Tuesday, April 1, 2008

What is Freediving?

Within the freediving community, news and gossip is consumed and passed on with such fanaticism that whenever I step outside of it, I’m surprised that people don’t understand what it is that we do. Certainly in Europe and other parts of the world people are much more aware of freediving. But here in North America it’s still considered a fringe or extreme sport, if it’s considered at all.

The most basic explanation is breath-hold diving, but that barely skims the surface. We’re so used to looking at the ocean from land. The simple act of stepping into the water and looking back at shore changes your perspective entirely. Freediving takes that shift further and allows you to truly experience the world in three dimensions; you approach the water as an inhabitant, not a foreigner. Rather than relying on equipment, you learn to trust yourself and allow your aquatic ancestry to guide you. It’s a way of shedding everything that attempts to define you and of slipping into your true self.

People freedive both for competition and recreation, but these offer two very different perspectives of the sport. In competition three major disciplines test time, distance and depth. Static Apnea: holding your breath as long as you can in a relaxed position, usually face down at the surface; Dynamic Apnea: swimming as many lengths of a pool as you can on one breath; and Constant Ballast: following a weighted line down to a pre-determined depth and returning to the surface with a tag. Each discipine offers its own unique challenges and requires competitors to look within themselves to find the confidence to test their limits.

Recreational freediving can include spearfishing, photography or just sightseeing and enjoying the feel of the dive. It was while recreational diving that I began to explore the feelings of doubt and fear that haunted me while competing in 2006. I have also experienced some of my most transcendent experiences while diving for fun, like coming eye to eye with a scalloped hammerhead shark at 27 meters.

If you practice the sport for any amount of time, you will eventually encounter the spiritual side of it. How you experience it is extremely personal and subjective. For me, it approaches an active meditation. I take some deep slow breaths, clearing my lungs and my mind so that I am completely relaxed. Then I take a half breath and dive. The deeper I go, the darker it gets. If I’m on the line, I’ll close my eyes so I can let the feel of the water on my body be my only sensory input.

Pure joy.

Thanks to Dawn (Gabriola Island), Petr Vaverka (www.vaverka.net) (Hurghada, Egypt) and Matt (Ansell) for use of the photos.

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