Free-Diving in the Ocean

Free-diving in the ocean, also known as breath-hold diving or apnea diving, involves diving into the water without the use of scuba equipment, relying solely on holding one's breath while exploring the underwater world. The practice began at least 200 years ago. It became the traditional way to fish for coastal communities, like Asia’s Bajau people. The number of certified free-divers has more than doubled in the past 10 years. In 2023, the number of divers registered for international competitions was 2,889, and 20,000 people have become certified in recent years (AIDA Intl.). Benefits of free-diving include lower stress and anxiety, and a heightened state of self-awareness. Divers credit this to well-practiced breathwork and relaxation techniques.

Why it’s an extreme sport:

Breath-Holding: Free-divers must hold their breath for extended periods while diving underwater, which can be physically demanding and mentally challenging. This adds a significant level of risk and requires proper training and preparation to avoid hypoxia (an absence of enough oxygen in the tissues to sustain bodily functions) or blackout (loss of consciousness). Divers master relaxation to slow their heart rates and can hold their breath up to 3 minutes.

Deep Diving: Many free-divers aim to reach significant depths in the ocean, sometimes exceeding 100 meters (328 feet) or more. These deep dives come with increased pressure and can lead to various physiological issues.

Equalization: Equalizing the pressure in the ears and sinuses becomes more difficult at greater depths, making it a critical skill for free-divers. Failure to equalize properly can result in barotrauma injuries (a ruptured eardrum/tissue damage due to unrelieved pressure in the sinuses and middle ear).

Buoyancy Control: Free-divers rely on their lung volume to control their buoyancy. Proper control is crucial to avoid uncontrolled ascent or descent, which can lead to injuries.

Environmental Factors: The ocean is unpredictable, with strong currents, changing weather conditions, and marine life to contend with. These factors can add to the risks associated with free-diving.

Risk of Blackout: Hypoxia or shallow water blackout is a severe risk in free-diving. If a free-diver pushes their limits too far or fails to surface in time, they may experience a blackout, which can be life-threatening.

As in other extreme sports, there are dangers, and divers must take precautions to minimize the risks. To do this, free-divers undergo extensive training and adhere to safety protocols. They often dive with a buddy or within a group and are trained in rescue techniques. This sport demands a high level of skill, knowledge, and respect for the underwater environment. It can be exhilarating and rewarding for those who practice it responsibly.


The Monofin: (pictured above)

The creation of the monofin in the 1970's resulted in the breaking of all fin-swimming world records within ten years. The performance of a single fin proved far superior to using two fins. Alessia Zecchini, for example, an Italian who holds 35 world records, achieved a 177 meter decent at Vertical Blue with a monofin.


Record-holding free-divers include:

Alexey Molchanov: This Russian diver is one of the most prominent figures in free-diving. He has set multiple world records and won numerous championships, including the AIDA (International Association for the Development of Apnea) Freediving World Championships.

Herbert Nitsch: An Austrian freediver, he is known for incredible depth records, including a No-Limits world record dive to 253 meters (830 feet). He's also known for achieving multiple world records in other free-diving disciplines.

William Trubridge: A New Zealand free-diver, he is a multiple world record holder in the discipline of constant weight. He's known for his incredible depth and grace in the water.

Natalia Molchanova: The late Natalia Molchanova, also Russian, was one of the most accomplished female free-divers in history. She held numerous world records and was a prominent figure in the sport until her disappearance in 2015.

Guillaume Néry: This French free-diver is renowned for his dynamic and cinematic underwater videos. He has set records in various free-diving disciplines and is known for his charismatic approach to the sport.


These athletes compete internationally, including AIDA World Championships, CMAS (Confédération Mondiale des Activités Subaquatiques) competitions, and other independent events. 

The most common disciplines in competitive free-diving include:

Constant Weight: Divers use a monofin or bifins to descend and ascend, relying on their

own power and breath-holding abilities.

Free Immersion: Divers pull themselves along a rope to descend and ascend.

Variable Weight: Divers use a weighted sled to descend and ascend, typically with the

aid of a balloon for buoyancy on the ascent.

No-Limits: Divers descend with the help of a weighted sled and ascend using a lift bag.

Static Apnea: Divers hold their breath while floating on the surface of the water for as

long as possible.

Popular locations for free-diving competitions include the Mediterranean Sea and the Caribbean. Dahab, Egypt, on the Red Sea coastline, is particularly popular with ‘Egypt’s Blue Hole’, a dangerous, reef-lined sinkhole about 90 meters (295 feet) deep, just 20 minutes away.



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