
2. Improves your focus
In freediving, you’ll always have a goal you’ll be progressing towards whether that be deeper depth diving, improving a technique or practicing a different discipline. The beauty of having such goals is that it cultivates an attitude of perseverance that carries over into other aspects of your life.
3. Increased flexibility
It’s common practice to do full body stretches before a dive in order to minimise risks of injuries and the very act of deep breathing improves the flexibility of your diaphragm and rib cages. Deep diving underwater into a state of near weightlessness can also benefit your mobility and joints.
Now that you know the truth about freediving, do you dare to challenge yourself? Freediving courses with qualified freediving instructors are an immersive and safe way to learn the proper freediving techniques.
These freediving retreats also include some of the best freediving courses around and are designed to give you the opportunity to create your own freediving community and bond with other like-minded people, whilst also having the chance to pick the brains of some truly knowledgeable and experienced free divers.
Some of our most popular destinations include Kilsby Sinkhole in South Australia, Lady Elliot Island and the Whitsunday's in Queensland.
You’ll get to truly immerse yourself in your own personal freediving journey and come out with a new sense of connection to both yourself and the ocean.
If you’d like to know more, feel free to contact us. And remember, there’s never been a better time than the present to discover the beautiful mysteries of the waters depth and the benefits freediving can bring to your life!
Written by Cindy Bernical
Unshroud the man driving scientific research on breath.