It’s against every instinct of the human body to not breathe, but that is exactly what you train yourself to do when you’re freediving.
I’m from Canada, so my first attempt at freediving was in the cold clear waters of Georgian Bay. Freediving in Georgian Bay, even in the middle of the summer, is a bit more of a challenge because of the ~65 water temperature. As I dove into this water, my entire body tensed up and told me to go back up as quickly as possible! No matter how hard I fought, I could not stay underwater for more than a few seconds at a time. In the warm waters of Bimini, the story is very different.
The first time I went freediving in Bimini was on our first reef shark dive. The water was the warmest I’d ever been in, and I was super excited to see what was under the water’s surface. When you can spot colourful fish and coral on the seafloor, it’s easy to find the motivation to dive down. Okay, I told myself, deep breath in and count to 4, deep breath out and count to 8. I repeated this for what felt like an eternity until the ‘next breath in’ that I kept telling myself to dive on was finally one that wasn’t met with anxiety. So, I dove down… and did not reach the bottom. Very disappointed with myself, I caught my breath and waited. There was no way that was going to be my deepest dive. As I floated at the surface, watching the reef sharks swim calmly through the water, I spotted a staff member swimming to the bottom. In my brain, this triggered the idea that it was actually possible to reach the bottom. Okay, deep breath in and count to 4, deep breath out and count to 8. An eternity passed and then… I dove! As I swam downwards, equalizing my ear pressure along the way, colours, corals and fish became clearer. I reached the 7m deep bottom and maintained my calm enough to observe the activity around me. Amazing! In contrast to SCUBA, where the sounds of my regulator reminded me of my own presence in the environment, I was in complete silence. Looking back up at the water surface, I was caught by the beauty of the rippling waves with the sun coming through in rays. Looking up also reminded me that I was still underwater. Caught in momentary panic, my lungs yelled for more air. I floated back up and took a deep breath in. My legs were sore from lack of oxygen, but I had a new perspective of what I could attain.
My time at the Sharklab gave me an amazing opportunity to hone my freediving skills so that I could then go on to other opportunities. Last year I was able to go to the Philippines and freedive with Whale Sharks every day. Fast forward to today and I’m currently spending my second time at the Sharklab. My breath hold is better than ever, but more importantly, so is my ability to stay calm underwater. I now take any opportunity I can get to dive down and be a silent observer. To sit on the sandy ocean bottom in complete silence and have hammerheads slowly cruise by you and check you out is one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had in my life.
So my advice? Dive right in.