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You’ve mastered the art of scuba diving, and though you can appreciate the underwater views even with all that heavy gear, you want to take your hobby one step further and plunge into the deep sans equipment. It’s a risky endeavor, but with the right knowledge and training, it’s one you can fulfill safely.
Free diving allows you to challenge yourself and explore the underwater world all on a single breath. It’s exhilarating and frightening all at the same time. However, as any veteran free diver knows, the fear is what makes the sport all the more captivating. That said, your fear shouldn’t stem from a lack of knowledge about how to free dive successfully, as being uninformed could be downright dangerous. Rather, the fear should stem from a sheer respect for mother nature and all that it is capable of.
This guide is designed to teach you the basics of the sport so you can achieve a balance of exhilaration and respect for the water. Use these tips to form the basis of your knowledge, and then seek free diving lessons to complete your education and become a well-rounded diver.
Preparing for Your First Dive
Preparing for your first dive is a very intense process, and you should not take shortcuts. Depending on how deep you plan to dive, your body may require extensive conditioning to ensure that you don’t experience any dangerous or even fatal side effects.
Top-level free divers recognize that the right kind of stretching is key to their performance in the water. Those experts cite yoga as being one of the best exercises for both the body and the lungs. While any veteran diver likely has his or her favorite techniques, it may be difficult for a newbie to know where to start, or to find a collection of exercises that works best for him or her. Here are a few tips to get you pointed in the right direction:
Yoga is one of the most essential exercises that you can take up when preparing to free dive. Yoga allows you to stretch your muscles without straining them and to focus on your breathing. Breathing techniques are hugely important for free divers, as free diving requires you to hold your breath for an extended period of time.
Asanas are a great starting point for novice free divers, as they offer all-around dynamic stretches for various muscle groups of the body. Once you’ve mastered the asanas, you can incorporate the hatha, vinyasa and kundalini yoga poses, all of which incorporate breathing exercises that link your breaths to your physical movements.
If you’re a veteran diver, then you likely already have the lung capacity to dive to the depths of the ocean. However, if free diving is your first foray into diving, then you need to stretch your lungs so that they can better withstand the high pressures at the ocean’s floor. Also, the more resilient your lungs are, the more oxygen they can hold. This lets you take longer dives and see more sights.
Some of the best lung exercises you can do for this purpose stem from the kundalini and pranayama forms of yoga. However, you should incorporate a mixture of both inhale and exhale exercises to really give your lungs a workout. That said, don’t overdo it. Start slowly and build up the number of repetitions you do for each exercise. Don’t try to hold a stretch for too long or push your body to do too many in any given day, as you risk fatigue and possible injury.
Though your yoga and lung stretches should help you with your breathing, you should also take time every day to focus solely on the rhythm of your breaths. There are specific methods that you should use before and after each dive.
Before you dive, take long, relaxed breaths. With each successive breath, increase your exhalations and shorten your inhalations. For your last breath before your dive, deplete your lungs completely of air, and then inhale deeply until your lungs are filled to capacity with oxygen. Mentally feel your stomach expand as you try to push all that air into the lower region of your lungs. Once you feel as if the lower region is full, open your mouth and take another breath, this time filling the upper region of your lungs.
It’s extremely important that you perform a breathing exercise after you’ve come up for air, otherwise you risk harming your lungs with a sudden intake of oxygen. Upon arrival at the surface, exhale a very minute amount of air, then take a deep, quick breath in. Take a brief pause and then repeat this process until your breathing returns to normal. You’ll know your breathing has returned to normal when you no longer feel like you’re panting or struggling for breath.
Just like with any sport, you can’t just dive right in (no pun intended) to free diving without first ensuring that your body is in tip-top physical condition. Despite what many people believe, diving is a physically demanding sport, and if you don’t have the stamina or muscle strength required, you may have a hard time reaching the depths you desire or, worse, coming back up to the surface. While yoga can go a long way toward getting your body ready, you should also take up other physical exercises. Some exercises you can do to prepare your body include, but aren’t limited to, the following:
- Light walking
- Strength training
- Yoga and stretches
If you’re already in good physical condition, then you need not worry about altering your exercise routine. However, if you don’t get up and move a lot, and if you feel as if you need to get in shape, now’s the time to start. Whatever type of exercise you choose to do, practice your breathing techniques while performing each activity to get your body used to them and ensure that they are almost like second nature when you’re down under.
Investing in the Proper Equipment
While free diving is exhilarating because you can literally do it with just your swimsuit and lungs, many veteran divers find that they gain more from the experience when they do use a few pieces of equipment. Fins, weights, masks and a variety of suits allow you to reach deeper depths and endure a wider variety of water conditions. If you’re serious about free diving, here are just a few pieces of equipment to consider:
Fins make the diving process a lot more seamless and allow you to cover more ground without using up all of your leg strength right away. There are two types of fins that free divers swear by: monofins and bi-fins.
- Monofins: Monofins are fins that imitate a mermaid’s tail. These fins are best for achieving great depths and for moving at fast speeds. That said, monofins demand more from divers physically, because they force divers to swim with their legs together. If you’re interested in a monofin, prepare your entire body for the exertion via demanding on-land physical exercises. Some monofins have two separate foot holes, but there are a variety of designs on the market, so do your research before making your purchase.
- Bi-Fins: Bi-fins are like regular swimming fins that enclose the feet. These fins are best for recreational diving and are much easier to traverse the waters in. They are also best for swimming great horizontal lengths, whereas the monofin is best for deeper dives.
