DiverWire.com is pleased to welcome our latest contributing writer, record-setting free diver Martin Stepanek. Watch for more stories from Martin in coming weeks.
“Why would anyone want to hold their breath when you can use Scuba?” … this is the question I have heard countless times in my life. Well, there are so many reasons that there could be a book written about it, but that is not my intention here. I would like to introduce you to a small portion of these reasons, the portion that is relative to current scuba divers.
In the past year, I have noticed more and more Scuba divers taking entry level freediving education. Most of them interested in freediving as both an additional safety tool for their scuba dives and also as a fun way to venture on shallow reefs during their dive vacation when they have a couple of days off from Scuba, or cannot dive because of an upcoming flight.
When I mention freediving as a safety tool, it is more a psychological thing than anything else. I certainly DO NOT tell Scuba divers to hold their breath underwater!
One of the emergency procedures for Scuba, the emergency swimming (slow) ascent, can be stressful for someone who has no confidence in his/her breath-hold capabilities, since you need to exhale a constant flow of bubbles all the way to the surface. If you know you can hold your breath for 3-5 minutes in static apnea as a freediver, you will certainly not panic when it is time to go for an emergency swimming ascent, even from a deep 100 foot dive! Proper breathing techniques acquired in a freediving class, will dramatically decrease your gas consumption and the efficiency a freediver ads to the comfort level and effortlessness of a scuba dive.
Many top cave and technical divers are very good freedivers and the above reasons are why that came about. Skin diving (introduction to freediving) back in the day used to be a prerequisite as a part of the Scuba diving curriculum, unfortunately it has been dropped. I am not sure why. All the scuba divers that I have had in my level one classes have confirmed the fact that they feel more relaxed in their Scuba dives now after their freediving class. Also, they are happy and confident with their new tool to explore the underwater world.
The Ocean offers such a wide spectrum of diving conditions and opportunities, so ideally as a Scuba, tech and free diver “all in one” you are always ready for any diving possibilities. It is like having the Swiss army knife of the diving world! I like this analogy of a Swiss army knife, as it can be versatile and helpful tool, but also dangerous if not used properly. So safety first, for whatever your venture into the realm of our underwater world is! And always remember seek professional teachers to acquire the necessary skills to use this tool. Do not hold your breath while on Scuba, and do not mix Scuba and Freediving (and also Tech diving for that matter!) on the same day.
How do you learn to use this freediving tool? I have developed an educational system that makes Freediving accessible to everyone interested in equipment free exploration of the blue planet. The core of my teachings is divided in three levels. Level one for the novice with no prior experience with breath-hold diving. Level two is for freedivers coming from level one or for people already comfortable with the gear and the fact that they will be holding breath under water, for example experienced scuba divers. Here they will learn more skills and techniques to explore further their natural abilities that are so often grossly underestimated.
Did you know that the average scuba diver can be taught in three and half days how to hold their breath for 3 – 5 minutes and dive between 80-100 feet? If you think you can’t, then obviously you are underestimating your genetic arsenal. We all can do it. I consider this level “the meat and potatoes” of recreational freediving. Throughout this Level 2 class I usually have a fair amount of students who are spearfishermen, Scuba divers and/or underwater photographers (no bubbles= better shots+better interaction with the marine life).
If the Level 2 was about using your natural inborn abilities, the Level 3 is about how to improve them. You’ll understand why freediving is easily becoming a lifestyle for many. Each level has a well balanced amount of classroom with safety, physics (believe it or not we too get the bends!!) and physiology of freediving, then it is time for swimming pool practice and open water training.
It’s never too late to learn these incredible skills for freediving, the health benefits are endless, the personal satisfaction is high and the worlds beautiful oceans are waiting…
Martin Stepanek is a 13-time Freediving World Record holder and the owner of Freediving Instructors International, an education, certification and facilities agency.