Ever heard of freediving? It’s the art of holding your breath underwater without any form of scuba gear or oxygen providing equipment. As an extreme sport, it is used across the world in various activities ranging from spearfishing to synchronized swimming. Above all, it is an ideal skill to have as a biologist, as it allows you to approach marine life without frightening sea creatures with the usual bubbles (or bulky diving equipment for the matter).
As a child, …
“I spent all my free time in the ocean chasing whatever fish I could find. These precious moments were shortened the moment I was forced back to the surface gasping for air. So when the Seadragons offered to provide us with a level 1 freediving course in Germany, I knew that I had to check it out.”
A story about the course
The course, spread out over the course of a day, included both a theoretical and practical approach to freediving. First, we met up with instructors Lukas Mueller and Konstantin Mauermann who patiently explained the safety procedures and other important principles of this extreme sport. Both experienced freedivers insisted on the importance of having a dive buddy, as well as familiarizing yourself with your surroundings before heading into the water. They also answered all our questions on the lasting effects of apnea on the human body. One of the main discussions focused on ‘contractions’ in freediving. When in apnea for a certain period, our bodies undergo a nearly uncontrollable urge to inhale to maintain survival. Due to rising carbon dioxide levels in our lungs, our diaphragm reacts and bends powerfully. We discussed how to manage these contractions with ease so that they do not interfere with our performances whilst below sea level.
Konstantin taught the group different breathing exercises to slow our heart rate, relax our muscles and hold our breath for extended periods. We mainly focused on belly breathing and learned how to equalize using the Frenzel technique. This ensures that your ears, sinuses, and mask are equal to the water or ambient pressure surrounding you at your depth. The group was even able to practice some static apnea. After a few hours of lively discussion on subjects ranging from diving abroad to approaching sharks in their natural habitat, our little group headed to the pool.
20 meters deep and filled with various types of artwork, the pool was a diving student’s dream. Personally, I was a big fan of the fake Mayan ruins at the bottom. This diving center located in Siegburg (Germany) focuses both on apnea and scuba courses. We had the opportunity to share the space with a variety of scuba divers when training. Armed with our new wet suits, lead belts, and the longest fins I’ve ever worn, we were ready to start with the underwater exercises.
Lukas and Konstantin demonstrated various techniques used in apnea. We learned how to duck dive, regulate our breathing, and rescue other people, but above all: we learned how to free fall. This last part was particularly thrilling to me. Imagine sinking without effort into a vast blueness, reaching a state of absolute serenity. Around 15 meters deep, the amount of air in your lungs decreases to the point where finning is no longer necessary, as your buoyancy ceases entirely. Less body movement means that less oxygen is being burned, allowing you to prolong your overall dive time and focus on equalization instead. If done correctly, your body can drop one meter per second underwater, in other words, you give in to the ‘freefall’.
Overall what I enjoyed the most about this course was the relaxed and friendly atmosphere. The instructors did a skillful job of making us feel comfortable in and out of the water. Every member could explore the sport at their own pace, under the guidance of Lukas and Konstantin. Before leaving we had plenty of time to chat with both freedivers, who have many experiences and stories to share.