What is Freediving?
Freediving is a sport where people try to hold their breaths and dive as deep under the water as they can with nothing to help them to breathe. Competitive freediving has many variations, mostly related to what equipment you can use. In some you can use masks, fins, or weights, while in others those are prohibited. The one thing that ties all freediving together is some kind of breath holding.
Humans have been diving underwater for centuries. Early human civilizations would dive for seafood, and in battle. In 332 BCE Alexander the Great used freedivers to take down underwater barricades that were preventing his warships from entering a harbor. In 1913 a Greek man gained fame when he dove more than 60 meters (196.85ft) to find a missing ship anchor. It wasn’t until 1949 that freediving became a sport. Then in 1992, AIDA International was founded, the official organization for international breath holding competitions.
Freediving obviously takes place under the water. Any deep body of water can be used for freediving. The most popular spots for freediving are oceans, seas and lakes. However, there are deep pools that you can free dive in. Professional freediver Guillaume Néry dove in the deepest pool in the world in 2017, going down 131 feet. Normally though, freedivers will dive in the deep ocean.
In theory you don’t need anything to freedive. As long as you’ve got your body you have enough to freedive. However, to get better at freediving there is equipment that can help you. This equipment will help you be as comfortable, as safe, and as warm as possible in the water.
- Nose Clip
Types of Freediving
There are a few different kinds of freediving and each has slightly different gameplay. The basics are the same though. Hold your breath to go as deep as you can under the water.
Constant Weight Freediving (with or without fins)
This is the most well-known freediving. In this you use your own power to dive as deep as you can and resurface. You can put weights on your body or not but they must remain constant throughout.
Free Immersion Freediving
This freediving is the most basic. With no fins and no weights you use a rope to pull yourself down into the water and back up. This helps you focus on the breathing and equalizing your ears without exhausting yourself by kicking.
No Limits Freediving
This is the deepest freediving. In it you use weights to bring you down as far as you can and then a buoyancy device to bring you back up.
Freediving Safety Measure
There are very few rules to freediving. However, there are several safety measures that you can employ to be a better and safer freediver. Following these measures will not automatically make you a freediver, you have to train a lot still.
Diving Partners: You should NEVER dive alone. Always have other people around you, at the surface and diving near you.
Equalizing: Equalizing clears your sinuses and ears from the pressure when diving. If you ever can’t equalize, abort the dive immediately.
Safety Stops: If you’re diving deep you need to calculate for time ascending where you’ll need to stop and make sure your body adjusts to the pressure.
Referees and Officials
Officials in freediving are called judges. Judges are the people that oversee freediving events and make sure that everything a diver does is legal. They are the ones who measure official depths of dives and make sure the diver has used proper weight, technique etc. Judges also have an important job in watching out for the divers' safety. There is medical personnel always on standby but judges are another pair of eyes who can make sure nothing goes wrong with divers. Judges are also important in that you cannot have a world record freedive without a judge present.
Lingo and Terminology
A lot of the lingo for freediving are acronyms. There are a lot of different kinds of freediving and there are quite a few technical aspects of the sport that are important to know before you participate in any freediving events.
- CWT: Constant Weight Diving.
- FIM: Free Immersion Diving.
- NLT: No Limits Diving.
- Total Lung Capacity (TLC): How much air is in our lungs after a full inhale.
- Packing: Forcing more air into your lungs than they can normally hold.
- Official Top: The official start timer at the surface of the water.
- PB: Personal Best.
- Freefall: When you get to negative buoyancy so you no longer have to work to descend.
- Surface Protocol: Things you have to do once you return to the surface in order to complete a legal dive.
Skills and Techniques
The most important skill you need for freediving is the ability to hold your breath. You can move as quickly as you like but you won’t be successful in freediving unless you can hold your breath for a long period of time. A lot of different strategies are used for this. The basics are the same. You have to slow your breathing and fill your lungs before you dive. Once you’re underwater you have to slow your heart rate and move your body as little as possible. These things will take tons of practice.
In freediving there aren’t specific drills to do. However, you definitely will need to practice and improve your breathing to get better at freediving. One thing to do when you’re freediving is to do depth practice. You start at the surface and go a little bit under the water, going deeper and deeper. Another practice to do is simple breath holding. In a pool you can sit right below the water, face down, and hold your breath for as long as you can. From there you can try swimming in a pool doing laps while holding your breath.
Most freedivers aren’t super famous. However, a lot of them make a name for themselves by breaking records. Unfortunately, others make their name known when they pass away during a dive. Listed here are some world record holders in freediving as well as the most famous freediver in the world, who unfortunately went missing in 2015.
- Natalia Molchanova: One of the most famous female divers ever. Disappeared in 2015.
- Alexey Molchanov: Deepest male constant weight dive (130m)
- Herbert Nitsch: Deepest male no limit dive (214m)
- Magdalena Solich-Talanda: Multiple female world records
- Alessa Zecchini: Deepest Female constant weight dive (107m)
Freediving is such a mental sport and is so much about the limits of human capability, it only makes sense that it's a sport that has had a lot of books written about it.
- Deep by James Nestor
- Oxygen by William Trubridge
- Blue Mind by Wallis J Nichols
- One Breath by Adam Skolnik
- AIDA International: World Records and Events
- PADI: Certifications and Tips
How long can free divers hold their breath for?
The world record for breath holding is 9 minutes and 2 seconds for women and 11 minutes 35 seconds for men. However, freedivers are moving and going very deep underwater so they hold their breaths for less time.
How dangerous is freediving?
Freediving has a reputation for being very dangerous. However, if it’s done right, the sport should not be all that dangerous. Most free divers who have died or had serious accidents have done so while training not at competitions with judges and safety officials.
How deep can a free diver go?
The maximum depth in any kind of freediving is 300 meters for men and 257 meters for women. The depth a free diver can go changes though depending on the type of freediving. Whether or not you can use fins, weights etc. all impact how deep a free diver can go.
What is the point of freediving?
Freediving is an ultimate test of a human’s ability. People do it to see how far they can push themselves and challenge themselves. Lots of freedivers say they achieve extreme calm while doing it. Freediving definitely isn’t for everyone but if you want to push yourself to your human limits it might be the sport for you.