Do Freedivers Attempt to Maximize Underwater Time, Depth, or Distance?:
Freediving students often ask me how long and how deep I can freedive. This is a difficult question to answer because a freediver’s maximum depth and time depend on the type of freediving he practices. To understand freediving depth and time achievements, one must first learn about the different freediving disciplines and what they entail.
The goals of the different disciplines include freediving for time, freediving for distance, and freediving for depth. Each of the seven disciplines of freediving pursue one of these goals. Here is a list of the different freediving pursuits, as well as current records (as of February, 2013) in each of the disciplines.
1. Static Apnea: Freediving for Time:
In static apnea, the freediver attempts to keep his face submerged in the water for as long as possible. Static apnea is the only discipline in which the freediver is judged on the time he is capable of holding his breath. The freediver submerges his face in the water so that his nose and mouth are below the surface. He stays as still as possible in order to conserve his oxygen and extend his breath-hold time. Static apnea is almost exclusively a mental challenge, in which the diver fights against the urge to breathe for as long as possible. While challenging in itself, static apnea is also very good training for other types of freediving. Most freediving students learn static apnea first, as it helps to prepare them for the other disciplines.
• Static Apnea Male World Record: 11 min 35 by Stephane Misfud (France).
• Static Apnea Female World Record: 8 min 23 by Natalia Molchanova (Russia)
2. Dynamic Freediving (with and without fins): Freediving for Distance:
In dynamic freediving, the diver swims in a horizontal direction and attempts to maximize swimming distance on a single breath hold. Two types of dynamic freediving exist: with and without fins. Dynamic freediving is most commonly practiced in a swimming pool. The discipline is a combination of swimming, breath holding techniques, and mental control. Dynamic freediving is a good discipline for freedivers who want to train during the winter or for those who have no access to a deep environment.
• Dynamic Apnea Male World Record w/ Fins: 273 m (895 ft) by Goran Colak (Croatia)
• Dynamic Apnea Male World Record No Fins: 218 m (715 ft) by Dave Mullins (New Zealand)
• Dynamic Apnea Female Record w/ Fins: 225 m (738 ft) by Natalia Molchanova (Russia)
• Dynamic Apnea Female World Record No Fins: 163 m (535 ft) by Ilaria Bonin (Italy)
3. Free Immersion: Freediving for Depth:
Free immersion is a discipline that challenges divers to dive as deep as they can. A free immersion freediver uses a rope to pull himself downwards during descent and upwards during ascent without fins or any other propulsion device. Many new freedivers find this discipline to be the most enjoyable because descent and ascent techniques are simple, making it easy for the freediver to control his speed and ear equalization.
• Free Immersion Male World Record: 121 m (396 ft) by William Trubridge (New Zealand)
• Free Immersion Female World Record: 88 m (289 ft) by Natalia Molchanova (Russia)
4. Constant Weight No Fins: Freediving for Depth:
Most freedivers consider constant weight freediving without fins to be the purest freediving discipline. In constant weight freediving, the diver uses only his muscle strength and swimming technique to descend as far as he can. He does not touch the vertical reference rope or use a sled (more on this later) to drag himself down. While this form of freediving may be the purest, it is also the most difficult. Swimming uses the freediver’s oxygen quickly, and descents are slower than in disciplines that allow a diver to pull himself on a rope or swim with fins. A freediver who pursues constant weight, no fins freediving must work hard to achieve perfect coordination between propulsion, equalization, technique and buoyancy.
• Constant Weight No Fins Male Record: 101 m (331 ft) by William Trubridge (New Zealand)
• Constant Weight No Fins Female Record: 67 m (220 ft) by Ashley Chapman (USA)
5. Constant Weight with Fins: Freediving for Depth:
In constant weight freediving with fins, a diver uses fins to propel himself downward to the greatest depth possible. Constant weight freediving with fins can be done with either two standard freediving fins or a single monofin. The freediver is only allowed to touch the verticle reference rope to stop his descent and begin his ascent. Constant weight freediving with fins is the most common type of freediving, and is most freedivers’ favorite. Swimming underwater with powerful fins is incredible, and divers who descend deep enough can even stop kicking and simply freefall downwards. Constant weight freediving is the technique used by spear fishermen. It is the deepest discipline allowed in competitions.
