Freediving… whats it all about?
Freediving is in very simple terms the activity of holding your breath and diving underwater for extended periods of time. I avoid the use of the word ‘sport’ when referring to freediving as sport infers the requirement of a competitive element, which I personally believe is only a very small part of Freediving as a whole. Freediving was born from the foraging needs of coastal people, as in order to gather food or precious materials from the seabed they took it upon themselves to push their bodies to adapt and survive under the water for the time required to do such activities. In fact this ability was already with them, as it is with you, in the form of the Mammalian dive reflex. This is a series of adaptations that our bodies have to deal with the lack of air and increased pressure experienced at depth. The root of the dive reflex is a much debated subject, with theories ranging from the simple maintenance of homeostasis, a evolutionary leftover from our water borne past and the theory of the aquatic ape. The latter interests me the most and gives some exciting concepts and answers to the question.
The aquatic ape theory suggests that in days gone by the human race grew and flourished on the coast, where food was in abundance and transport and defense was easily forged. The then near apes that first colonised those areas found the need to go bi-pedal had great benefits and assisted their foraging activities by giving them greater mobility in the shallows and the ability to pick up shellfish and seaweeds from the tidal waters. The apes hair started to thin in order to shed water faster and reduce the cooling effect of wet fur in the air. Then comes the slow adaptations of reduction of heart rate whilst immersed in cool water and whilst under increased pressure.
I wont bother trying to complete any analysis of MDR in this short paragraph but as you can see there are a lot of thing working in our favour when it comes to diving unassisted in to the depths.
All you need to know is that your body was designed to plumb the depths, that you are meant to be there, and even more so you are meant to be there with the bare minimum of equipment.
Spearfishing… whats it all about?
Spearfishing and underwater foraging has been a part of freediving since time immemorial. In-fact, without them it could be argued that the sport of freediving simply wouldn’t exist. The simple, or not-so-simple process of diving beneath the waves and gathering your food with nothing more than your hands and a pointy stick is ingrained in the culture of almost every coastal peoples, no matter where they are in the world. In recent years, this once very niche past-time has started to gather a fairly sizable following, due in part to the excitement of it as an activity, the satisfaction of getting your own food and an increased awareness in food provenance and sustainability.
What are the skills needed to freedive?
The ability to swim!
You may be surprised to know that we are contacted by a inordinate number of people who want to learn to freedive who cant swim at all! Swimming is a core skill for freediving and im afraid to say you really must be able to swim to a competent level before you can learn to freedive. After all if you can swim on the surface you are not going to feel comfortable swimming underwater.
I good level of spatial awareness can help a lot. Just being aware of where you are in the water column and the position of your body in an alien environment can move your freediving along very quickly. If you have poor spatial awareness you can still learn, its just some aspects of the course will challenge you more than others.
What are the skills needed to learn to spearfish?
For me, the cornerstone of spearfishing and underwater foraging are basic freediving skills. True you can get fish from shallow water with minimal freediving skill, but it will seriously limit your potential as a spearo (male spearfisher) or speara (female spearfisher)!
Learning to freedive is something that of course i teach on not only full freediving courses but also on every spearfishing course that i run. I teach this from years of experience as a deep freediver, and with that experience comes all of the highs and lows of breath-hold diving. What to watch out for, signs of blackout, how to maximise your dive time and the minute details which effect your dive that some may miss.
Knowledge and understanding
So once you have the freediving side of things somewhat conquered you will have to start to focus on what fish to get and where to get them. This is where a fundamental knowledge of the ocean comes in to play. Learning about fish behavior, tides and seasons are gong to not only enhance your spearfishing but will also give a greater meaning to your entire interaction with the ocean. Some of the most ‘connected’ freedivers that i know are also spearos.
Whats the point in doing a spearfishing or freediving course? Why not just go out and get a gun and start shooting or grab some fins and start swimming down?
There is nothing stopping you (currently) from going out tomorrow, buying a speargun or some freediving fins and going in to the sea with no formal training in either spearfishing or freediving. Now im not saying that you are going to hurt yourself or others, but the odds are against you. The sea is a cruel mistress after all!
The safety aspects are just one side of the coin though, don’t forget that you are likely to be pretty below average for quite some time even after a course! Without a course, well, multiply that time several times over!
Spearfishing and freediving is all about experience, at the moment you have perhaps none… why not take advantage of a professionals years of experience to fast track your own.
When i started spearfishing there was no-one in the country who did proper courses, even when i started Freediving there were only perhaps 3 others that ran courses. In fact we were the first accredited freediving school to start spearfishing courses and are still (at the time of writing) the only school to have a course officially endorsed by the British spearfishing association (following guidelines that I helped to create!).
Ok… that may be a bit dramatic, but at least you are reading this paragraph. Freediving and spearfishing are dangerous activities…. end of. We can mitigate many of the risks by diving within our limits and understanding what the dangers are but fundamentally, Chess it is not.
One of the overarching dangers that untrained divers face is not understanding where their limits are, having had no real world experience of seeing people take things to the edge or experiencing the effects of things going wrong . I cant tell you how many times I have heard an apparently experienced freediver or spearfisher tell me in no uncertain terms that they are perfectly safe as they have been doing it for years… and are still here. BY GODS GOOD GRACE ONLY! After seeing that they are massively overweighted, hyperventilating and doing endless other potentially dangerous things. Recently I met a fairly experienced spearo in Thailand who told many great tales of all his exploits, many of which were quite impressive, but who it turned out wore maybe 4 times the amount of weight he should (would freefall from 5m for a dive to 25m), would hyperventilate and would almost always dive alone.
A course will help you answer all those unanswerable questions; how, when, why, what if? Because we have been there, we have seen it.
You are not invincible, you are not Poseidon… but you can at least be one of his dutiful followers 😉
What can you get out of spearfishing and freediving
The list is practically endless, and for everyone the list will be different.
You will learn to be closer to the moods of the sea, you will learn about conservation and hopefully pass that on to your friends and family… the list goes on!
Learning to go freediving or spearfishing as an activity will be something that will probably change your entire outlook on life. It takes time and perseverance to get good, and even the best have bad days. Just stick with it, be safe and respect the sea. We are just visitors in that watery realm and we must pay our respects every time we dive though consideration and conservation.
Start your journey
There are many agencies which you can learn with, and wherever you are in the world there is now a freediving school that is not too far away. Here in the UK there are schools in all corners, from us here in Cornwall to almost every major town and decent dive location. You can fdive in quarries or in the sea. Or if the UK isnt your idea of freediving nirvana there are schools all over the world in warmer locations. You could of course come on one of our holidays too! Whatever you do please always ensure that they are teaching from a recognized syllabus and not from something that they have just made up. Educational agencies are there for a reason, they give consistency and safety to your learning.
These are the main agencies for Freediving
To start your journey the right way why not pick up a copy of my books from Amazon (and other reputable book shops!) and the essential Manual of freediving and enroll on one of our freediving or spearfishing courses…
Remember, its about the journey, not the destination!