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Freediving – breath-hold divingAdd to favourite

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    The majority of humans panic at the mere thought of going a few minutes without oxygen; however, followers of this enthralling extreme sport discover a serene world in the underwater calmness.

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Freediving is somehow a peculiar extreme sport. First of all, it’s absolutely natural because people have been diving with their breath held since ancient times, to find food and treasures, or just for pleasure. Furthermore, any swim teacher will tell you that, as soon as children are comfortable in water, they’ll begin exploring how long they can last without oxygen while holding their breath underwater and also how far they can swim. However, ultimately, those children return to the surface when they need desperately to take a breath of air. Air represents such an indispensible source of life that the mere thought of lasting without it voluntarily is quite enough to frighten most people to some degree. You can survive without eating for weeks, without drinking for days, but how long without breathing?

     Freediving is a type of underwater diving that depends a lot on the diver’s ability to hold his or her breath until returning to the surface instead of using a breathing apparatus like a scuba gear. The entire objective is to dive for as deep or as long as possible with just one breath of air. So, freedving represents a sport characterized by lung capacity and physical endurance. Freediving includes everything from floating face down in a swimming pool, as in static apnea, to descending over 500 feet on a weighted sled, as in no-limits diving. However, most freedivers of the world, approximately 20,000, belong to the “constant ballast” category, depending on little more than a mask and fins to dive as deep as their lungs will allow them.


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     Although freediving is a thrilling and enjoyable sport, similar to all adventure sports, it involves risks when executed incorrectly. One of its dangers consists in shallow water black out. When one loses consciousness underwater, he or she faces one of the greatest dangers of freediving. When freediving is performed improperly, freedivers can black out because of hypoxia or low levels of oxygen. On the other hand, when one loses consciousness out of the water, he or she doesn’t face an inherent risk, but a black out in the water can be life-endangering. When losing consciousness underwater, a freediver will automatically inhale and may drown if there’s no prompt assistance. Another potential risk is the compression of a freediver’s eardrums and ultimately their explosion. The water pressure becomes higher the deeper a freediver goes, pushing his or her eardrums in.


     The story of freediving starts as far back as 4500 B.C., more precisely since humans have begun to dive, obviously without tank, to collect sea shells and other sea animals for their survival. In ancient times, freediving was possible without using any mechanical devices aside from the occasional usage of reeds and leather breathing bladders.

      Underwater diving for commercial purposes instead of recreational ones may have started in Ancient Greece, since both Plato and Homer specify that the sponge was used for bathing. However, sponges weren’t the single valuable harvest to be retrieved from the sea bottom; the gathering of red coral was rather popular as well. Furthermore, jewelry was to be made of pearls, an item that could solely be found on the bottom of the ocean during ancient Egypt as early as 3,500 B.C.

      In 1913 took place the first recorded freedive which has been executed by Haggi Statti, a Greek fisherman. His duty was to retrieve the ship’s anchor, which has fallen to a bottom of approximately 75 meters.

      In the Second World War, the Italian and French armies used freedivers as combat divers in order to find out mines or to put explosives underneath Nazi watercrafts situated in the Mediterranean.

Types of freediving

         In order to comprehend freediving and time records, one must first find out more about the different freediving disciplines and their meaning. The objectives of the different disciplines consist in freediving for time, freediving for depth and also freediving for distance.

  • Static Apnea - freediving for time

            When it comes to static apnea, a freediver tries to hold his face submerged in the water for as long as he or she can. Static apnea is the single discipline in which the freediver is evaluated on the time he manages to hold his breath. Static apnea is almost entirely a mental challenge, in which a diver struggles against the urge to breathe for as long as he or she is capable.

  • Dynamic Freediving (with and without fins) - freediving for distance

          When it comes to dynamic freediving, a diver travels through water in a horizontal direction and tries to increase swimming distance on one breath hold. There are 2 types of dynamic freediving, more precisely with and without fins. Most of the time, dynamic freediving is performed in a swimming pool. This discipline combines swimming with breath holding techniques and mental control.

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  • Free Immersion - freediving for depth

        Free immersion represents a challenging discipline for divers as it requires diving as deep as possible. When it comes to free immersion, a freediver utilizes a rope to draw himself downwards when descending and upwards when ascending without having fins or any other propulsion device.

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A lot of freediver beginners discover this discipline to be the most pleasantly entertaining one because the descent and ascent techniques are pretty easy, so the driver can easily control his speed and ear equalization.

