Go beyond snorkeling with freediving

by Bevan Bigler
(Orlando, FL)

40 ft under at Blue Springs State Park, Orange City

40 ft under at Blue Springs State Park, Orange City

40 ft under at Blue Springs State Park, Orange City My freediving gear at Devils Den

Have you already done some snorkeling in Florida? If so, you know there's a lot to see underwater at our reefs and springs. But did know you could see a lot more of it through freediving? With freediving you can explore underwater and see marine life in places not visible from the surface.

What is Freediving? Freediving is breath-hold diving with regular snorkeling gear. Its a natural extension to snorkeling because you'll see something and want to get closer to it. So, you hold your breath and dive down. The average snorkeler can dive 10-15 ft down for about 10-15 seconds. With some training and better techniques, you could dive down 40 ft. and stay down 60 seconds. Over time you could even go 80 ft. down and reach 2 minutes!

Freediving vs. SCUBA. You may be thinking to yourself, why don't I just learn to SCUBA dive? Well freediving has some advantages over SCUBA: scuba gear is much more expensive; freediving does not have expensive certification classes; swimming fees are always lower than scuba diving fees at any park; scuba gear is more difficult to travel with; and freediving can give you a sense of empowerment.

Equalizing Pressure. Getting started is simple. You'll first need to learn how to equalize your ears with the water pressure so they don't hurt. The simplest way to do this is by holding your nose and mouth shut while trying to push air out. This is done underwater every 5-10 ft of depth. The result is air going through your eustachian tubes to your eardrum and equalizing the water pressure with air pressure. If you have nasal congestion, then this won't work.

Equalizing your ears takes practice and patience. You should always equalize before your ears start to hurt underwater. If you don't equalize then the water pressure could rupture your eardrums! You also need to equalize the air pressure in your mask, otherwise your eyes will have a suction pressure on them, which is uncomfortable. To do this, simply blow a little air through your nose into your mask.

Breath Holding. Once you've learned to equalize, then the only other challenge is holding your breath. You can immediately get better at this by relaxing as much as possible when you're underwater. Relax your shoulders and move slow and smooth. Before you dive, breath out completely and then breath in to your max; this gives you the most fresh air in your lungs.

Surface Dives. When you dive down, bend your torso until vertical in the water and then lift 1 or 2 legs in the air. Use your arms once to further pull yourself under the water, then start using your fins. This technique is energy efficient, which means oxygen efficient. Your fins can make a difference too; you can propel yourself with less energy using longer fins than shorter fins.

Breath Hold Practice. When you're out of the water, you can get better at holding your breath through practice. This is a matter of training your body to function normally with low oxygen and high carbon dioxide. The simple method is to hold your breath 3-4 times in a row, resting a few minutes between breath holds, 3-4 times a week. Gradually increase your time during the breath hold session (i.e. 40, 50, 60 sec). You should practice this while lying down or walking (both are good).

Basic Freediving Gear.The basic gear you'll need is

  • a mask

  • snorkel

  • fins

A waterproof watch is recommended to have safe diving times.

A wetsuit is good for cold spring water.

A weight belt is good for diving down easier, but don't use too much weight.

A waterproof flashlight is necessary for exploring caverns.

Dive gloves are a good idea in caves or on a reef.

There Are Risks. Just like SCUBA diving, freediving comes with some risk.

The main concern is avoiding a blackout underwater. This can be avoided by not pushing yourself too far (keep track of your time with a watch). This can also be avoided by ascending slowly to the surface and then breathing normally.

Swim With a Buddy. In case a blackout does happen, you should swim with a buddy who can bring you to the surface. You should remember to head back to the surface before you feel the urgent need to breath.

The Joys of Freediving. Freediving is a liberating sport! You'll be able to see things underwater that most people can't. You'll be able to wave to scuba divers as you pass them by. You'll be able to float weightless in
an underwater world. And you won't scare away fish with respirator bubbles. Good luck and enjoy the waters of Florida!

Comments for Go beyond snorkeling with freediving

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Freediving In Overhead Environments Can Be Risky
by: Reid

Freediving involves holding your breath underwater for extended periods. Some people get real good at doing this, but it does have its risks.

Performance Freediving International (PFI) teaches not only the techniques of freediving, but also the safety measures the freediver must know to reduce risks.

Here's their web site:

Further, according to what PFI told me, freediving in overhead environments is particularly risky.

It seems to me a good idea to seek expert training
before you push the envelope.

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