An introduction to freediving

Imagine being able to hold your breath for more than 20 minutes… This is how long some of the best freedivers in the world have been able to do and thereby get themselves in The Guinness World Records. But you do not need to compete on holding your breath or go as deep as you can, to enjoy freediving. Freediving is really for everyone who wishes to explore the sea, and who wishes to work on themselves.  Freediving in the ocean wearing fins, mask and snorkel. Practicing to hold their breath while surrounded by beautiful coral reefs and ocean.

What is freediving?

There is a good chance that you have come across freediving in movies, books, tv, social media, or even music videos and you may have stumbled across some of the mind-blowing records, that freedivers have been setting around the world. Maybe you have heard about freediving from friends returning from their holidays with stunning underwater photos or videos exploring beautiful coral reefs while freediving.

Freediver, diving with a sea turtle.

 

Freediving is actually one of the oldest forms of diving, but this form of diving has been growing as a sport in the last decades. Now freediving is both a popular sport and a fun activity for anyone, who wants to explore their own limits and the ocean. But what is freediving exactly?

Freediving is an old form of diving, where you are holding your breath while diving underwater without any use of breathing equipment, such as a scuba tank like you do while scuba-diving. Both forms of diving can include the use of a mask, snorkel, and fins, but freediving will always involve a long breath-hold underwater.

For some people freediving is a lifestyle, for others, it is a competitive sport and for many, it is a great hobby. Read this post to learn more about freediving, what types of freediving you can do, the great benefits, and why so many people have started freediving in recent years. 

 Freediving in the ocean wearing fins, mask and snorkel. Practicing to hold their breath while surrounded by beautiful coral reefs and ocean.

What types of freediving are there?

There are many different types of freediving, and we are going to dive into the most common ones of them so that you can learn more about each type of freediving. The different types of freediving are performed in different locations and based on the level and type of diving performed.

Recreational freediving 

Recreational freediving is a type of freediving that is typically done on a vacation or as a part of training (non-competitively) with a certified buddy by your side. People can choose this type of freediving for various reasons; to give themselves a new challenge, to take beautiful photos of the underwater landscape, to improve their mental health, to explore the underwater world, or simply improve their fitness and cardiovascular stamina. There are endless reasons why people choose to take up recreational freediving. Many freedivers will probably mention how holding your breath underwater gives them a feeling of peace and calm. Many freedivers use freediving as a form of meditation, where they are both connecting with themselves and their surroundings.

 

Underwater spearfishing in thick neoprene suit, catching fish.

Applied freediving

Applied freediving is where you are using freediving for a certain purpose, such as hunting for seafood, doing various underwater sports, or performing scientific research. In some parts of the world, freediving is a part of people's daily life such as the Bajau tribe in Indonesia, who over generations have adapted to stay longer underwater while hunting for seafood and thereby made freediving a way of living. There are great traditions of freediving to hunt for seafood in Malaysia, the Philippines, and Japan as well. Some tribes’ existence relies on freediving and it is an important part of their everyday life. 

 

Competitive freediving

Competitive freediving is a type of freediving that is performed by athletes who dedicate their training to compete in competitions, big or small. There are both lifestyle sport freedivers who compete to challenge themselves and improve their skills as freedivers, and then there are athletes, who are competing to break national and world records. All freedivers that choose to compete are using an advanced technique and train hard both in and out of water. Physical training in water is usually supplemented with other types of cross-training, yoga, mental training, a healthy diet, and lots of rest. The physical limits of the human body are actually still unknown, and competitive freedivers keep diving deeper and for longer periods of time, battling with those limits.

 

Freediving in the ocean wearing fins, mask and snorkel. Practicing to hold their breath while surrounded by beautiful coral reefs and ocean.

 

What is the longest time a freediver can hold their breath?

