Image Credit: Peter Marshall
By Jessica Kittel
Even though your mind may not recall, your body remembers a time when we were completely comfortable underwater. Our planet and our bodies are roughly 70 percent water. When you get right down to it, humans are more in tune with water than anything else on the planet. It’s not terribly surprising that we have an innate ability to stay underwater on one breath of air, for minutes at a time. Though it usually takes some practice to be able to harness that ability.
Those that participate in the sport of freediving take full advantage of this fact and count on this Mammalian Dive Reflex to allow them to descend hundreds of feet below the surface before rising back up to take a well-earned breath.
Freediving has many faces to it. Many freedivers note the thrilling, challenging, natural, and even meditative aspects of the sport. However, critics are quick to denounce it as a dangerous and unnatural situation to put our bodies through. The International Freediving Association (AIDA) denies that this is the case, according to the BBC.
So which one is it? Well, it depends on the individual freediver. While there have, in fact, been deaths due to free diving, AIDA claims they have been uncommon. As stated by Kimmo Lahtinen, the president of AIDA:
“When they do happen, they can happen to the most experienced divers because these are the people who are pushing the limits. That’s what they do. It’s like a paradox for me, when you are inexperienced you respect safe limits. When you are very experienced, you are on top of everything and you are really testing the human limits.”
Those that are using the ocean recreationally must never forget the fact that ocean is stronger than anyone, regardless of skill level. However, as freediveinternational.com states, freediving is safe as long as you are following basic safety guidelines. They recommend starting with a beginner’s course if you’re interested in picking-up freediving as a hobby.
Most recreational freedivers are fond of the sport because it is peaceful and relaxing. The feeling of being one with the water surrounding you and (after reaching a certain depth and ditching your neutral buoyancy) the sensation of the sea pulling you deeper and deeper into its’ depths is hard to compare. So is that feeling you get when you resurface and finally take a breath of air.
There is nothing else out there that makes you feel like you are a creature of the sea, as explained on fusion.net. Freediving has a number of aspects that, to many, put it above SCUBA diving. For one, you aren’t encumbered by excessive gear so there’s less “stuff” between you and your experience of the ocean. As stated in Wired, this also allows one to move more quickly. Freediving is much quieter as well. Sound travels much faster underwater than it does in air so the sounds of your regulator and BCD can sometimes mask the ocean’s natural melody. The bubbles that come out of your regulator will often frighten away sea life, which is not ideal if you’re trying to be an invisible bystander (though it sometimes can sometimes be handy if you’re in the area with an overly curious shark).
Freediving often also promotes a healthy lifestyle. It is helpful to be in peak physical condition when you are pushing your body to unaccustomed limits. As explained in divermag.com, healthy eating, cardio training, and yoga help freedivers reach a physical state that allows them to be in complete control of their bodies. They are then able to take full advantage of what their bodies are innately capable of.
Anyone can take up freediving and become one with their inner marine mammal. All it takes is a mask and fins and a little practice for you to feel one with the ocean.