  • Constant weight no fins - freediving for depth

         The majority of freedivers think about constant weight freediving without fins as being the purest freediving discipline. When it comes to this particular discipline, the freediver utilizes just his muscle power and swimming technique to descend as far as possible. However, he doesn’t touch the vertical reference rope or utilize a sled in order to pull himself downwards. Although this type of freediving is considered the purest, it is also the hardest.       

      The freediver’s oxygen is consumed rather quickly when swimming and the descents are slower in comparison with other disciplines that give a diver the option to drag himself with a rope or swim using fins. A freediver who wants to do constant weight with no fins, he/she must practice hard and a lot to attain perfect coordination between propulsion, technique, equalization and buoyancy.

  • Constant weight with fins - freediving for depth

        Speaking about weight freediving with fins, a diver utilizes fins to move himself downward to the biggest depth possible. Constant weight freediving with fins can be performed with either 2 standard freediving fins or one monofin.

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However, the freediver just has the permission to touch the vertical reference rope to cease his descent and start his ascent. Constant weight freediving with fins represents the most common form of freediving and it is preferred by most freedivers. Furthermore, constant weight with fins is the deepest discipline permitted in competitions.

  • Variable Weight - freediving for depth

         When it comes to variable weight, freedivers utilize a heavy sled, a device which is connected to vertical ropes and drags the freedivers down at a very fast rate. This allows professional freedivers to descend to outstanding depths because they don’t consume unnecessary oxygen swimming during the descent. The ascent is accomplished through swimming or pulling on a rope. However, variable weight freediving can be risky because the rapid descent causes equalization to be more difficult and because divers can, at times, descend deeper than they can ascend. Due to these reasons, variable weight freediving is only performed by expert freedivers and is not included in competitions.

  • No-limits - freediving for depth

       No-limits freediving represents the most extreme form of freediving for depth. The freediver descends extremely quickly utilizing a ballast weight like a sled, and afterwards he or she utilizes an inflatable lift bag, balloon, or other buoyancy device in order to ascend. Neither the ascent nor descent involves any swimming, permitting no-limits freedivers to descend to bigger depths in comparison to other disciplines. However, no-limits freediving is the most dangerous of all freediving disciplines because divers descend to such big depths that they rely entirely on their gear for a safe return to the surface. At the present moment, no-limits freediving isn’t allowed anymore in competitions.

Best Freediving Records

Static Apnea: At the present moment, the world record recognized by AIDA, as in the Association for Development of Apnea, consists in 11min and 35s and it is attained by Stéphan Mifsud in 08.06.2009.

Constant Weight Apnea: The current world record recognized by AIDA consists in 128m, accomplished by Alexey Molchanow in 19.09.2013.

Constant Weight Apnea without fins: The current world record recognized by AIDA is hold by William Trubridge who attained an outstanding depth of 101m in 16.12.2010.

Free immersion Apnea: Once again William Trutbridge is the holder of the current world record recognized by AIDA, achieving a depth of 121m in 04.10.2011.

Variable weight Apnea: At this discipline William Trubridge also holds the AIDA world record with a depth of 145m since the 03.09.2013.

No-Limits Apnea: The current AIDA world record is hold by Herbert Nitsch with an outstanding depth of 214m, which was achieved on the 14.06.2007.

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Interesting facts

•    Contrary to what most people believe, low levels of oxygen don’t actually set off the urge to breath. In fact, the concentration of carbon dioxide, not oxygen, in a human’s body triggers the act of inhaling. A freediver needs to take a breath of air when his carbon dioxide level grows, though his body may still have enough oxygen available.

•    Sea mammals like dolphins and whales can’t breathe underwater. Similar to freedivers, these mammals inhales air from the surface and carry it with them as they propel through the water. Eons of evolution have made sea mammals masters when it comes to breath-hold diving.

•    The mammalian dive reflex represents a physiological response during diving sessions. The mammalian dive reflex is characterized by 2 significant aspects of the reflex noticed in freedivers, more exactly bradycardia, which slows the heart rate, and vasoconstriction, which narrows the arteries in order to diminish blood flow. These 2 responses are set off by submersion in water. Furthermore, the mammalian dive reflex comprises 2 other adaptations, as in blood shift and the spleen effect. Unlike the other two, bradycardia and vasoconstriction, these reflexes happen in response to the increased underwater pressure around a diver, and not just to submersion in water. Without blood shift and the spleen effect, freedivers wouldn’t be capable of diving extremely deep.

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Published by Claudia Barbu


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