Freediving or skin diving is a form of underwater diving where divers hold their breath for long periods of time, and rely on their own abilities rather than using breathing apparatus.
It is an ancient art that goes back to traditional fishing techniques such as spear fishing and oyster diving. The divers would practice meditative breathing techniques to improve their lung capacity, and ability to stay calm.
There are now a range of competitive competitions testing disciplines from deepest depths and longest time under.
We spoke to one freediver from our home town of Cheltenham – Adam Mustoe.
How did you first get in to freediving?
I suppose I was first exposed to it on “Transworld Sport” when I was little. I remember watching people doing “no limit” freediving which is the most extreme discipline – it was fascinating and compelling. During my twenties I became involved in a variety of board sports, including winter surfing. Earlier this year I was looking for something to do during the summer months – Freediving was complimentary.
Can you tell us a bit about what freediving actually is?
Freediving as a skill is fairly complex, but in short you’re holding your breath underwater for time, distance or depth. There are multiple disciplines within this framework. The sport had a reputation for being extremely dangerous, however this as with all things doesn’t necessarily have to be the case given the right training, conditioning and understanding. The foundation of the sport is rooted in relaxation, meditation and incorporates breathing techniques commonly found in practices like yoga. Coupled with this you have the bodies physiological & psychological processes which can limit a dive/breath hold.
For those that choose to do it, it is incredibly peaceful and freeing. It enables unique recreational experiences with marine wildlife, is the base skill in spearfishing, provides a platform for a sport in the form of competitive freediving and has been passed down by cultures such as the Ama divers of Japan.
Did you need to be a strong swimmer?
Strong swimmer, not strictly but it has it’s benefits. You definitely need to feel comfortable in water. Some people dislike the idea of open water, the perceived hostility of the marine environment and the whole “something just touched my leg!!” thing, so it tends to not be for them 😊 but for the rest of us I think it strengthens the affinity.
Do you need special equipment?
It’s a very accessible sport in that sense. I had SCUBA dived for a little while but I was limited financially in taking it further, so freediving was a eureka moment. To get started you need very little equipment but MOST importantly – training, education and a buddy!
It must be a strange experience, were you apprehensive when you first started?
Apprehensive no, but very intrigued. Id mostly experienced adrenaline in other sports but freediving is far more cerebral & meditative, with physical foundation. I suppose when I first started the bottom plates looked quite far away even at just 10m deep, but as time goes on you try to release yourself to sensation as opposed to conscious acknowledgment of what you’re doing.
How have you improved in time/depth etc?
My time and experience in freediving is in the formative stage and I’ve been very fortunate to be exposed to so much so early on. I’m trying my best to improve steadily and responsibly. In fact, I’m more apprehensive about being in the presence of so many talented divers at the AIDA world championships than diving itself!
I currently train at the NDAC in Chepstow which is the worlds only (I believe) freshwater freediving platform. There we train in relatively cold water which is great conditioning for better performances in places like Greece.
For what seems a simple task (hold your breath dive and come back up) it has an array of complexity. I would say the area I need to improve on most right now is my psychological strength (literally under pressure) to achieve realistic & responsible times/depths that I know are within my ability.
What kind of techniques do you use to improve your ability to hold your breath?
You can do a variety of breath hold exercises at home and in safe, dry environments. Relaxation in the form of meditation and conscious diaphragmatic breathing are also useful. A good general fitness, flexibility and diet are all good pathways into any sport. I aim to do some more sport specific training over the winter to improve dive performance next season.
What do you think about when you are down there?
It really depends. Being able to switch off from thought or occupy your mind with songs/repetition can be good ways to a successful dive in a competitive sense. If you’re diving recreationally then tuning into how you feel and how you interact with the marine environment can be very rewarding…
…In saying that, I recently occupied myself waving at my team mate Tim down at 25m, had an upside down encounter with a Pike (predatory fresh water fish) and buddied for a man in a bikini… I don’t want to think about that at any time really haha
It must hold an element of danger, have you had any scary experiences?
It can, and to date I have not. I’ve had a couple of dives where you feel like you need to get back to the surface but you relax into it, knowing that what you’re experiencing is natural and controllable.
The sport can sometimes have a stigma attached to it in terms of danger, but the reality is one more of respect for the environment your in and being truthful/humble in your abilities. Slow and steady wins the race; no more true than in freediving. It’s not about the destination but instead the journey. If you do that, then the times, depths and rewards of the activity will come to you.
Nearly all my training sessions are overseen by Saltfree divers (owned by Sam Amps) at the national diving activity centre in Chepstow. She’s a prior UK team member and instructor running courses for beginners through to advanced. The support, facilities & safety provided to the UK team and all her divers is world class!
Tell us about the AIDA world championships.
AIDA are a governing body in the sport of freediving and the Team championships are held annually, this year in Kalamata Greece on 17th September. Each team of divers perform in a multitude of disciplines both pool and open water (depth) and accumulate points. It’s going to be an eye opening experience and I’m looking forward as reserve to supporting my team mates in every way I can as they have done with me in training. They’re a very talented and inspiring group of athletes – I’m proud to associate with them and the British Freedive Association.
Can you recommend any tips for people interested in getting into freediving?
Yeah, just have a go. It’s unlike any sport you’ve ever done, and has many physical and spiritual benefits. We evolved from the sea and our bodies behave in the same way as marine mammals when we’re in water which I think is one of the most remarkable aspects of it. It’s a great way to connect with the natural world. Look up your local Freedive school and make some inquiries. The world of freediving is welcoming and inclusive!
You can find out more about freediving and the AIDA world championships through these social media pages;
British Freediving Association: https://www.facebook.com/britishfreediving/?fref=ts
Freedive Greece: https://www.facebook.com/FreediveGreece/?fref=ts
AIDA International: https://www.facebook.com/groups/aida.freediving/
We want to wish Adam the best of luck in the AIDA world championships, and hope hear more about his diving experiences in the future.