My Mother's Misconceptions of Freediving

Phone conversations with my Mom always start the same way; small talk about the family, the local community gossip and drama, and of course the weather. My parents live in Canada while I reside in Bali, so weather differences often need a bit of explanation. However, when it inevitably comes time to talk about work, I can feel the worry grow in my mother's voice as I try and assure her what I do for a living is safe, just misunderstood. I enjoy teaching freediving because it allows me to teach students how to enjoy and practice an incredible sport in a way they can reassure their Moms of their safety. Here are a few of the the main misconceptions of freediving that are being passed around in media culture. 

The end goal is deeper

Freediving is not about depth, just like playing golf is not about beating Tiger Woods in a one-on-one showdown. Competitive athletes are competitive athletes, and the rest of us just want to enjoy a sport that makes us feel good. Taking a freediving course is like taking a golf lesson, for you to gain the proper techniques to practice safely, and can progress your own skills, and build the enjoyment. The “benchmarks" that are set as you progress through levels of freediving courses are not meant to emphasize depth alone, but instead the mental and physical sensations that are attributed to those depths. The sport is about mental and physical progression, not how deep you go. And the reward comes from these wins. From a practical and recreational perspective, the deeper you can dive safely, where there is still light of course, the more likely you are able to get away from the snorkelers, the noise, and allow the pressure to do magical things to the body. 

Pushing yourself is the way to progress

Intuitively, many people feel that if they push themselves mentally and physically, they can excel at anything. I remember as a kid friends and I used to give each other “Indian burns”, where someone would grab a hold of your forearm with two hands and twist in opposite directions until you cried out for mercy. At the time, it was a test to see who could withstand the most pain, and we would each do it with a grimace on our face, tapping feet and writhing bodies. Try giving one of these to a monk and see how they react- you might then begin to understand the proper way to conquer the physical stresses. Freediving is about relaxing the body and the mind, and not fighting the natural reflexes that arise. Instead, freedivers learn to embrace these physiological reflexes, welcome them, get to know them, and eventually become friends with them. When you welcome the burn, it still hurts, but in a friendly sort of way. 

With such a short time down there, I can’t experience anything

Do you remember the first time you learned to ride a bike? I don’t, most likely because it was a traumatic and nerve wracking experience that my brain has blocked out. I can without doubt say that my first bike riding experience as a kid was not a relaxing stroll through the park, admiring the raccoons and the butterflies, listening to the gentle breeze go through the spokes and the trees. No, the VHS proof shows what was most likely tunnel vision on the handlebars, uncontrollable increase in heart rate, and a constant and anxious fiddle with balance as my body embarked on a very unnatural and ungraceful journey. It’s no wonder that when people start freediving, they don’t notice the curious fish swimming beside them, winking at them. But as soon as they get some experience, develop some confidence and learn some basic skills, freedivers experience the water in a very unique and intimate way. Fish are more curious with no bubbles to scare them away, the sounds are deafeningly quiet allowing for total relaxation, and the pressure on the body feels like a cozy blanket protecting us from the cold. The water is soft on the face, and hey, we finally notice that fish. Most importantly, we are comfortable, and we are safe. 

It is so dangerous

This one is for you Mom. Yes, freediving can be dangerous. The same way driving a car, riding a bike, or even playing golf can be dangerous. It’s a sport, and a progression of learning that if done correctly, will yield amazing results with very little risk. Start with training wheels, and you might never have a bike accident. Learn to swing the club properly and you might avoid throwing out your back. Like any other sport, it comes down to learning, practicing, and having proper instruction. Many people start a conversation about freediving with “it’s dangerous” and end it with “why would I take a course in holding my breath underwater?”. You can see the misconception staring right back at you. To be good at something, you have to learn it properly first, then practice.

Physically I can’t do it

I agree that most of us, myself very much included, are unable to freedive down safely to 100 m, surface, smile, and give a high five to our buddy. This kind of achievement takes years of mental and physical preparation, and while it may look easy in a video, is far from a bike ride in the park. However, much like running a marathon, our bodies are capable of doing amazing things without any serious training. You too may be overtaken by mothers with strollers while struggling through kilometer 28, but it doesn’t mean we can’t finish. Our ego will cry, our body will hurt, our mind will scream, but our legs will NOT fall off. Freediving to shallow depths- the focus of the first few freediving courses- is a goal that is achievable by everyone. For some it will take more determined mental practice, and for others old habits may have to be broken and new habits made. But in the end, everybody can do it. 

So next time you’re thinking about giving freediving a try, a few gentle words of advice: First off, take a course- learning techniques from google will get you a third of the way there, while instruction will take you all the way. Second, allow yourself to be nervous, and voice this to your instructor. Nerves are good- they allow us the awareness of our strengths and weaknesses, and encourage us to work on each. Without nerves, we can’t have progression, and without progression, we don’t have sports that help us to grow. Let go of the misconceptions, and give the incredible sport of freediving a try!