“being as fish-like as it’s possible to be without actually being a fish was a real privilege”Will Glendinning
I had no idea what it was called. Happier in water than on land though, in 2012 I turned to the internet to find out what this person I’d seen wearing really long fins was doing gliding around underwater as gracefully as a fish. It turns out this was called ‘freediving’. This surprised me, as I thought freediving was just mad people trying to get as deep as they could down a rope whilst holding their breath. I hadn’t realised there was a whole recreational side to freediving.
A bit more interwebbing and I stumbled across FreediveUK, and booked a weekend of beginners training in Cornwall. I was a bit taken aback when I found out that to pass the beginners course I had to hold my breath for over 2 minutes! An hour or so later all of us on the course were holding our breath for up to 4 minutes. Turns out it’s really not that hard. When taught properly.
What was hard was equalising underwater when upside down! It took me three days to work this out, and is a common frustration for newbies (I like to believe anyway!). With that cracked though I was then gliding through the water, not with the grace of the man I’d seen in that original video, but I felt like a fish and the weightless flying around underwater was like floating in space. Well – I imagine it was . . . I’ve yet to get to space to validate this.
With the weekend’s course over, Ian (FreediveUK) mentioned a trip to Iceland later in the year to go freediving in some tectonic crack in the earth. I had no idea what this really meant, but I love Iceland, and I was now a freediver. What did I have to lose?
Crystal clear glacial meltwater in Iceland’s winter was astonishing. Chilly, but astonishing. I was now hooked on this freediving malarkey. After all, it requires very little sporting or athletic prowess to enjoy. So for me: perfect.
Norway was next with some freediving in some Fijords. With a tribe of nomadic sea gypsies from Thailand. Yes – it was pretty random, but fun, and a whole other story!
In short succession followed more freediving around the world: Iceland again, Thailand, the Maldives, Cornwall a whole load more, and I’m sure a few other places.
Then came the spark of an idea. I’d always wanted to visit Antarctica. I wondered if you could freedive in Antarctica? It turned out this had only been attempted by a handful of people. I figured it couldn’t be that difficult to arrange though. Could it? Turns out it was. Funnily enough, there aren’t any tour operators sitting waiting to take freedivers to one of the most brutal and remote locations on earth. (Scuba) diving there is not uncommon, swimming happens there a bit, even some snorkelling. Talk to people about freediving in Antarctica though and you may as well be discussing colonising Mars.
I took matters into my own hands, and long story short: following way too much research and two years of planning: chartered a sailing boat and skipper built for and used to polar regions, caned through an insane amount of cash, undertook about a year of training and convinced the Foreign and Commonwealth Office we’d be safe(ish) so they’d give us permission to freedive in the protected waters. And that was it, a small group of us set sail in February 2016 from Chile to Antarctica. The full details of the expedition can be found at www.FreediveAntartica.com but needless to say, it was epic. It was brutal. It was beautiful. It was like nothing else I’ve ever done. It was also a far more emotional experience than I was expecting and incredibly difficult to put into words, and the pictures, whilst fabulous, don’t even begin to do the expedition justice.
Given my affinity with water – being able to make a pilgrimage to a place that has been crafted by water, is still largely made of water and to do so freediving – being as fish-like as it’s possible to be without actually being a fish was a real privilege, and something, literally, only a handful of people have ever done. And, as we found out when we got back, it transpired we were the first British people to do so . . . yes – we made history.
Making history comes at a price though, my freediving exploits have led to bank balance issues and hearing issues in my left ear, but now a year back from Antarctica, my toenails are almost completely back to normal!
You don’t need to sacrifice your toes though – if you love water as much as I do, go and learn to freedive. As long as you can swim, you don’t need any special skills or particular athletic ability . . . just dive in, enjoy and see where you end up . . .
The idea behind this series is to show everyone that we all have different backgrounds, skills and appreciation for freediving. So if you have your own freediving story that you would like to share with the world then please email it to us here at FreediveUK (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Send a similar amount of text as Will submitted, a few photos and we will post it to the site and share on our social media!