Freediving is breath hold diving.
It can be argued that it is an advanced form of snorkeling in its beginners form but the biggest difference is that a Freediver has a level of comfort, understanding, ability, affinity and relaxation in and around water that a snorkel diver does not have.
Trying to describe Freediving in its entirety is a challenge. Maybe these five aspects start to describe it in its essence, but it is a pick and mix of what you want to do within the sport.
Freediving is a social sport, you can enjoy a dive and come for the fun and relaxation of it all and meet new people and make new friends. This is as much of an option as performance training is. The beautiful thing about Freediving is that you can have people in the same space, with different goals and they all get what they need from a session. It works very well. It is a very personal sport and you get out of it what you want. Freedivers look after each other very closely, so strong bonds are formed. Just going down to the sea, or a local quarry and having a fun time with friends is part of this sport.
Freediving is about swimming in the sea, diving with sharks and seals and turtles and rays, diving wrecks, spearfishing, diving on sleds as deep as you can, turning up at remote locations and just diving, it is a very free sport, you have the option of accessing waterways, lakes, quarries, and oceans in a totally different way than you have experienced before. For the adventurous amongst us, this is certainly an option, but if not, then easier recreational diving is for you. Safety is of course paramount, and with increased adventure, comes increased safety.
Freediving is a sport, it uses energy, but you are exercising doing something you enjoy. It helps weight loss, it improves cardiovascular fitness, and strengthens muscles and helps with flexibility amongst other benefits. This is an enjoyable way to keep fit whilst doing something you enjoy, as good a reason as any. It is pool based and open water based and is broken down into eight main disciplines which we can look at later.
You will learn about yourself, you will learn about your interaction with the water. Basic freediving education is important for safety, for comfort, for ease of learning and for consideration of others. There are a few established qualification structures to learn through. Freediving agencies such as AIDA, Apnea Academy and PFI and now several SCUBA agencies offer freediving tracks such as PADI, SSI and RAID are amongst the more recognised. Freedivers can then specialise in disciplines like no fins diving, dynamic in a monofin, mermaiding, spearfishing, competition safety or whatever direction they want to go. Some divers just want to enjoy the sport at this entry level and get benefits by doing so. Most though do choose to improve themselves in some way through the Education system. Education is essential in Freediving, doing a course, and never dive alone are the two most important things to know when starting your journey. Learn to freedive by visiting our COURSES page
In competition there are athletes, coaches and supporting crew. Athletes can compete in the pool or depth in National and International competitions and create records in each discipline, the main agency organising these is AIDA International. It can take many months and even years of training to become competitive. Competitions give athletes a reason to train, motivate them to get better and a reason to improve themselves in many ways. Instructors teach courses and recreational divers, coaches develop athletes (not to be mixed up with noodle holders who hold athletes floats). Coaches are dedicated Freedive professionals who can spend time with athletes over long periods of time, help design training plans around their lifestyle, help work with them on their nutrition, technique, flexibility, fitness and a host of other skill sets in order to create the finished product, an athlete. The supporting crew ranges from safety divers, to judges, through camera and video support and many other roles. It means that the whole Freedive community can get involved in a competition with their unique skill sets to bring it together making it a very social and inclusive sport.
For more information on competitions visit our competition site www.freedivingcompetition.com
There are now ten main disciplines within freediving that can be classified into two categories:
Pool disciplines, measure the time a diver can hold their breath for without swimming; or the horizontal distance a diver can swim underwater on one breath, measured in metres and usually conducted in a swimming pool.
Depth disciplines measure how deep a diver can achieve in a vertical distance in open water. Each discipline denotes the difference in technique used.
This essentially consists of timing how long a diver can hold their breath for, whilst floating stationary (static) face down on the surface of the water with the airways submerged. The diver does not wear weights, but often a wetsuit is worn for thermal insulation. Either a mask or goggles and or a nose clip are worn during the dive. Some divers consider this the most mentally challenging of the pool disciplines.
In this discipline the diver swims lengths of a swimming pool underwater and the horizontal distance is measured of how far a diver can go on one breath. This is done using a monofin using a type of dolphin kick technique for additional propulsion. The diver wears weight around their neck and/or waist, in order to be neutrally buoyant in a horizontal position, mid-water in a swimming pool and a thin one-piece wetsuit and swim cap is usually worn mainly to aid hydrodynamics.