• Constant Weight with Fins Male Record: 126 m (413 ft) by Alexey Molchanov (Russia)
• Constant Weight with Fins Female Record: 101 m (331 ft) by Natalia Molchanova (Russia)* Note: Natalia is Alexey´s mother!
6. Variable Weight: Freediving for Depth:
Variable weight freedivers use a heavy sled, a device which is attached to vertical ropes and pulls the freediver downwards at an extremely fast rate. This allows expert freedivers to descend to great depths because they do not waste oxygen swimming during the descent. The ascent is made by swimming or pulling on a rope. Variable weight freediving can be dangerous because the quick descent makes equalization more difficult and because divers can sometimes descend deeper than they can ascend. For these reasons, variable weight freediving is only practiced by advanced freedivers and is not used in competitions.
• Variable Weight Male World Record: 142 m (465 ft) by Herbert Nitsch (Austria)
• Variable Weight Female World Record: 127 m (416 ft) by Natalia Molchanova (Russia)
7. No-Limits: Freediving for Depth:
No-limits freediving is the most extreme type of freediving for depth. The freediver descends very rapidly using a ballast weight (such as a sled), and then uses an inflatable lift bag, balloon, or other buoyancy device to ascend. Neither the ascent nor descent requires any swimming, allowing no-limits freedivers to descend to greater depths than other disciplines. No-limits freediving is the most risky of the freediving disciplines because divers descend to such great depths that they are completely dependent on their equipment for a safe return to the surface. Divers and non-divers may already be familiar with no-limits freediving from the world-famous film “The Big Blue” which is based on a series of no-limits freediving competitions. In reality, however, no-limits freediving is no longer allowed in competitions.
• No-Limits Male World Record: 214 m (702 ft) by Herbert Nitsch (Austria)
• No-Limits Female World Record: 160 m (525 ft) by Tania Streeter (USA)
The Take-Home Message About Freediving Disciplines:
Freedivers may dive for time, depth, or distance. The goal of each freedive depends upon the discipline, and many freedivers practice and excel in a variety of freediving styles. New freedivers will enjoy experimenting with a variety of disciplines with an instructor before determining which types of freediving they are interested in pursuing.
Julien Borde is a freediving (apnea) instructor, open water scuba instructor, and technical diver.
Julien Borde has been scuba diving since the age of ten. He began scuba diving in the French Atlantic, but has traveled extensively in his long career as a scuba instructor. He has worked in Egypt’s Red Sea, the Maldives, the Bahamas, French Polynesia, and Mexico. Julien is also a technical diver and cave diver. He began freediving at the age off fifteen, primarily as an alternative to scuba diving when the ocean or tanks were inaccessible. In 2009, Julien’s met Guillaume Nery, a freediving world champion, and was lucky enough to assist him in the filming of The Passage, a film about free diving in Mexico’s cenotes. This experience introduced him to the technical side of the sport, and he was hooked! While he is still an avid scuba diver, he now works full time in freediving. Julien is a certified freediving (apnea) instructor through AIDA (the International Association for the Development of Apnea), and currently runs as small free diving company in Playa del Carmen Mexico.
From Julien Borde:
Freediving is unlike any other sensation. Scuba divers are distanced from the underwater environment by their dive gear. Freedivers descend without a tank, regulator, and buoyancy compensator (BC). They are alone in the water. It is a more personal connection — both freeing and humbling. Freediving is as much an exercise in mental control as a physical activity. It challenges divers in a different manner from scuba diving, as it is a more performance – based pursuit. Scuba divers can benefit from freediving training because it teaches advanced breathing and equalization techniques.
- Freediving – Freediving vs Scuba Diving (gsprom.wordpress.com)
- Watch: Freediver Swims Alongside Great White Shark (news.softpedia.com)
- Woman hangs on to great white shark for a ride (video) (americablog.com)
- How low can you go? Former Royal Marine Mike Board freedives into the record books after plunging an incredible 315 FEET under water (that’s the size of Big Ben) (dailymail.co.uk)