To me, freefall is one of the great pleasures in freediving. Its the moment where gravity overcomes the buoyancy of your body and you can drift effortlessly in to the deep. The point where this happens will vary depending on almost countless factors, primarily though it is dictated by the thickness of your suit and the amount of weight you are wearing.
Finding the point of freefall can be a daunting task for anyone who is yet to experience it, and it can seem that it will never fully take hold… that you are never going to get in to that syrupy dive in to the blue.
Relax… It will come!
The average depth for experiencing the proper effects of freefall in a correctly weighted freediver will be somewhere around 18-20m deep. This is not an exact number however so please don’t hold me to it! You will probably feel something akin to neutral buoyancy at about 10-15m , with a slow movement towards freefall as you get deeper.
To find your own point of freefall, conduct a series of dives on a dive line with a buddy where you slowly decrease your finning effort as you at deeper and deeper intervals. Start with a dive to say 10m… stop finning… see what happens. Return to the surface, prep for your next dive and repeat, but this time dive a little deeper to about 14-15m… stop finning, keep streamlined… see what happens. Are you drifting down? Are you accelerating? Are you slowing down?
Continue to do this until you eventually find the depth where at the point you stop finning you initially maintain the same speed and then possibly slowly gain speed (very little) , despite no longer finning. This is freefall. Mark the depth at which it happened, and if you can, set a depth alarm on your watch to remind you to stop finning at this point on future dives.
Just like all aspects of freediving, posture is critical to success during freefall. If you are bent double, backwards or forwards you are no longer streamlined and will not freefall effectively. This is a typical error that people make and it often makes people turn around or fin for too long, wasting energy.
Keep your body relaxed, don’t tense up and be stiff like a board, but you want to keep as straight and true as possible. If you are freediving down a line, then follow the line straight down… if you are freediving in open water down a reef then keep the posture straight but instead of gong straight down you may glide along at a 45 deg angle (or something like that). Pay attention to your fins. Im lucky in that my feet go to point very easily so i can create a very straight line with my whole body, fins included, but even if you arent so ballet inclined try to do the same!
Heavy weighting can make the point of freefall come a lot earlier, which you may say sounds like a great idea! Some spearfishers weight so much that they can freefall from the surface. This is a very dangerous and potentially fatal error. Firstly it will make the ascent a nightmare, you will be heavy and sluggish all the way back to the surface. Secondly if you were to suffer a shallow water blackout, then you will sink right back down again. Thirdly, you will be overly heavy on the surface, making the breath-up uncomfortable and hard work. Finally, you will never experience that wonderful moment when the ocean truly takes hold, and naturally draws you deeper.
Why we want to freefall?
The whole point of freefall, beyond the nice feeling it gives, is to save energy. It allows us to focus on relaxing, equalising and gaining those few extra meters without expending any extra energy. Think of it as an underwater static. Without freefall, the world of freediving records would look very different. Imagine how much less deep William Trubridge could have gone on his world record no-fins constant weight dive to 101m deep if he had to actively swim the entire way down!
So next time you go freediving, think about how you can get freefall working for you!
About the author – Ian Donald is an AIDA master freediving instructor and author. He has been freediving since 2001 and has been instructing since 2009. He can often be seen on TV programs about freediving and is often called on to talk as a guest lecturer on the subject.