Competitive freedivers all around the world are pushing the limits of the sport. And the current records for both men and women are mind-blowing. The current men’s official world record holder is the athlete Stephane Misfud of France with a breath-hold of 11 minutes and 35 seconds. The women’s official world record holder is Natalia Molchanova from Russia with a static breath hold of just over nine minutes. There have been records beyond the official world record attempts. These records are obtained by using methods not approved for official freediving competitions and are therefore not categorized as world records. These records are showcased in the Guinness book of records and the longest single voluntary breath is held by Aleix Segura Vendrell and the record is astonishing 24 minutes and 3 seconds.

Competitive freedivers are constantly pushing the limits in this sport and it is amazing to see how far the human body actually can go without breathing in oxygen for such a long time.

 Freediving in the ocean wearing fins, mask and snorkel. Practicing to hold their breath while surrounded by beautiful coral reefs and ocean.

What is the deepest free dive by a human?

Diving into deep waters without any breathing equipment is only recommended for experienced freedivers. Without any experience, this form of diving can be very dangerous, but well-trained freedivers often choose to dive into deep open waters to test themselves and push their limits. Freedivers will on a single breath dive hundreds of meters under the water without scuba gear. This takes serious practice, training, and lots of discipline. Deep diving is defined as diving 60 feet (18.28 meters) or more. This means that most people can only dive safely up to 60 feet. For a common swimmer, it is not normal to dive any deeper than 20 feet (6.09 meters). Most experienced divers can safely dive up to a depth of 40 feet (12.19 meters) when they are exploring underwater reefs. Herbert Nitsch is the current world record holder with a deep dive of 831 feet (253.2 meters). He pushed his own limits to the max and ended up getting an injury in the process of doing the deepest free dive by a human being. After this record, he got the title “the deepest man on earth.” It takes many years of practice and deep focus to reach this level of the sport. Herbert Nitsch is an experienced man in this extreme sport, to date, he has set 33 official world records. His latest world record, a dive at the depth of 831 feet was set on the Greek island Santorini. 

 

Why do freediving?

You might ask yourself, why even put yourself through all this and go against our biology of living on land and breathing air? In this section we will get more into the many different reasons, why people take up the daring type of diving, that is freediving:

“Freediving is about feelings, whether it’s the euphoria that comes from weightlessness or our amazement at the beauty of the underwater world. We dive for the moments of joy that come from a deeper understanding of our thoughts and experiences. We free dive for the pleasure of solitude, where inner peace and awareness calm our racing mind. Freediving offers us happiness from nothing more than a single breath of air”

- Natalia Molchonova, 41x World Record holder and 23x World Champion freediver. 

 

Freediving in the ocean wearing fins, mask and snorkel. Practicing to hold their breath while surrounded by beautiful coral reefs and ocean. Seeing a whale shark while freediving.

Exploring the ocean

One of the major reasons to start freediving is to be able to explore that magical underwater worlds without the use of scuba gear. Freediving allows you to explore the wonders of our oceans in a more intimate way without bubbles from scuba tanks, that can scare the ocean life away. Scuba divers are limited in their vertical movement, which means that if they want to follow a sea turtle, they may not be able to do so, if the sea turtle swims too far above or below them, because of the excess nitrogen they are breathing in from the compressed gas. Freedivers on the other hand are not limited at all when it comes to vertical movements. Freedivers are free to swim and dive underwater only limited by the time they can hold their breath. Freedivers are free from heavy tanks and excess equipment, limiting the barrier of getting out to sea and explore.

 Freediving in the ocean wearing fins, mask and snorkel. Practicing to hold their breath while surrounded by beautiful coral reefs and ocean. Seeing dolphins while freediving.

Physical benefits

Since freediving is a watersport and doesn’t require equipment, freediving is great for the joints and with time the sport can help improve the range of motion in your joints. Freediving comes with other great physical benefits such as increased lung capacity and lung function. This is because while freediving they push themselves to fill up their lungs to their maximum capacity. The lungs will eventually become stronger and stronger when training freediving. Practicing breathing techniques will become second nature for freedivers, which will benefit the diver in all aspects of their lives. 

