Do you remember as kid it was super cool to cross the swimming pool underwater holding your breath? Guess what, it still is! And it’s called freediving.
It’s the most relaxed and liberating sport I’ve ever tried. No heavy equipment. No noise. Just you, basic gear, and a line into the blue. I’m hooked! And I’m only starting out with it. Up to this year I hardly knew anything about this sport. I’ve been scuba-diving but that’s a completely different game.
In Bali I went on a fun trip with real freedivers to spot manta rays. The real freedivers could dance with the manta rays for minutes, or just chill on a rock underwater while I had to go up and down to breath every minute or so. How cool is that? I wanted to be able to be such a dolphin. The good part, I am. We all are. Going far back we have aquatic roots. We all have it in us. It just takes practice, some knowledge and a deeper exploration of our mind and bodies.
Prior the freedive course I managed to film this Manta-ray in Komodo National Park for a sweet 8 seconds ;)! Next encounter I will manage longer cause I went on a freedive course and I’m into practice!
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Freedive beginner course in
Bali Gili Air
Photo: By Oli Christen – the freedive team from
Bali Gili Air Freedive Flow
What do you learn in a freedive course?
Super excited my friend Nicole, and I started a freedive beginner course to release the inner dolphin in us! I had no idea what I exactly was going to learn. Oli was the instructor. He has the freedive school
Bali Freedive Flow at the beach in Gili Air. Now I understand where the schools’ name comes from. Freediving is all about relaxation of our body and mind. The more you have the two in a flow state, the better you perform with freediving. Panicking somewhere down at the bottom is not a good idea cause these thoughts suck energy. This costs oxygen and will give you less diving time. So freediving kind of forces you to relax. By just staying calm, chilled-out, and intensely in the moment, our body can do things that I wouldn’t thought was possible. Basically, you need to train your mind more than your body. Nice challenge, right? Of course there is way more to it. That’s what I learned in the 2* AIDA freedive course of Oli from Bali freedive flow. It was 3 days packed with theory, pool practice, and open water sessions with the local Jukung boat.
Photo: off for an open water session in Sanur, Bali.
The power of a single breath
I’m quite chilled out by nature. But I never really realized how much you can improve your state of relaxation with breathing techniques. In the course, we practiced relaxation, breathing and breathholding. As Oli is also a yoga instructor he could teach a great deal about all this. How long? How deep? How far? Breathing is so much more than breathing. How often do you pay attention to it? In general we just do this just automatically and unconsciously, roughly 25.000 times per day. But we have so much more capacity and energy to get out of a breath if we only consider it. I learned that the urge to breath with freediving isn’t because of lack of oxygen, it’s because of rising CO2 in our bodies. Diaphragm contractions, this feeling of needing to breath, are a warning sign, but still, leave us with more breath hold capacity than I ever imagined. After considering my breath a bit more I could hold it already for more than 3 minutes. At course day 1. So can you!
Like a mermaid
We learned about the basics and techniques of freediving, like finning techniques, body positioning, duck-diving, how to make a turn down the line with as less energy as possible… Super interesting stuff! If you have all these things right, you use so much less energy. Through video analysis, we could see where the movements could be streamlined to flow like mermaid through the water. Little adaptations make you able to stay way longer underwater.
The inner dolphin in us
Did you know that when our face touches water, our heart rate immediately slows down and blood moves from the extremities to the brain, heart and vitals organs of our body? Seals and dolphins have this reflex, but so do we! It’s called the mammal dive reflex. Another thing I never realized. This water splashing in your face in the morning isn’t just a quick wash. It really drives all energy to the vital organs in our body, making us wake up. Holding your breath on surface is, therefore, a completely different game than doing so underwater.
He has it in him:
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Freediving surely has a risk element, but it’s definitely not riskier than scuba-diving. Freediving is pure nature. In the 2* AIDA freedive course we learned a great deal about safety. What risks are involved? How to minimize them? How to recognize that something might be wrong, with yourself or your buddy? Now I know how to act in the event when something happens. Safety is pa-ra-mount. As Oli’ taught me the key is to progress slowly.
Last but not least, in the course, we got reminded about taking well care of the aquatic environment. It should be common sense but too often I see swimmers, snorkelers or (free)divers touching, chasing, removing or harassing other sea life! Don’t.
I moved from the tropical waters of Bali to the slightly colder waters of the Strait of Gibraltar (Tarifa). The excitement about freediving doesn’t change. I started practicing and learning with local Andalusian freedive buddies from Apnea el Estrecho and Apnea Huelva. I’m figuring out what gear to buy and I’m exploring the options to go for some practice in tropical waters this winter! I joined an official Freedive competition to experience what that’s all about. What an experience! That’s another story! The real action photos and video’s will come as soon as I have an underwater cam!
Photo: Freediving in the Strait of Gibraltar. Africa in the background
A world has opened up to me! The feeling of freedom which freediving gives is incredible. It’s the most peaceful experience I have ever had. Thank you Nicole, for getting me into this!!!
Would you be up for it?
Photo: Apnea Andalusia
For the curious and other freedive newbies out there, here are some helpful and tips & resources:
- AIDA is the International Association for the Development of Apnea. Here you can find all recognized freedive schools. AIDA regulates competitions and world records. I highly recommend to take a freedive beginner course to learn how to freedive safely.
- Where to freedive? I recommend the tropics (clear, warm and there are coconuts), and I highly recommend Bali Freedive Flow because of the setting, professionalism and fun! Bonaire and Dominica are home to other perfect freedive spots.
- Blog of Annelie Pompe She’s a hardcore freediver. I love her philosophy and photography.
- Recommended reading: Manual of Freediving: underwater on single breath of Umberto Pelizzari and for breathing exercises I highly recommend Breatheology of Stig Avall Severinsen
- Deeperblue The Freedive community platform
- Freediving not for you? Get a glimpse of the underwater world through ReefCam, a live feed from the Caribbean!
- What freedive gear should you get? Here’s what I use.
- Dive-in her for more tips to get started with freediving.
Freediving in Gili Air
Oli has moved his school to Gili Air in Indonesia. A brand new freedive center just opened and it’s a truly wonderful set up. You’ll find it right at Oceans5 when you arrive in Gili air. Where to stay in Gili Air? I recommend Orang villas in the north of Gili Air. Quiet and wonderful snorkelling right upfront. Mowies on the beach is fantastic for sundowners and healthy foods.
Disclaimer: Opinions are mine and only mine. If you happen to go to Gili Air, awesome if you book Gili Air accommodation via clicking through my site. It’ll give me a tiny commission to raise the adventure fund. Thank you!