Who hasn’t seen The Big Blue and dreamed of swimming freely in the blue sea with dolphins?
It’s a cliché question but who hasn’t been somehow impressed by that movie.
Sadly for us, air breathing, land based humans, water is a privilege that can only be conquered with scuba gear or earned through training how to freedive.
Back in the 80’s, in my native Italy, Freediving champions Umberto Pelizzari, Enzo Maiorca, Jacques Mayol, Pipin Ferreras were celebrities. The world of ‘apnea’ (from the Greek absence of breathing) was mainstream back then. They were featured on magazines, made regular appearances on TV and of course when The Big Blue came out in 1988, the public was hooked on the beauty, the sense of freedom and challenges of Freediving – including the huge controversy that came with record breaking attempts and stories of rivalry among the champions.
I must admit I was in awe of them but it never crossed my mind to try and go deeper than the friendly sandy bottom that I could touch with my feet when having fun in the sea. Still, I’d try and lay down on that sandy bottom, counting the seconds. I felt good, I loved the absence of sound, the intimacy of the water.
Still, I’m a fearful, lazy scuba diver.
How can I trust my body to go down and back up on one breath?
How can I overcome my fears and truly trust myself?
We would certainly need training to do this and what is really cool is that the training itself seems like a journey to discover our potential and allow ourselves to trust…ourselves.
Freediving is not just the challenge of reaching greater depth or distance while holding our breath, it’s almost a metaphor for life, to discover - accept and even challenge - what we can do.
Our Ambassador Sara Campbell is a brilliant example of this.
She was (in her own words) a ‘chronically ill London PR girl’ who became a dedicated Kundalini Yoga practitioner before entering the world of Freediving by chance. When she took her Pranayama breathing skills to the water she found out that her body could get her deep. She found happiness, freedom and liberation in the water. Then in 2007, after only 9 months of training, she broke three deep diving world records in the space of 48 hours, her true potential finally unlocked.
Interestingly, our Ambassador Rebecca Coales, the 2014 UK female Pool Freedive Champion, is also a devoted Yoga practitioner & teacher. Rebecca too started freediving a bit later, after being a scuba diver.
As soon as we start using the words ‘training’ and ‘challenge’ the first things that comes to mind is also ‘fitness’. Freedivers are generally fit.
They rely on their physical abilities, they value good nutrition and are often very spiritual people. They bond with water with their own means, without the aid of equipment, and therefore have to rely on their own power. That of course can be taken to extremes but we’re only talking about recreational Freediving, not the world of the super competitive champions (who are a small elite anyway).
How different is that from Scuba Diving…
While the scuba divers stress themselves out with equipment prior to jumping in the water, the freedivers are meditating or doing breathing exercises. Scuba divers have to wait on the surface before attempting another dive, freedivers can keep going down as they like.
Sara Campbell, in a Skype conversation we had a while ago, also summed it up very effectively.
She said that “when a scuba diver comes back from a dive he lights up a cigarette and reaches out to a beer”. Are we definitely like that, so lazy and unaware of the need for fitness? Certainly not all of us are like that but we can't deny that many of us are!
Scuba diving allows us to spend time in the marine environment but what does it teach us about ourselves? Does it allow us to broaden our horizon? Could we, scuba divers, learn something from the mental and physical attitude of freedivers?
I personally think this is an aspect of scuba diving that is often overlooked, including the whole debate about diving & fitness that so many divers seem to ignore all together.
For example, how about specific fitness programs for divers?
How about some specific Yoga sequences for divers, free or with scuba, no distinction?
I must say that I devotedly practise Yoga and when I come back from a dive with a half full tank (proudly most of the time) I know that comes from learning to breathe correctly, in the Yoga way.
As for the controversy, Freediving has its share of it, much more so than Scuba Diving being a competitive activity. I’m not going into the health risks of Freediving or into the intense controversy of extreme, competitive, no-limits Freediving but if you do have any interest, there is plenty of information and great videos on the web.
Don’t let that scare you away. Extreme is indeed extreme and many times accidents happen simply because of lack of proper organisation and competence - a potent cocktail for disaster in many other extreme sports too.
In any case, the risk is there – no need to hide it or play it down. So why would anyone risk their lives to go deeper and deeper?
What is the need to do that, why would you do it?
To me the answer is a simple one.
As humans we crave achievement, we feel the drive to explore new places, we seek the challenge to push ourselves to the limit and we sometimes madly follow our ego but ultimately it’s the experience of it that stays with us, together with everything that experience has taught us.
We live to experience, to learn about ourselves, to develop and to have stories to pass on.
Risk is just part of every experience. Risk taking might not be for everyone but the world would certainly be very different if we didn’t have some great risk takers amongst us.
So, would you take that journey into Freediving?
If you want to be inspired, here is the link to the 10 top Freediving videos, curated by Deeper Blue’s founder Stephan Whelan.
By the way, you can join Sara Campbell in Dahab and train with her in both Freediving and Yoga:
If you’re based in the UK you can also join our Rebecca Coales in Bristol, again for Yoga and Freediving – she is also a Divemaster and knows the challenges of scuba divers:
The largest freedivers community is definitely on Deeper Blue.
Big Blue, here we come…