Freediving has gained a lot of popularity over the years as more and more people are willing to try out the amazing sport. There are several factors that motivate people to freedive. For some, it's about self expression, self realization, and mindfulness. Some are just looking for adventure and community.
For others, it's about connecting with the water, enjoying the beautiful scene below and unlocking instincts and abilities that become active only underwater.
I took up freediving after moving to Singapore, and I discovered a really great sport, and learned a lot about my own body and breathing mechanisms.
This article introduces you to the world of freediving, how to stay safe during the sport, and essential freediving gear. Let's get started.
What Is Freediving?
If you’ve ever swam under the water and held your breath, then you have freediving experience…to an extent at least. All you need to freedive is the ability to hold your breath and equalize your ears. Many instructors aren’t going to like this simplification of the wonderful sport but that’s all the sport is about really.
Freediving is a sport that requires breath-holding underwater until resurfacing after traveling as far as you can or spending as much time as you can underwater. The history of freediving can be traced to the need of humans to go underwater for food or items that were lost overboard several years ago. It’s only recently that freediving has evolved into a competitive and recreational sport.
There is a physical and mental aspect to freediving that makes the sport meditative and thrilling. To spend extended time underwater on a single breath of air, you need to master breath-holding techniques. Usually, most divers are usually in the first 20-40m range underwater. This depth has an abundance of light and aquatic life for exploration. Deep divers far exceed these depths but that’s not an aspect I’m particularly covering in this article.
Different Types of Freediving
How long and how far a freediver can travel underwater depends on the type of diving practised. This section focuses on the different types of freediving to help you understand freediving depths and accomplishments. Here we go.
Constant Weight Freediving – Freediving for Depth
Generally regarded as the purest and most difficult form of freediving, constant weight freediving (a depth discipline) is done without fins. Also, the diver descends into water using his/her own weight without any aid. Muscle strength and swimming technique are used by the diver to descend underwater and the descent is usually slower than when fins or ropes are used.
The diver can quickly use up all the inhaled oxygen by just swimming. To prevent this, a perfect combination of propulsion, equalization, buoyancy, and technique is needed. All these require lots of hard work and dedication on the part of the diver.
Free Immersion Diving – Freediving for Depth
Similar to constant weight in the sense that the diver makes no use of fins or other propulsion devices. However, a rope is used by the diver during descent and ascent. Using a rope prevents the divers from quickly using up oxygen as the rope means they don’t have to rely on their legs when pulling down to the depths.
Free immersion diving is one of the most enjoyable for new divers as it’s easy to control speed and ear equalization. In fact, it’s a great way for new divers to learn equalization skills gradually. Also, the techniques needed to ascend and descend are not so difficult.
Variable Weight Diving – Freediving for Depth
Variable weight diving is one of the more “extreme” forms of diving. Here, a heavy weight (usually in the form of a sled) is used to help the divers descend to a pre-agreed depth. The heavy sled is attached to vertical ropes and helps divers pull down the depths at a very fast rate. This helps the divers go far deeper as less oxygen is used during descent.
Resurfacing is made by swimming using their own strength. The divers can choose to use fins or pull up on the rope as they make their way back up. It must be stated that the quick descent makes equalization very difficult in variable weight diving and the sport should only be carried out by expert divers.
No Limit Diving – Most Extreme Form of Depth Diving
This is the most extreme form of depth diving and should only be done by the most experienced divers. No limit diving isn’t even allowed in competitions because of how dangerous it is.
Here, a heavy weight, such as a sled, is used by the divers for rapid descent. The goal is to go as deep as possible, hence the term ‘No Limit’. To resurface, the diver must make use of buoyancy devices like inflatable lift bags or balloons.
The risk inherent in no limit diving is due to the greater depths and the fact that the diver has to rely on his equipment to resurface.
Static Apnea – Freediving for Time
This type of diving is about how long you can hold your breath while lying on the surface of the water. Usually carried out in a swimming pool, divers are judged on the time they are able to hold their breath with their faces submerged. Staying still is crucial for holding breath as long as possible as this helps the diver conserve energy.
Static apnea requires a great deal of mental fortitude as the diver needs to resist the natural urge to breathe for as long as possible. It’s easier for divers to give up in static apnea as they are just a few millimeters below the water.
