Want to learn to scuba dive? Emma Farrell tells us why you should learn to freedive first…
Scuba diving is incredibly popular, but have you ever thought about learning to freedive before you strap on that tank? Many people don’t realise that a freediving qualification can provide everything you need – from the basic techniques to advanced skills – to quickly and safely move on to become a trained, completely confident Scuba diver.
In the early years of Scuba diving a mandatory qualification as a ‘snorkel diver’ was necessary even before you learned to Scuba, and freediving was a technique that had to be learned as part of that qualification. This requirement was in place from the British Sub Aqua Club’s (BSAC) inception in 1953 until the early Eighties – during that three decade period you simply weren’t allowed to shrug on a tank otherwise. The ‘snorkel diver’ training meant people knew how to control their breathing, their movement in water, and were skilful yet safe at all times – the perfect grounding for their next step into Scuba diving.
Until 1984, when regulations and methods changed, snorkel diver training typically involved modules on body positioning, mask and snorkel work and basic finning techniques, usually in a local swimming pool which helped people feel safe in a controlled environment. A basic requirement was the ability to swim underwater – equipment-free – for a minimum of twenty-five metres, as well as swimming beneath the surface with weight belts. These were coupled with diving practise, treading water with arms held aloft, and the requirement to change into Scuba gear while at the bottom of the pool. These compulsory training techniques are no longer in place today but the British Sub Aqua Club encourages nascent divers to ensure they have plenty of snorkel training under their belt – which adds a healthy dollop of confidence, as well as knowledge of operating underwater – before they move on to Scuba.
So how does learning to freedive help you learn to scuba dive?
A confidence boost
Having confidence in yourself and your abilities while under the water is vitally important, and freediving can provide people with a huge amount of self-assurance. Learning to freedive will enable you to better understand your own body and how it works – and what it is capable of – while submerged. This all helps when you first Scuba dive as you will already be aware of various breathing techniques, the importance of buoyancy and weights, as well as correct finning methods – meaning your underwater experience is safer, more fun, and you will see faster progress as a fledgling scuba diver.
Diving cylinders contain a finite amount of breathing air so learning about correct breathing methods and regulating your breath is important if you wish to prolong your dives and maximise the tank’s contents. Freediving is perfect for this: courses contain lots of input about breathing techniques, so by the time you strap on your first cylinder and are breathing through a regulator you will have the skills to make your dive last longer and, as you are relaxed and confident, be more enjoyable.
Snorkels and masks
During scuba dive training you will learn about ‘mask clearing’ skills, which is essentially taking off your mask while underwater to clear water or debris. This is a basic but very important task and needs to be mastered – which is where freediving comes in. Freedive training involves lots of mask and snorkel techniques and use, but also includes a ‘mask off’ move, where you will remove your mask while still ten metres below the surface, and ascend the rest of the way without it. This method will instil confidence in your ability to clear your mask when you finally move on to scuba diving.
If you don’t want to waste lots of time, air and energy in the water then finning skills are a must, and for the first-time diver wearing fins can be an odd and occasionally troubling experience. You will find your legs having to do new things and work harder than you’re used to. Freediving can be a huge help with this – you will quickly discover how to fin effectively and confidently, which means you will move through the water while expending less energy, and also discover a lot about your body and how it operates while below the surface. These skills are easily transferable when you move to scuba diving, and will maximise the amount of air in your diving cylinder so you can spend more time underwater.
Moving your body through the water using the minimum of effort for maximum results is referred to as hydrodynamics. Poise, power, grace and effectiveness are key components, and freediving training teaches all of them – in short, using your body properly within the water so that a little movement goes a long way, especially when coupled with correct finning techniques. Learning about hydrodynamics and how to move in the water as a freediver means when you shift to scuba diving – where you can be loaded down with equipment – you will already know what is required to move through the water with ease.
Weights and buoyancy
Adding too much weight to your belt is one of the most common mistakes people make when they embark on their first scuba dive courses, and this is usually down to incorrect breathing techniques and poor regulation of breath. As mentioned above, knowing how to control your body and its buoyancy in the water is hugely important and will remove the need to drop more lead weights into the pouches on your belt or rig. Freedive training focuses heavily on this aspect of diving, so much so that when you switch to scuba diving the skills are already there. Coupled with correct hydrodynamic techniques and finning, the end result is less weights hanging off your body.
Find out more about free diving at www.gofreediving.co.uk