Freediving FAQ

1. What is freediving?

Basically every time you dive without any breathing apparatus you are freediving.  This is also known as breath-hold or apnea diving.  It takes extreme physical fitness and mental discipline to freedive for long periods of time and you will need to understand respiratory systems and natural diving reflexes. 

2. How long can you stay underwater when freediving?

The average person will only be able to hold their breath under water for a few minutes.  Without any proper training after three minutes brain cells can start to starve of oxygen and can become damaged.  However there are a number of techniques which can be used to dive for longer periods of time.  Professional freedivers train intensively to understand and overcome the body's reflexes in order to dive for up to nine minutes at a time without any breathing apparatus.

3. What is the mammalian diving reflex?

If you want to train to be a freediver then you will hear a lot about the mammalian diving reflex.  Basically when your body is submerged in water a number of natural processes are triggered.  Heart rate will slow to save energy and blood vessels constrict forcing blood into key organs.  The blood vessels in the lungs will also fill to increase volume and this prevents the lungs from collapsing under the additional pressure.  The air trapped in the lungs will continue to oxygenate the blood but as there is not respiration occurring CO2 will start to build up.  It is this that triggers the body into an overwhelming need to breathe.   This natural impulse is very important as it tells you when to breathe before you run out of oxygen and pass out.  Freediving training is all about understanding these reflexes and how to balance them to allow you to stay underwater for longer periods of time.

4. Is freediving dangerous?

Freediving requires a lot of physical endurance and stamina.  Diving without breathing apparatus can be dangerous as you could run out of oxygen before you are able to return to the surface.  This can result in 'shallow water blackout' which can cause drowning.  This is why you should never attempt to freedive without somebody else to monitor your condition and help you if you do pass out.  Freediving also puts a lot of pressure on the body as many divers descend to significant depths, particularly in competition and training situations.  This can result in severe injury or death. However freediving has been practised for centuries and as long as you follow basic safety precautions you should be able to enjoy this sport without any problems.

5.  Where can I get tuition for freediving?

Freediving is a popular sport and there are many schools all around the world.  The SSI (Scuba Schools International) offers a range of certificates in freediving which can provide you with a good introduction and also advanced training.   Many regular scuba diving schools will also offer freediving training so this is a good place to start when you are looking for tuition in this sport.

6. Will I need a wetsuit for freediving?

You will need to consider the environment you will be diving in when you are thinking about equipment.  Dive skins are thin close fitting suits (typically made from Lycra) that provide you with minimal drag and complete freedom of movement when you are diving.  However dive skins do not offer much heat insulation. This means that if you are freediving in waters colder than around 20 degrees centigrade you will need a wetsuit made from neoprene.  You can get different thickness of neoprene and it is important to choose the thinnest option for the temperatures you are diving in as this will offer the best flexibility.  You should also invest in 100% super stretch neoprene if your budget allows for more freedom of movement.

7.  What fins should I wear for freediving?

Fins allow you to swim more efficiently when you are freediving.  This helps to reduce exertion and preserve oxygen levels in the body.  There are two main types of fins used for freediving.  Freedivers typically use fins that have a full foot pocket for extra support and a blade between 90 and 110cms long.  Soft flexible blades are preferable as they require less exertion than stiffer blades.  To help prevent your foot from being pulled free you can also invest in fin keepers/holders. These simple rubber straps fit over the foot pocket and ensure the fin remains firmly in place.

8.  What is the best design of mask for freediving?

Face masks provide you with clear vision underwater.  As a freediver you will want to minimise weight and drag so traditional scuba masks will be too big and heavy.  You can get special low volume face masks that have been designed specifically for minimal drag and maximum performance.