Free Diving For Beginners

How long can you hold your breath? Long enough to touch the bottom in the deep end of the pool? 20 seconds, or 40 maybe? Certainly not much longer than that.

No matter how big a gasp you take before descending below the water’s surface, every second you’re submerged seems like an eternity.

The first breath you take after coming back up for air fills the void growing in your oxygen-deprived lungs and quells the panic seeping into your rational brain.

At first you’re glad you decided to breath but then, as your inhalations and exhalations resume their normal pace, you say to yourself, “I’m going to try to stay down there a little longer.”

Apnoea free diving

Then, as if you’d never even experienced the terrors of breathlessness, you’re back below, with inflated cheeks and the hope that you’ll be able to last a few seconds longer than the last time.

In many ways free-diving, a sport which requires humans to dive without the aid of oxygen tank or scuba gear, appeals to the basest of man’s desires to test his limits, to outdo his physiognomy and disprove the constraints of land mammal biology.

Free-diving is an opportunity to explore the unfamiliarity of a life aquatic as much as it is  a chance to gauge the breaking point of the human adventurer’s body and mind.

Surely you’ve had contests with friends to see who could hold their breath the longest. We all have. But, if you’d like to take that desire to buck biological predispositions one step farther, perhaps you should consider giving free-diving a try.

Here’s how to break in…


The first recorded instance of free-diving believed to be historically accurate occurred in 1913 when an Italian naval flagship reportedly lost its anchor off the coast of Greece and the navy offered a reward to whoever could locate and retrieve it.

Though the task seemed nearly impossible, a man known as Chatzistathis dove down an estimated 88 meters, at 3 minute clips, and eventually retrieved the lost anchor. Believed to be a tall tale for many years, the Italian Navy has recently confirmed the story.

36 years after Chatzistathis’s dive, in 1949, the sport was officially founded by Italian fighter pilot Raimondo Bucher who dove 30 meters on a single breath. Ennio Falcosoon soon beat his record. And so on, and so forth, until the depths divers started to reach superseded 100 meters.

Today free-divers like Guillaume Nery are shattering norms of the past, holding their breath for as long as 10 minutes on journeys that take them more than 200 meters deep.

Currently there are two bodies that oversee competitive free-diving: AIDA and Confédération Mondiale des Activités Subaquatiques (CMAS).

Within those governing bodies there are various disciplines of competitive free diving.



Static Apnea (STA)

Divers hold their breath for as long as they can, without moving.

Dynamic With Fins (DYN)

Divers swim horizontally trying to cover the greatest distance, using fins and limb strength to propel them.

Dynamic Without Fins (DNF)

Divers must cover the greatest horizontal distance they can without the aid of fins.

Constant Weight (CWT)

Limbs (and fins) are used both to descend and ascend. The athlete has to dive to a depth following a guide line that he or she cannot actively use during a dive. Divers are only allowed to grab the guiding rope two times when they want to:

a) want to stop descending or
b) want to start ascending.

The competitor cannot drop or use weights during the dive, but both bi-fins and monofin can be used to augment the speed of the dive.

Constant Weight Without Fins (CNF)

Same as the Constant Weight technique but without the hydro-dynamic aid of fins. This is also the youngest discipline in free diving; it’s been recognized by AIDA International since 2003.

Free Immersion (FIM)

No fins, no sleds, no balloons, just a guiding rope divers may pull on to descend and ascend.

Variable Weight (VWT)

Divers can use a weighted sled for descent, and when returning to the surface they can use the guide rope or Fins.

No Limit (NLT)

Divers descend using something called a “ballast weight”, sometimes referred to as a “sled”, to help them sink faster.

They then uses an inflatable diving suit or vest, called a “balloon” to help bring them back up. A diver can use any type of breath-hold diving to their depth and return to the surface, as long as something objective measures their distance.

The Jump Blue

Unlike the depth dives, this is when an diver descends and swims as far as possible in a cubic form of 15×15 meters. This discipline is overseen by CMAS.

free diving


As you might have gleaned by now, there’s a lot more to free-diving than holding your breath and hoping for the best.

In order to safely practice the sport and, eventually put yourself in a position to excel, your best bet is to visit the AIDA instructor database, choose a certified instructor in your country, and reach out to him or her about the best way to get started.

The AIDA also offers comprehensive and varied educational program geared to improve the skill sets possessed by various classes of free-divers, from the most novice beginner to the most advanced expert.

Formal instruction is essential to learning proper breath-holding, anaerobic muscle conditioning, and first aid emergency preparedness techniques.

