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What is Free Diving?

As I’ve had to explain to my parents multiple times, free diving is not diving that you do for free. When I told them I started free diving, their first response was, “I don’t understand, who is paying for you to dive then?”

While doing some research of my own, I found an article by Red Bull that described free diving with a perfect quote:

Free diving is where meditation meets endurance. You must quiet the mind before entering a world that asks you not to breath.

While free diving is technically considered an ‘extreme sport,’ it is more tied to meditation and mindfulness than any other sport I know of. You have to be fully in tune with your mind and body. Before a dive, we relax on the surface, slowing our breath and releasing any tension in our muscles. When you’re in the water, it’s like meditating. The world goes quiet and it’s just you in the ocean.

For a simple technical definition, free diving is diving into the water with just one breath, without using a breathing apparatus, and going as deep down as you can. Free diving is very different to scuba diving because they have air tanks on their backs. We only swim down with the one breath of air that is in our lungs.

When training, a buoy is placed in the water that has a line with a bottom weight attached to it. The line can be easily adjusted for different depths. There are then three different ways to dive down the line: free immersion (FIM), constant weight (CWT), and constant weight with no fins (CNF). Free immersion is when you pull yourself down the line using only your hands, while constant weight is only using your legs and fins to kick down. CNF is when you go down the line using a swimming style that, most simply, is comparable to the breast stroke.

Free Immersion Diving

Different divers have different techniques, but typically the diver takes one final breath and slips down into the world of the quiet blue. It is a peace I look forward to every time I leave the surface: the cool movement of water across your skin, the quiet hum of the ocean around you, and I even close my eyes so that these sensations are more vivid.

Arial view of a day training on the buoys

There’s something about free diving that is so addicting because the mental and physical challenges are so closely intertwined. You physically might be able to dive to 30 meters, but if you’re not comfortable at that depth, then mentality is your limiting factor. At the same time, you also have to listen to your body to know how you are doing. Free diving might be relaxing, but it can still be dangerous. You have to take good care of your body, progress steadily at deeper personal bests to make sure you don’t hurt your lungs, , and listen when your body is telling you something isn’t right. Knowing your limits can be the difference between making it back to the surface safely and not.

To some people it’s a sport that might seem intimidating, but free diving is something that everyone can do. Aside from the occasional online article or picture, I hadn’t heard of free diving before coming to Thailand. But don’t be fooled, it’s very much on the rise. It is a sport that everyone can try, and is rapidly growing. It will even be a test sport in the 2024 Olympics. Maybe I should start training harder…

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