Freedivers who are focused on the depth of their dives also need to work on ribcage and diaphragm flexibility in order to be able to take bigger breaths and avoid pressure-related injuries, which can be caused when diving deep. Many freedivers, therefore, include yoga into their routines in order to increase flexibility in their whole body. Freediving generally requires a lot of physical movement; swimming out to the dive site, performing safety for fellow freedivers, performing your own dives, setting the depth line, etc. All of these things require a lot of strength in all parts of the body. Freedivers often train outside of the water in order to gain strength and improve their cardiovascular fitness through activities such as weightlifting, running, and yoga sessions. The training both in and out of water will lead to a great level of fitness and a toned physique.  

 

Mental benefits

For some freedivers, their sport or hobby is a way for them to explore themselves. This is because self-awareness is key in this discipline. Freedivers are constantly challenging both their bodies and their minds. They get to know themselves better both physically and mentally because they are training themselves and testing for how long they can hold their breath and testing how deep they can go.

Freediving comes with a lot of great mental benefits. For many, freediving is a form of stress relief, because relaxation is an important element in freediving. Freedivers learn relaxation exercises as a part of their training, and they do meditation frequently as a part of their sport/hobby. Freedivers need to train themselves a lot mentally including practicing to maintain focus, manage stress, and become more mindful in order to reach personal goals, whether they are aiming for distance, depth, equalization, or relaxation. The skills that you learn in freediving will become a part of your normal life on land. Freediving will enhance your life and make you a more peaceful and healthier person overall.

 Freediving in the ocean wearing fins, mask and snorkel. Practicing to hold their breath while surrounded by beautiful coral reefs and ocean.

Lifestyle

People who free-dive oftentimes make freediving a part of their lifestyle. This means that they will make some changes in order to improve their skills. This could be giving up smoking for healthier lungs, drinking less alcohol, making changes in their diet, taking up meditation, or maybe they will start exercising more. A lot of people who get into freediving also become more environmentally aware and may start getting more interested in the ocean conversation, once they realize how important our oceans are for our planet. Many positive lifestyle changes can come from taking up freediving and making it a part of your life. 

 

Community

Starting freediving you will realize that you have also become a part of a worldwide community. There are countless online groups where you can meet like-minded people who are also into freediving, no matter your level. To engage in your local community, find your nearest freediving club.

 Freediving in the ocean wearing fins, mask and snorkel. Practicing to hold their breath while surrounded by beautiful coral reefs and ocean.

How do I get started on freediving?

If you want to try freediving and experience the amazing underwater world, this section is for you. There are a few important things you need to do in order to get started safely and have a great first-time experience with this extreme form of diving.

First, you will need to find yourself a buddy or a community! This is very important for your safety as it is NEVER recommended to free dive alone. You can find a buddy at a freediving club or through different online communities.

Secondly, you will need some gear to start. You will at least need a mask, snorkel, fins, a suit, and a weight belt to get started. If diving in the ocean, you will need a diving float, to mark to boats that there are divers underneath.

If you want to get into freediving you will also need to find a private instructor or a freediving class to join. This is important for your safety, and through training and guidance, you will be able to gain skills in this new sport. Joining a class might also help you find the right buddy or make friends with the same interest as you. If you are trying out freediving on a vacation, you might be able to start out in the ocean, but people usually start their training in a pool. With time you will improve, and then you can use your skill to explore the amazing wonders of our oceans and get to know yourself better in the process. 

 Freediving in the ocean wearing fins, mask and snorkel. Practicing to hold their breath while surrounded by beautiful coral reefs and ocean.

Do I need to be able to hold my breath for long to free dive?

In order to free-dive, you need to be able to hold your breath for a few minutes, which the average person is able to do. With proper training and focus, most people are able to improve their breath-hold a lot with time. You don’t need to be able to hold your breath for a long time when you are just starting out your journey. There are apps that can help you improve your breath-hold and track your progress. If you are consistent and make lifestyle changes as well, we are sure, that you will reach your goals and become a great freediver.

 

Thank you for reading 

Xo 

Team VANDAYA 

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