Free Diving Dangers

These are strictly depth dives, and divers have to weigh a multitude of side-effects called “reflect mammalian diving reflex” when they plunge sometimes over 100 meters under the surface of the water.

The reflex is what keeps the divers alive–and it accounts for the danger in the pursuit.

When diving to extreme depths, there’s usually a drop in heart rate, known as “reflex bradycardia” as the pressure from the water squeezes a divers blood vessels.

That blood vessel shrinkage is known as “vasoconstriction,” and it means the bodies blood stream is directed away from the limbs to benefit the heart, lungs and brain.

Also, a bodies spleen will contract, releasing red blood cells carrying oxygen. A “blood shift” also occurs where blood plasma fills up blood vessels in the lung and reduces residual volume. If this didn’t occur a human lung would shrink from the water’s pressure and wrap into its walls causing permanent damage to the lungs after about 30 meters (95 feet).

Not only will the body adapt to allow divers more capacity to go to ever-increasing depths, but when divers surface, they have to battle the “bends,” or decompression sickness from surfacing so fast.


Once you’ve spent some time learning the art of free-diving, you’ll probably want to put your skills to good competitive use.

To find out what events are coming up, visit the AIDA’s competition page. Just be sure your pedigree is up to snuff before jumping in the water.

And remember: touching the ground in the deep end of the local swimming pool is not an indication that you’re ready.

The competitive diving disciplines have pretty strict standards for record-setting, but that means there’s a concrete account of how far we’ve molded our bodies into underwater conduits of energy and propulsion.

Constant Weight Apnea without fins is my favorite because it’s just a diver descending and ascending on their own. They have to  That’s IT!

William Trubridge holds the record at 102 meters, or a little over 331 feet. It means Trubridge has gone deeper under the water’s surface than any human in recorded history.

He is able to maintain buoyancy, propulsion, breath-control and lung power at the same time. It’s the only way to stay alive.

Male & Female World Record Holders

No Limit (NLT)

Male – 214 m
Name: Herbert NITSCH (AUT)
Date: 2007-06-14
Place: Spetses, Greece
Female –  160 m
Name: Tanya STREETER (USA)
Date: 2002-08-17
Place: Turks & Caicos

Constant Weight (CWT)

Male –  128 m
Name: Alexey MOLCHANOV (RUS)
Date: 2013-09-19
Place: Kalamata, Greece
Female –  101 m
Name: Natalia MOLCHANOVA (RUS)
Date: 2011-09-23
Place: Kalamata, Greece

Variable Weight (VWT)

Male –  145 m
Name: William WINRAM (CAN)
Date: 2013-09-03
Place: Sharm el Sheik, Egypt
Female –  130 m
Name: Nanja Van Den Broek (NLD)
Date: 2015-10-18
Place: Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt

Free Immersion (FIM)

Male –  121 m
Name: William TRUBRIDGE (NZL)
Date: 2011-04-10
Place: Long Island, Bahamas
Female –  91 m
Name: Natalia MOLCHANOVA (RUS)
Date: 2013-09-21
Place: Kalamata, Greece

Constant Weight Without Fins (CNF)

Male –  101 m
Name: William TRUBRIDGE (NZL)
Date: 2010-12-16
Place: Long Island, Bahamas
Female –  71 m
Name: Natalia MOLCHANOVA (RUS)
Date: 2015-05-13
Place: Dahab, Egypt

Dynamic Without Fins (DNF)

Male –  226 m
Name: Mateusz MALINA (POL)
Date: 2014-11-09
Place: Brno, Czech Republic
Female –  182 m
Name: Natalia MOLCHANOVA (RUS)
Date: 2013-06-27
Place: Belgrade, Serbia

Dynamic With Fins (DYN)

Male –  281 m
Name: Goran ČOLAK (CRO)
Date: 2013-06-28
Place: Belgrade, Serbia
Female –  237 m
Name: Natalia MOLCHANOVA (RUS)
Date: 2014-09-26
Place: Sardinia, Italy

Static Apnea (STA)

Male –  11 min 35 sec
Name: Stéphane MIFSUD (FRA)
Date: 2009-06-08
Place: Hyères, France
Female – 9 min 02 sec
Name: Natalia MOLCHANOVA (RUS)
Date: 2013-06-29
Place: Belgrade, Serbia

About the Author

Rick Coleman
Rick Coleman
Born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona Rick Coleman is a featured contributor who has written for a wide range of international travel publications. He loves the outdoors and has covered thousands of miles in the pursuit of his next adventure.
Rick Coleman
Rick Coleman
Born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona Rick Coleman is a featured contributor who has written for a wide range of international travel publications. He loves the outdoors and has covered thousands of miles in the pursuit of his next adventure.
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