Every woman wishes they could be a mermaid, right? Scuba diving is great, but it’s just not the same thing. Yes, you’re under water for long spurts of time, but all the gear tarnishes the Ariel-esque idea. Sadly, short of fusing our legs together and growing gills, we’ll never be full-blown mermaids. But the sport of freediving comes pretty close.
Freediving is an extreme sport where divers stay underwater for extended amounts of time on a single breath, using little to no gear. In ancient times, the art was developed for harvesting oceanic goodies. Pearls, sponges, coral, and sunken treasure were worth tidy sums of money. Freedivers also hunted for food, such as conch and lobsters, and used spears underwater to catch bigger fish like tuna.
Today, recreational freediving is still done with very little gear. Divers typically only use fins, mask, snorkel and maybe a nose clip. Freediving is obviously limited to one breath, but training extends lung capacity beyond the typical red-in-the-face 30 seconds. The current freediving record holder for static apnea, which is breath-holding with no swimming, is more than eleven and a half minutes. That’s probably not enough time to search for forks in a shipwreck, but it sure is enough time to do some serious exploring.
Besides staying under water for minutes upon end, freedivers are also able to go as deep as scuba divers. Although dive depths vary, it’s not uncommon to go below 100 feet. In fact, most beginner courses take newbies to 50 feet, and that’s just the start.
Down in the Depths
Some competitive freedivers looking to push the limits use weighted sleds during descents and inflatable balloons during ascents . These divers are able to reach incredible depths—the current record holder, according to the International Association for Development of Apnea (AIDA), reached 700 feet.
Even without weights, freedivers are able to go really deep. AIDA’s world record holder for depth without fins or other aids reached 331 feet.
How to Learn
Freediving incorporates a lot of disciplines, such as focusing on length of time under water, horizontal distance covered, and oceanic depth reached. Different specialties use different gear and have corresponding emphasis on various skills. But step one to channeling the inner mermaid is taking an intro freediving course, offered by Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI), Scuba Schools International (SSI) or Freediving Instructors International (FII).
During beginner courses, students are taught to pack their lungs to retain more air than usual. They’re taught to “equalize” so they can properly operate under the pressure of the ocean as they descend into the depths. And, most importantly, they are taught to understand the limits and implications of stress upon the body when freediving.
Once the basics of freediving are mastered, a whole world of underwater activities is opened. Spearfishing and other aquatic hunting is often done without tank aid, and underwater sea life is experienced in a whole new way. Even without the tail or the gills, you really will get that mermaid sensation.