In this discipline the diver swims lengths of a swimming pool underwater and the horizontal distance is measured of how far a diver can go on one breath. This can be carried out wearing either long bi-fins and using a type of elongated flutter kick technique or a monofin using a type of dolphin kick technique for additional propulsion. The diver wears weight around their neck and/or waist, in order to be neutrally buoyant in a horizontal position, mid-water in a swimming pool and a thin one-piece wetsuit and swim cap is usually worn mainly to aid hydrodynamics.
Dynamic no fins (DNF)
In this discipline, the diver swims lengths of a swimming pool underwater and the horizontal distance is measured of how far a diver can go on one breath. The diver does not use any extra equipment for propulsion through the water other than their own hands and feet using a type of breast stroke technique. Again the diver wears weight around their neck and/or waist in order to be neutrally buoyant mid-water in a horizontal position in a swimming pool and a thin one-piece wetsuit and swim cap is usually worn to aid hydrodynamics.
Constant weight (Bi-fins)
A diver descends and ascends vertically down and up a weighted rope to a predetermined depth which they are attached to via a lanyard. In bi-fins. A small amount of weight may be worn at all times during the dive, usually around the neck to help reduce the effort on the initial descent whilst still maintaining positive shallow buoyancy. In all depth disciplines usually a two-piece wetsuit is worn with integrated hood for hydrodynamics and thermal insulation – the thickness of the wetsuit worn is usually determined predominantly as a result of water temperature and suit flexibility. A rubber belt can be worn to reduce wetsuit flushing. Due to the requirement of equalising air spaces, often fluid goggles and a nose-clip are preferred over a mask for facial equipment in depth, particularly in a competitive setting (see equipment).
Constant weight (CWT)
A diver descends and ascends vertically down and up a weighted rope to a predetermined depth which they are attached to via a lanyard using a monofin. A small amount of weight may be worn at all times during the dive, usually around the neck to help reduce the effort on the initial descent whilst still maintaining positive shallow buoyancy. In all depth disciplines usually a two-piece wetsuit is worn with integrated hood for hydrodynamics and thermal insulation – the thickness of the wetsuit worn is usually determined predominantly as a result of water temperature and suit flexibility. A rubber belt can be worn to reduce wetsuit flushing. Due to the requirement of equalising air spaces, often fluid goggles and a nose-clip are preferred over a mask for facial equipment in depth, particularly in a competitive setting (see equipment).
Constant weight no fins (CNF)
A diver descends and ascends vertically down and up a rope to a predetermined depth which they are attached to via a lanyard. The diver does not use any extra equipment for propulsion through the water other than their own hands and feet using a type of breast stroke technique and the same amount of weight is worn usually around the neck at all times during the dive.
Free Immersion (FIM)
A diver descends and ascends vertically down and up a rope to a predetermined depth which they are attached to via a lanyard. The diver does not use any extra equipment such as fins, however, the diver pulls on the rope for propulsion on both the descent and ascent – differing from the constant weight disciplines which only allow touching of the rope at the end of the decent in order to turn.
Variable weight (VWT)
A diver descends to depth using a ballast weight or weighted sled which is relinquished at the deepest point of the dive. The diver then ascends using any method of their choice described above and without utilising the assistance of an inflatable device.
No limits (NLT)
Often considered to be the most dangerous of the freediving disciplines. A diver descends to depth on a weighted sled at speed which is then relinquished at the deepest point of the dive. The diver then ascends at speed using a buoyant device – historically a lift bag that the diver fills with compressed air from a pony tank at a predetermined depth that the rope is set at. This is the deepest of all the freediving disciplines and is not currently sanctioned by AIDA. The current world record of 214m was set by Herbert Nitsch in 2007.
In order to enjoy the underwater environment you will need several pieces of equipment for comfort and safety. The mask for vision and to help equalisation (as opposed to goggles) the fins for propulsion and the snorkel to help you breath efficiently between dives (optional) are considered the basic equipment. Other considerations would be a weighting system for ease of diving and exposure protection from the sun, marine life and cold water.
