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.”
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 AIDA reports that 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 And so on, and so forth, until the depths divers started to reach superseded 100 meters.
In 1992, the AIDA was founded as the official world free-diving organization. As of 2008, that organization had officiated 204 world records and presented 156 world championship medals.
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.
Free-diving’s as simple as holding your breath and swimming as deep as you possibly can, right? Wrong. The sport has many variations, and here they are:
- No Limit: 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.
- Variable Weight: Divers descend using a sled and ascend using their limb strength.
- Constant Weight: Limbs (and fins) are used both to descend and ascend. Divers are only allowed to grab a guiding rope two times when they a. want to stop descending or b. want to start ascending.
- Constant Weight Without Fins: Same as the Constant Weight technique but without the hydro-dynamic aid of fins.
- Free Immersion: No fins, no sleds, no balloons, just a guiding rope divers may pull on to descend and ascend.
- Dynamic With Fins: Divers swim horizontally trying to cover the greatest distance, using fins and limb strength to propel them.
- Dynamic Without Fins: Divers must cover the greatest horizontal distance they can without the aid of fins.
- Static Apnea: Divers hold their breath for as long as they can, without moving.
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.
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.