Freediving while not a new sport has been steadily growing in popularity, and soon i believe that like scuba diving resorts and charter boats will begin requiring free divers to show proof of certification. Up until recently free diving was largely unregulated, many major certification agencies did not offer a free diving certification and the ones that did exist focused on competition free diving. But as interest in the sport grew and its versatility mainstream organizations have adopted and developed their own programs to help new free divers be safer in the water.
First, what is free diving? Freediving is essentially extreme snorkeling, my instructor will hate me for saying this but it really is. With the use of minimal equipment, mask, snorkel, long fins, and weights, maybe a suit free divers hold a single breath and explore the underwater world. These dives can vary depending on the skill of the diver from 20 seconds to up to 2 minutes or more for a very skilled diver. Many times the free diver will have additional objectives while diving, hunting, gathering, reaching a certain depth to better their personal best, photography, or just enjoying the underwater environment.
Why don’t people take free diving courses? The main reason for many people not taking a course is because for a long time there weren’t any readily available. Most places also don’t have any regulation on being certified which I think will be changing in the near future. Because there aren’t regulations like scuba all you need are the basic pieces of equipment to get started which if you are a diver you probably already have. The equipment for free diving is more specialized long fins, open cell wetsuits, low volume mask, but generic dive fins, mask and suit will work for a new diver. Many free divers that are not certified have either learned from a friend or have just figured things out on their own, which in some cases can lead to unsafe diving habits.
Why you should take a certification class? Besides a good way to support your local dive shop, if they do offer classes it is a way for you to be a safer diver in the water. there are many subtle things that can be learned in a course that will greatly increase your abilities in the water.
- Proper weighting: this is a huge problem for old school divers, often over weighted to make getting down easier it make it more difficult and more effort to get back to the surface and stay on the surface. This means if a diver blacks out under water they may not be positively buoyant and they will not float to the surface. Courses teach how to properly weight a diver and how to use technique to overcome the surface buoyancy to reach neutral under water with minimal effort.
- Duck Dives: While experienced divers may not think much of duck dives some new divers struggle a great deal with them, and having opportunity to practice them and have someone give you tips makes a great deal of difference. The duck dive is the first bit of energy used to enter the water and being as efficient as possible can make a huge difference in the dive. This is especially important for spearfisherman who need to avoid splashing at the surface when making their dive to avoid scaring the fish away.
- Proper breath up and breath hold: the breath hold is a large part of free diving and how to take a proper breath makes a large difference. Gone are the days of hyper ventilation because of the increased risk of blackout. Certification classes train in the pool to maximize the static breath hold and in the pool and ocean to maximize the dynamic breath hold. Proper breath up can be the difference between a 20 second breath hold and a minute + breath hold.
- Recovery after the dive: one of the main take aways after a certification is to understand that quick repetitive dives without a recovery increase the chances of blackout and LMC. Proper times between dives are paramount and will increase comfort on the dives as well as duration of the next dive. Many courses will also teach hook breathing which aids in recovery as soon as you reach the surface.
- Blackout & LMC/Samba: These are the boogy men of free diving and something that many new divers worry about. Freediving courses use training and technique to help avoid the potential of these occurring. The hope like in scuba dive training is that divers will never have to deal with this sort of emergency but training gives the divers the tools to deal with it if it does occur.
- Rescues and diver support: This is in relation to blackout and LMC (loss of motor control), all free diving courses cover what to do if a diver blacks out, or experiences LMC, these often times are not life threatening but can be if not supported by a buddy. The main focus is the keep their face out of the water and get them breathing.
In conclusion why should you take a freedive course, safety. It will give you the tools to be a safer more competent diver. You will have the knowledge and technique to support your fellow divers and likely improve the depth and duration of your dives. Taking my first free diver course I did not expect it to change my diving as much as it did. Also having the ability to accompany and film new divers during their classes I get to see their growth in ability and excitement about this great sport. So if you are interested in free diving do yourself a favor and take a class. If you have read any of my other post don’t worry so much about the agency focus on finding a good instructor that will provide the best training experience for you, because many if not all of the certification agencies are teaching the same things.