Let’s note the difference between goggles and a mask. Goggles do not enclose the nose. A mask does enclose the nose. The reason a mask does enclose the nose is so that the airspace in the mask which will be reducing in volume as we descend deeper can be equalised. A condition we term ‘mask squeeze’ can occur if we not equalise the pressure. Mask squeeze is easily avoided by adding (exhaling) small amounts of air into the mask. If we don’t do that it can lead to barotrauma (pressure related injury) and symptoms include bruising around the eyes, and burst capillaries in the eyes which looks a lot more distressing than the seriousness of the injury but a visit to a Doctor or A&E after an injury would be recommended. A well fitted low volume mask is a big benefit to Freedivers.
The fins purpose is to give the diver propulsion on the surface and underwater. The type of diving you are doing will dictate the type of fins you will need. Size, cost, blade material, footpocket type and stiffness are all things to take into consideration.
Entry level fins can come as basic as the ones you pick up at the beach front, or Decathlon type stores but these wouldn’t be suitable for any sort of depth or even swimming against a decent amount of water movement. They are really only suitable for pool use or very sheltered non-tidal bays where the user may be invloved in watching underwater life from the surface.
The two main components of a fin are Footpockets and blade. Two main types of footpockets exist, open heel strap types and shoe (or full foot pocket types). The Open heel type are generally worn by SCUBA divers and normally are worn with boots. They do make even cheaper versions that can be worn with bare feet. These designs are useable, but they are inefficient compared to a good fitting shoe type.
Blades are longer than conventional SCUBA fins, and are made of different types of material. In increasing performance and cost you have plastic, fibre glass or carbon fibre. It is a law of diminishing returns buying more expensive fins, but the top end fins are certainly better performance for deeper dives and longer swims. It depends on your budget and the need you have for them as to which ones you would purchase.
A snorkel helps us to breath with the face in the water between dives, or to watch someone diving for safety. It helps us to conserve energy and relax. A snorkel is a device that normally attaches to the side of the mask, it is simply a tuve with a comfortable mouth piece on it. Deep divers if they use them at all remove theirs before diving and leave them on the surface with a float. Whether you dive with the snorkel attached or not, it should always be removed from the mouth on descent for safety reasons.
Weight belt and weights
We use weights to give us correct buoyancy in the pool and open water depending on the job we are doing.
Elastic belts are better as they don’t move around as we descend and the buoyancy changes and we ‘get smaller’ due to the lungs compressing and also if we are wearing a suit the neoprene compressing. Weights must always be quick release so that if the Freediver has a problem they can ditch the weights to make getting to the surface easier. Freedivers use small and hydrodynamic weights for efficiency and fine tuning. Another place Freedivers wear their weights is around their neck. This is particularly useful in a pool to keep the Freediver in a horizontal position when neutral and it is also useful for ‘line diving’ where the Freediver is attempting a maximum depth and once they have past the point where they can now sink freely it keeps them in a head down position for the relaxation sink phase.
The newest trend to emerge to use Freediving as a skill is mermaiding. Essentially it is the wearing of a mermaid tail and can be done either out of water or holding their breath and swimming in water. It combines the aesthetics of modelling with performing – some mermaids entertain by interacting such as with children at parties or singing. Others who prefer to be underwater develop choreographed moves or tricks and work on aquaticity in the water whilst wearing their tail in order to develop natural movement and maintain a sense of realism.
Mermaiding itself can be quite a challenge – many mermaids do not wear any facial equipment which means limited vision and water in the nasal cavity and sinuses which can be very unpleasant, however, they must maintain natural facial expressions. The tails themselves can cause a significant amount of drag, which makes it more difficult to maneuver and due to the lack of wetsuit, it can be very cold which will in turn negatively affect a breath hold.
For some it represents a sense of creativity, liberation and freedom of expression, as some feel that their tail design is an expression of their personality and many mermaids make or design their own. Some use mermaiding to express their alter ego, as a way to combat social anxiety and meet like-minded supportive individuals, to gain acceptance within a social group and empowerment.
The presence of mermaids is often a talking point and can be used as a powerful tool to convey important conservation messages, not only to the next generation, but also through social media to raise awareness and campaigns to the general public.
So whatever your reason for wanting to Freedive, whether it be to learn about yourself and the aquatic environment, for recreation or adventure, for competition or fitness, to help your surfing, underwater hockey, wildlife photography or to become a real life mermaid, you can access an established structure of learning and a club based social sport to enjoy yourself safely.