Weights allow you to reach deeper depths as well, but without the constraints of the monofin. However, when combined with the monofin, weights can propel you to the water’s floor with ease. Weights typically tie around your hips so as not to restrict movement. When trying on weights, look for flexibility and a snug fit, and make sure that they’re evenly spaced on your body. Too much weight in one area can be cumbersome and even dangerous.
Masks can significantly boost the diving experience, especially in murky waters. Masks allow you clearer vision and protect your face from the elements. The ideal mask should feature a low-volume equalizer, a nose pocket, clear lenses and a comfortable silicone seal surrounding the face.
Snorkels are great for dive preparation, as they give you an idea of what to expect in the water and allow you to slowly ease into holding your breath for long periods of time. When shopping for a snorkel, look for one with a soft, silicone mouthpiece, a simple pipe and a way to attach it to your chosen mask. If possible, buy a snorkel and mask set to ensure a proper fit.
Exposure suits simply serve to protect your skin from whatever may be in the water. Some suits, such as wetsuits, are designed to keep your body warm in cold waters, allowing you to freely explore areas that would otherwise be off limits or too difficult to traverse. Other suits are designed to protect your body from sea life, such as jelly fish, stingrays and fish with sharp fins. Pool suits protect your skin from the sun’s rays and negate the need for sunscreen, which is often useless in water anyways. These suits are best if you don’t plan diving very deep. All forms of exposure suits allow for smoother movement in the water, as the water slicks right off the suits’ material.
When shopping for exposure suits, it’s important to look for a quality suit. If you opt for a cheap suit, you may discover that it is heavy and cumbersome and not very conducive to diving at all.
As you become more practiced in free diving, you may decide that you want more specialized equipment, such as the following:
- Computers: If you plan on diving with a team of people, you may benefit from specialized computers that show the depth and temperature of the water, the current time and any species in the area. Typically, individuals only care to dive with the aid of computers when they’re diving competitively.
- Lanyards: If you plan on using a line, you need a lanyard. When shopping for a lanyard, make sure that it has a quick release time, and that you can release it with one hand, otherwise it will be of little to no use.
- Buoy and Line: A line is a great option for beginners, as it allows those divers to achieve greater depths in a safe manner. If you go too deep, or if you get lost, you can always use the line to guide you back to the surface. Lines are typically made of bright material so that they can be seen in even the most murky of waters. They’re easily adjustable, and they come with a variety of weights so that beginners can slowly achieve deeper depths. A buoy is only necessary to hold the line in place if you plan to dive alone. Otherwise, your team or partner should be able to tie off the line to your watercraft.
Take a Free Diving Course
Now that you are physically prepared and equipped with the proper gear, it’s time to get your feet wet. Ideally, no one should attempt to free dive without first taking a few courses on the subject. You may have read all there is to read and mastered the breathing techniques, but there is no way to know what to really expect until you take the plunge. That said, you don’t want to free dive on your own until you get some experience.
Courses offer a safe and controlled environment in which to learn. If something goes wrong, a trained professional is there to set everything right. If you make a mistake that could prove to be dangerous, an instructor can correct you before you harm yourself. A trained free diver can also advise you on how to avoid popping your eardrums, contracting ear, sinus or lung barotraumas or blacking out and subsequently drowning.
Of course, you should not let the what-ifs scare or dissuade you from following through with your free diving dreams—you should just be smart about how you go about achieving them. Even the most skilled and experienced free divers found that, before taking a course, they were using techniques and methods that were downright dangerous. Upon completion of the course, their diving abilities skyrocketed, and they were able to confidently perform stunts that they never thought they could do. Above all, they were able to dive with a peace of mind, something they could never confidently claim before.
A free diving course doesn’t have to be a chore. With the right instructor, it can be a lot of fun. That said, you will learn also a lot of useful information about the following subject matters:
- Depth and Pressure: The right course will teach you how physics affects your diving abilities and your body under the water.
- Breathing: In your course, you will learn how to breathe properly before and after a free dive.
- Equipment: Your instructor should advise you on the equipment you need to make the most of your free diving experience.
- Equalization: You will learn how to overcome equalization issues when underwater.
- Buoyancy Control: In the right course, you will learn how to control your body and improve hydrodynamics while in the water.
- Stretching: Your instructor will give you a repertoire of stretches and exercises that you should perform to increase your strength and dexterity.
- Pool Training: You will put your education to the test via intensive pool training.
- Open Water Training: Once you’ve mastered pool training, you will be taken to the open water, where you will focus on constant weight and free immersion.
- Weather: Your instructor should advise you about tides and currents and how they’re affected by the weather.
- The Underwater Environment: A key part of your training will consist of learning about marine life and what types of creatures to avoid.
- Buddying: Your instructor should tell you about the safety of buddying up and how doing so can make your dive more enjoyable.
- Rescue Skills: Your courses should also teach you how to rescue a buddy if necessary.
- Risk Awareness: Your instructor should not downplay the dangers of free diving but should instead inform you of the risks associated with a diving adventure.
Free diving can be exhilarating and freeing at the same time. However, it’s unwise to just dive right in without knowing how to perform a free dive safely or understanding the best techniques for maximizing your experience. While this guide told you what to expect from a free dive , it’s not enough. Ultimately, you should take a free diving course so that you can learn from a skilled and experienced free diver in a safe and controlled environment.