When you enter the sea and that cool water washes over your face, without realizing it your heart rate slows down and blood pulls away from your arms and legs toward your core. A prehistoric change happens within you that enables you to better adapt to the undersea world from where all life originated. The mammalian dive reflex is something that happens within all marine mammals allowing them to use just one breath from the surface to go to great depths and to travel huge distances under water. Normal surface heart rates of about 125 beats per minute fall to about 10 beats per minute in seals, for example. This is important because together with blood being pulled from the extremities, a lower heart rate means less oxygen is being consumed and as a result one breath lasts longer and longer. It wasn’t until the 1960s that scientists realized humans had this hidden reflex just like mammals that lived in the sea. This astonishing discovery paved the way for more freediving investigation and discovery. Freedivers learned more about their bodies and minds and were able to dive deeper and hold their breaths for longer than scientists thought even possible.
Many people hear the word freediving and don’t know what it means exactly. To clarify, freediving is not anything to do with scuba and is really breath-hold diving using a single breath you take from the surface. I suppose the difference between snorkeling and freediving is that freediving involves holding your breath and going under the surface, whereas snorkelers can stay on the surface while never really holding their breaths.
Never freedive alone!
For as long as I remember I have loved being underwater, and while growing up on a beach on Antigua’s north shore, it wasn’t difficult to be in that happy place almost daily. My Dad and his brothers took me and my cousins snorkeling from about the time we could swim, and we all were blessed with being able to see the coral reefs and inshore habitats at a time when they were most beautiful. We all tried scuba diving, but none of us really latched on to scuba the way we did with snorkeling. For us it was just easier to go snorkeling whenever we could. As we turned into young men we snorkeled or freedived deeper and deeper and probably did many risky things due to poor technique and incorrect breathing. It wasn’t until recently that I learned how dangerous holding your breath underwater without proper training could be. The number one rule of freediving is that you should never do it alone, and the number two rule is that you should never hyperventilate before you dive as this can fool your brain into thinking that you have more time than you actually do. It’s quite technical and you should really look into a freediving course if you want to extend your bottom times or push for deeper dives. Whatever happens:
Never freedive alone!
In the fall of 2014 I was able to attend a course put on by two of the best freedivers in the world. William Trubridge and Jonathan Sunnex. William has the long standing no fins world depth record of over 100 meters (330 feet) using nothing but a single breath and breast stroke. That’s right he did it without fins swimming down and back up unaided. Using fins, Jonathan also has done many dives over 100 meters. After just 8 days of theory, some training in the pool and in the ocean, I was able to go down to 37 meters. Since then Jonathan Sunnex and my company Adventure Antigua have run three freediving camps here in Antigua and have coached 22 divers. Antigua has some very good freediving off the south coast with year round clear, warm waters. On average we probably have 25 meters visibility and a year round water temperature average of about 28 degrees Celsius. Some of my favorite places to freedive are Pillars of Hercules and Cades Reef but there are many spots to explore.
It’s fascinating to discover how important the critical link between mental relaxation and freediving is. This is an extreme sport where being calm and relaxed is essential. On the surface before a dive you use various types of meditation or relaxation to calm your mind and your body. You can actually feel parts of your body get soft as your mind calms down. During this time as is the case with any relaxation technique breathing properly is crucial. Never breath quickly. If you are very relaxed before and during a dive you will be able to stay safely underwater for longer. Each dive is different and like many other sports, you learn more and more each time you are out there. Famous Italian freediver, Umberto Pelizzari once said, “The scuba diver dives to look around. The freediver dives to look inside.” It’s the thing about freediving which is so interesting, you have to really pay attention to your mind and body and how they work together. As you decent deeper and deeper you are more aware of your body and mind than you are of your surroundings, but when you are able to relax the sea opens up to you ways that you hadn’t experienced before.
For more info on freediving and freediving courses please contact me.