If you’ve heard of freediving but don’t really know what it entails, you might think it’s crazy, dangerous, reckless or all of the above. And while it’s true that it can be all those things, it’s only that way if you’re doing it wrong. If you’re doing it the right way—with proper training and always, always, always with a trained buddy—it’s completely safe and 100% addictive.
What Is Freediving?
Just like swimming, there are different disciplines or styles you can train in. As a beginner on any Apnea Total course, you’ll be trying your hand at free immersion—using your arms only to pull yourself down and back up along the weighted rope—and constant weight with fins—using your legs to kick yourself down and back up.
No matter which discipline, your success really all lies in your breathing, your technique—slow and steady always wins the freediving race—and most of all, your ability to break through the mental barrier.
Once you get over the fear, who knows, you might end up being able to dive to 100m with a bit (read: years and years and years) of practice. The world record for constant weight with fins is currently an uncomprehensible 130m which Alexey Molchanov achieved in 3:55 minutes!
There are plenty of schools offering freediving courses around the globe but I decided on Apnea Total for two reasons.
First, they place a significant emphasis on pranayamic breathing techniques and as a long time yoga and meditation fan, I liked the idea of mindful breathing to get me in the right gear. Second, they don’t have any requirements around depths or times to get your certification; the only requirement is learning and demonstrating the safety procedures which seems pretty sensible to me.
Unless your hyper-competitive and need numbers to work to, no pressure is always going to be the best way to go for freediving. Stress leads to higher oxygen consumption, so in a sport where your main goal is to conserve oxygen, it seems like a no brainer.
A beginners’ course usually takes two days (broken down to two half days and one full day) to complete and consists of two theory sessions and two in-ocean sessions.
Day one is a theory session on the different freediving disciplines, equalisation techniques and the breathe up—a super meditative and calming warm-up—technique.
Day two is a morning session in the ocean diving to 12m, followed by an afternoon theory session on safety and rescue, and the final morning is a 21m dive and rescue training.
Both ocean sessions begin with new breathing techniques which you can use to warm up or simply to start your day, even if you don’t plan on doing any freediving.
At most schools, you can go straight into the advanced course after that where you’ll learn more breathing and breath holding techniques and will dive to 30m.
The freediving itself was not at all as I had imagined it. I’ve done plenty of snorkelling in my time and love seeing how deep I can go, but no amount of snorkelling will prepare you for the huge expanse of blue ocean with nothing but a single rope and some jellyfish floating about it in it. It’s a good reminder that we’re all teeny tiny fish in the big pond that is the world which helps to put any fears you might have into perspective.
Before you start diving you’ll spend a good five or so minutes breathing up and getting yourself relaxed, then you go ahead and pull yourself down the rope, doing your best to keep looking straight ahead (making equalisation easier) instead of straining your neck to try and get a look at how far you’ve got to go—it’s easier said than done. You’re always accompanied by an instructor whose number one priority is your safety, but they’re also checking your technique and giving you feedback for the next dive.
I’ve done a fair bit of meditation in my time and thought I’d be able to fall back on that to get me through any mental blocks, but it turns out not being able to take a breath can really throw a person who has always focused on nothing but their breath during meditation. Having said that, the entire freediving experience is like a whole new kind of meditation.
During the breathe up you’re floating atop the water and you really do feel a million miles away from anything—even the people who are just metres away from you when you do eventually look up—and during the dive itself, you’re practising a whole new type of body scan, trying to bring all your attention into yourself so you don’t have to think about how much longer you’ve got until you reach the weights at the end of the rope.
Since I finished the course, I’ve been practising my breath holds in the water when I’m snorkelling (always with a buddy!) but I’ve also been doing them on land to switch up my meditation routine. I love the feeling that I’m meditating and working towards something (a longer breath hold) at the same time. Maybe this defeats the purpose of meditation, but each to their own, right?
For now, I’m happy having completed the beginners' course—21m seems deep enough for me—but I wouldn’t be surprised to find myself back at another Apnea Total school signing up for the advanced course next time I find myself in South East Asia.
I was travelling through Central America and completed my course at Freedive Utila which I can’t recommend highly enough, but considering it takes about 24 hours to get there from down under, you’ll be pleased to know there are Apnea Total schools all over the world and they are particularly affordable in South East Asia.
The courses start at about AUD270 in Thailand and Bali and there’s even one in Malta for approximately AUD370 in case you’re planning a European getaway anytime soon. With beginners’ courses starting around the AUD550 mark in Australia, that’s a bargain if we’ve ever seen one. Check out the website for all their locations.
Image credit: Jeremy Bishop and Jakob Boman