Static apnea helps train divers on breath control which increases confidence, develops mental toughness, and prepares them for other disciplines.
Dynamic Freediving – Freediving for Distance (with and without fins)
Here, the freedivers swim underwater with or without fins in a horizontal direction for as long as they can on a single breath. The main advantage of dynamic freediving is that it allows divers to enjoy the sport without issues of depth. It’s also good training for freedivers having equalization issues, training in winter, or lacking access to the sea.
Constant Weight Freediving for Depth with Fins
One of the most enjoyable forms of freediving and the deepest allowed in competitions, constant freediving with fins allows the divers to use find to propel themselves on the descent. The rope is only there for the fibers to stop their descent and begin to make their way up.
How Dangerous Is Freediving?
The media touts freediving as a very dangerous and extreme sport. But is it really? I’ll take a look at that in the following paragraphs.
Despite the popularity of freediving over the past years, the sport is still relatively new. The increased popularity of freediving is a great boon to the sport as it means there are now safety rules and regulations that didn’t exist before.
Perhaps the most enticing thing about freediving is that it requires little equipment. All you need is your lungs and the ability to hold your breath. This makes the divers completely in charge of everything from to dive time and how deep they dive.
And should the little equipment used in the sport, say lanyard, get tangled in something on the line, it can be released and the diver can abort the dive and ascend.
As long as safety precautions, which will be discussed later in this article, are religiously followed. At the end of the day, freediving isn’t about pushing your limits but working within your limit and slowly making progress with depth or distance.
It’s important you adapt your body – by various systems, exercises, and stretches – before going deeper and immediately aborting the dive if there is any pain.
How To Stay Safe?
Safety is paramount in freediving. And the most important safety precaution is to never dive alone. Get yourself a qualified diving buddy that not only knows how to rescue you from various scenarios but can also carry out first aid treatment.
Have a dive plan before heading out, do a risk assessment, and inform people where you are diving. Do not dive beyond the depth that your buddy can comfortably rescue you from without preparation. And if you must pass that depth, use a line and lanyard secured to boat or large freediving buoy to make rescue easier for your buddy.
If you are acting as a diving buddy for someone, you should know that your job is to know what the diver is going to do and what is expected of you.
Freediving Essential Gear
While you don’t need equipment to freedive, you are going to need a few pieces of gear to keep you safe and aid your diving. What I like about freediving equipment is that they are simple, don’t need servicing, and are affordable. Below are essential diving gear:
A mask is one of the first freediving gear to buy as it allows you to see clearly underwater. Diving masks come in different varieties and can be tricky for a beginner to choose one. Talk to your diving instructor about the type of mask to go for. You’ll surely get a couple of good recommendations. You should go for a low-volume mask.
Another essential diving gear, freediving snorkels should be practical and easy to use. You should ideally go for a snorkel that has a soft silicone mouthpiece and a simple, straight, or curvy bore.
You are not going to use a snorkel underwater but when you resurface, it can provide a good supply of oxygen. Snorkels also come in handy if you have to swim some distance to reach your diving site.
They are also very useful if you are someone’s buddy and are following the person from the surface.
Fins are essentially motors in diving and help propel you. Depending on the type of diving you are doing, you may or may not need fins.
Fins can be monofin or bi-fin. A monofin is ideal for depth and distance while bifins, which allow you to maneuver easily, are better for recreational diving.
Weight Belts and Neck Weights
Recreational freediving, competitive freediving, as well as spearfishing all have their own unique weight setups. Wearing weight will help divers compensate for the buoyancy of their wetsuit. Also, divers will be neutrally buoyant at their desired depth.
They are usually wetsuits which are worn to protect the divers from the elements.
They help protect the hands from the elements and marine life (jellyfish, for example).
An essential piece of gear that connects the diver to the line. In case of emergency, the diver can be brought up by pulling the line.
Specialist diver watches that measure metrics like current depth, maximum depth, depth alarm, water temperature, dive time, and so on.
Buoy and line
Aids divers in their ascent and descent. It’s used in both competitive and recreational freediving.
Of course, there is more to freediving than what’s written on this page, but it gives a good overview of what you need to know if you intend to get started with this awesome sport. Most of us will never reach the astonishing depths that the professionals reach. But with some training and the adequate gear, it is possible to have a really enjoyable time underwater with no diving tank.