Understanding Freediving

Where you one of those kids that had underwater breath hold competitions at the beach or local swimming hole with your friends? Whether the answer is yes or no, what you may not know is that there is an entire sport dedicated to the concept of holding your breath underwater.

This sport is called freediving. While the idea of free diving is as old as civilization, the sport of freedivng is relatively new. In 1949, Austrian spearfisher, Raymond Bucher bet that he could dive, without the assistance of oxygen to 30 meters deep. In 1949 scientists believed the human body could not withstand the constricting pressure of going unassisted to such a depth. The challenge was accepted and set, and Bucher ultimately accomplished this feat and won the wagered amount of 50,000 lira for his efforts, giving birth to competitive freediving.

There are several different ways freediving is performed. The first is competitive, for ambitious, well trained athletes. The assumed goal of competitive freediving is to go deeper, further, or for more time than anyone has gone before them. For these dives, athletes go through intense training regimens to get their lungs, spleens, airways, and bodies in general to be in the best position possible to perform high risk dives.

Freediving involves a great deal of risks besides the obvious one of drowning. This makes the intense training regimens that much more important. Even swimming to the bottom of a recreational pool, to about 8-10 feet or 2-3 meters, an untrained ear and lungs will begin to feel the pressure deep water diving can provide. Ruptured ear drums and lung squeeze are common pressure-related injuries and can be extremely painful. Dehydration is also very common due to fluids leaving the body from physical exertion combined with the large intake of salt. Combine all of that with you being completely surrounded by sunlight with virtually no place to get shade. Freediving blackout or hypoxic blackout is also common with all levels of freedivers. It is caused by the rapid change in pressure from the fluctuation in depth. This leads to a decrease of oxygen in the brain and causes the freediver to blackout. This occurs most frequently near or above the surface and freedivers have been quoted to experience a euphoric sensation just before blackout.

Risks aside. These freediving athletes are just too enamored with the prize of going further than any other human being has ever gone. Austrian freediver Herbert Nitsch, commonly referred to as “the Deepest Man on Earth”, set the world record with a 214 meter (702 feet) dive in 2007. Diving just over seven times the depth once thought impossible a short 58 years prior. The recommended maximum for any recreational freediver is about 20 meters, with even that depth being considered tough.

Common training regimens for freediving typically involve breathing tables, yoga or some form of stretching and relaxation techniques. Breathing tables, or static apnea tables involve a series of structured, timed breath holds with the goal being to raise tolerance to carbon dioxide build up in the blood and to tolerate low levels of oxygen in the lungs. While it can be done underwater it is heavily recommended to do it with a partner or simply above ground. Yoga and relaxation is good for freedivers because it teaches them to be as efficient as possible with their energy and therefore breath. The more intense you swim or move about underwater, the quicker you will run out of oxygen.

Even in these modern times, freediving is a means for survival for some traditional tribes around the world. Most notably the Bajau tribe of “sea gypsies” in the Phillipines, have been freedivers for many generations as their main source for food and resources. Throughout the generations, their ancestors forced their bodies to withstand the dives and recent studies show that, for example, their spleens have enlarged by almost 50 percent, allowing them to carry more oxygen naturally. This in turn allows for longer dives, and more opportunities for food and survival.

Freediving can also be done recreationally. With scuba diving equipment being heavy, and not to mention expensive, many people that can hold their breath and wish to experience the ocean can do so in its purest form. Freediving can be done on all seven continents and in virtually any country that shares a border with a body of water.

When performed properly, freediving can be an amazing experience for anyone. Accepting and understanding the risks involved is extremely important and not to be trifled with.




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