If I ever get a 10 peso coin for every person who would ask “why not do scuba?” when I explain freediving, I think I can get pretty rich.
There still are a lot of people who don’t understand what freediving is so you can head on over to this article: What is Freediving and why is Freediving Popular?
To give you a quick glimpse, freediving is a form of diving that does not involve any form of breathing apparatus regardless of whatever form of diving that takes place as long as it is done in one single breath. The practice goes way back to our ancestors of the sea such as the Sama Badjaos (Sea nomads in the Philippines) and many other diving societies like the lady pearl divers of Japan.
Don’t you want to breathe underwater?
Well if we had gills for doing so, then yes it’ll be awesome. However SCUBA, which involves a breathing apparatus, demands a certain level of safety and precaution while you are diving. There are rules that apply to underwater breathers that will cost you your life if you do not pay attention to them. With freediving, we are not bound by certain limitations of SCUBA.
So what’s the difference in limitations?
I can go on with several differences but I think tabulating it is easier:
|Underwater Duration||Several minutes to an hour (depending on tank and activity)||1-3 minutes for most freedivers, 3-6minutes for freediving masters|
|Depth||Usually around 10-30m, any deeper advanced licensing is required
30-50m dives for more advanced divers
|Most freedivers: 10-20m
Advanced freedivers: 30m-50m
Master freedivers: 50m-100m (yes they CAN dive that deep)
|Descent||Gradual slow descent||Very quick|
|Ascent||Requires safety stop||Generally immediate, no safety stop|
|Equipment||BCD, Tank, Mask, Snorkel, Scuba fins, weight gear, Dive computer||Light Long fins (or no fins), Low-volume mask, rubber snorkel, rubber weight belt, (may or may not have dive computer)|
|Common problems||Decompression Sickness, oxygen toxicity||Shallow Water Black-out, lung squeeze, eardrum perforation|
|Special activities||Technical diving||Monofin diving, “mermaiding”|
|Costs||COSTLY– Expensive gear: dive suit, BCDs, tanks which need refilling, licensure for scuba, other scuba fees, and preparations just to get you to the dive spot (sometimes swim-out is not possible)||CHEAPER– All you REALLY need is a mask and you’re good. Also, snorkeling fees are way cheaper than scuba fees. Of course it’ll be more expensive if you spend on the pricier gears.|
*WARNING: if you just came from scuba diving you have to wait for a day before you go freediving
I’ve tried Scuba before and it’s still a wonderful experience. Being suspended in the water with the world around you completely different from the surface it is a very breath-taking (literally) experience. However there was one factor that made me feel like I wasn’t going to go back to Scuba anytime soon: RESTRAINT.
I feel like I did not enjoy having BCD (Buoyancy control device) around me, the tank behind me, and this heaviness that feels with everything just enclosing me. I did not like that I had to stay in the level that I was in. I wanted to fly.
Freediving gives me this freedom. The word “free” in freediving gives a very literal meaning to it because you are free from the limitations of scuba in ascent and descent in the water. Though your dive time becomes limited depending on your physical abilities in the water but something magical happens in freediving.
What happens in Freediving?
The scenario presented below is how it is like when we go on a deep dive (following a dive line and going as deep as we can).
For a few minutes a freediver must enter a very zen-like state of relaxation that involves a very relaxed breathing with the mammalian dive reflex activated and so the heart rate and blood pressure go down. Now in this slowed-down state your body consumes oxygen less than usual. Nothing else matters except you and the sea becoming one. You feel the waves, the current, and you feel you. Then when you’re ready you make the duck dive and head down.
I feel this to be the most special part of freediving when you have reached a certain depth where your buoyancy becomes neutral. You are not floating up nor are you sinking. This state of neutral buoyancy is the closest you can get to flying, not bound by gravity or any pulling force.
From a state of anti-gravity, very quickly the buoyancy changes as you head further down and the environment becomes darker and darker. Your body is no longer in motion and the gravity of the earth is now gently pulling you deeper than you have ever been. You can feel the flow of the water brushing against your body and just when you thought it could last forever you know you have reached your maximum depth.
Some freedivers say that this is the most difficult part in the dive. Here, is the thin line between surfacing alive and your consciousness fading away. Several factors apart from the ascent may cause a blackout but one is careful to do the ascent in a relaxed state, not in a panicked state so that oxygen is conserved. You cut through the water and the darkness fades as more light surrounds you. Suddenly you no longer feel the need to swim up, the water is pushing you to the surface and your oxygen-starved body reminds you of your humble limitations.
We are after all human, land-dwellers. As you take a gasp of air, there’s a satisfaction that comes with it.
You know only a minute or two (or more for others) has transpired and yet it almost felt like time slowed down for that moment that you took a dive. It only takes a glance at your dive computer for you to see that yes, time was short but how you perceived time was bent in that moment in the deep.
Freediving Certification and Being a Responsible Freediver
Although freediving as a discipline has only recently matured, freediving can be done generally by anyone. However freediving organisations like AIDA, SSI, RAID and now even PADI are offering certification so as to properly build freediving skills and improve greatly your dives. But the most important thing about standardising freediving by these freediving institutions is SAFETY.
Safety protocols are a strong focus in freediving certification and therefore if you do wish to take this sport and activity seriously, I STRONGLY suggest taking a freediving course where they will teach you rescue protocols which can spell the difference between life and death for you or your accompanying freedive buddy.
So WHY do I freedive?
I know said a whole lot of stuff but I freedive for these basic reasons:
- It’s cheaper – you don’t need to pay scuba fees in certain dive spots, and equipment is generally cheaper
- It’s convenient – no more complicated set-up and easy to bring and keep freedive equipment
- It’s challenging – scuba has its own challenges, but freediving continues to test your physical limits as land-creature
- It’s cool in photos – no lie here, it really does look cool to be underwater, deep water, with no equipment except your mask, snorkel and fins( or without them)
- It feels awesome – there’s that sense of time-bending perception that I keep looking for, I always leave the water in such high spirits and good mood, similar to what surfers feel, stoked
- You can fly – like flying underwater, a flick of the hand or a kick here or there and your whole being moves through the water. If I can’t sky dive, might as well freedive
Freediving can also be an escape sometimes. Free from the world of noise, clutter and chaos. The sea offers a calm that resets my mind and then suddenly it seems like I everything is in perfect balance.
But truth is I freedive not so that I will escape from the world but to return to it; it was in water where life began and it is in water where I shall return.
Is Freediving Better than Scuba?
There is no objective answer to this because Freediving and Scuba both have pros and cons. For example, you obviously can’t do a bottom rescue dive if the depths are too great. But freedivers make wonderful divers when you need dives with quick ascents and multiple returns to surface.
As for how fun it is, it all boils down to preference. Do you want to challenge your physical limitations underwater or do you prefer to spend longer times in the water with a breathing apparatus? Your choice.
How about you?
Why do you freedive?
Comment below fellow freediver!