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How learning to Freedive will improve your Scuba Diving

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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.

Photo: Simon Reid

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.

Breathing

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.

Finning

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.

Photo: Simon Reid

Hydrodynamics

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

Emma Farrell is one of the world's leading freediving instructors and the author of the stunning book 'One Breath, a Reflection on Freediving.' Teaching freediving internationally since 2003, she is a founding member of the AIDA Education Commission, writing courses that are taught worldwide, has written her own standalone courses, and has appeared numerous times on television and across other media. She is a freediving judge, has competed internationally, and has worked with gold medal winning Olympic and Paralympic cyclists and swimmers to improve their performance since 2010 using her unique program of freediving and yoga techniques. Find out more about Emma at www.gofreediving.co.uk.

Blogs

CCMI alumni learn to freedive from world record holder Tanya Streeter

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CCMI

CCMI’s 25th anniversary celebrations included Tanya Streeter leading a freediving clinic for CCMI alumni, giving Festival of Seas keynote address

To help celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Central Caribbean Marine Institute (CCMI), the organisation enlisted the help of world record holding freediver and former Cayman resident Tanya Streeter. Invited to give the keynote speech at the annual Festival of Seas gala on 4 November 2023, Tanya eagerly agreed to also host a freediving clinic for young Caymanians who participated in education programmes at CCMI to give back to the Cayman community.

CCMI

Returning to the island where she was born and raised, Tanya led a half-day freediving clinic at Sunset House with the support of Sunset Divers. CCMI education programme alumni were invited to register, and 11 Caymanians, ages 16-26 representing a span of 10 years of taking part in the range of CCMI education programmes, attended the clinic. Some of the alumni participated in more than one CCMI programme over the years, and several are now employed in a related industry in the Cayman Islands, a testament to the importance of CCMI’s scholarship opportunities for Caymanian students.

CCMI

When asked what it meant to Tanya to host this freediving clinic in Grand Cayman, she said, “I cannot overstate what a huge personal impact it has on me to come back to have this opportunity to work with young Caymanians. They are associated with CCMI, so they know about the ocean and about how important ocean health is here for us. But to be able to connect with young people in a realm that I’m good at and is important to me, and to see them grow a little bit personally, is huge. It’s my absolute favourite thing to do!”

CCMI

Called ‘the world’s most perfect athlete’ in 2002 by Sports Illustrated, Tanya discovered her record-breaking gift for freediving in 1997, and in the following decade broke 10 world records, many of them previously held by men. To this day, she still holds the longest-standing world record in the sport, having dived on a single breath to a depth of 525ft/160m in the No Limits discipline off the coast of the Turks and Caicos Islands in August 2002. If anyone is qualified to help others begin their journey into freediving, Tanya Streeter is at the top of the list.

CCMI

The clinic started with a briefing and a meditation session, led by Tanya, to get the mind and body ready to freedive. Participants practiced meditation exercises, breathing techniques to help open the diaphragm and work the lungs and muscles, and important stretches. Next, Tanya gave an in-water safety briefing, which emphasized buddy pairs, proper in-water breathing techniques, and not pushing oneself too hard. In total the group spent about 90 minutes in the water in selected buddy pairs practicing freediving while under the watchful eye of CCMI’s in water safety teams. Tanya spent several moments with each freediver individually, observing them, and offering underwater support and topside coaching. After everyone had one-on-one coaching time with Tanya, the group snorkeled to the famous Sunset House mermaid statue, practicing their new, finely tuned freediving skills to dive to the mermaid (a depth of about 45-50 ft).

CCMI

Before the clinic, participants had a wide range of skills and experiences in the water. Tanya provided one-on-one coaching, speaking to each person’s comfort level. One participant said it felt like it was only the two of them in the ocean. Tanya’s constructive corrections in the water helped participants realize instant success in their form and dives!

CCMI

The following night, Tanya gave the keynote address to the more than 350 attendees at CCMI’s Festival of Seas gala at the Kimpton Seafire Resort & Spa. A passionate voice for the preservation of the marine environment, Tanya announced she would serve as a CCMI ambassador, focusing her energy on engaging the youth and young people in efforts to protect the ocean. She left attendees with the realization that the connection we have with the ocean is meaningful, and it paves the way to create protections and policies that will sustain the marine environment for the future.

CCMI

While Tanya enjoys using her platform to communicate about the importance of marine conservation, she is very passionate about working with youth and introducing them to the ocean through freediving. “To see those barriers people are facing and to push through and grow even in a hour, and hour and a half. That’s huge. It’s absolutely my favourite thing to do.”

For more information about CCMI, please visit www.reefresearch.org.

About CCMI

CCMI is a not-for-profit organization founded in 1998 to protect the future of coral reefs, envisioning a world with vibrant oceans and healthy coral reef ecosystems. We seek to be the Caribbean’s premier marine research institute by delivering cutting edge research, transforming conservation strategy and developing education programmes of excellence – discovering and promoting real solutions to declining ocean health. Our plan is to invigorate key species and understand key ocean processes that drive reef resilience. We support early career scientists who are INNOVATING ways to improve coral reef health. We are TRANSFORMING conservation strategy and work to inspire the CHANGE that is needed to achieve our mission. CCMI are PIONEERS in the region working to reverse the declines of coral reefs.

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Equipment

Oceanic+ Now Has Freedive Mode on Apple Watch Ultra

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Oceanic is thrilled to enhance your underwater adventures with the launch of Oceanic+ 2.0. This updated version of the app is filled with practical new features designed to enrich the diving experience.

Divers can now use their Apple Watch Ultra and Apple Watch Ultra 2 for freediving to 130 feet (40 meters). The new Freedive mode is packed with advanced features specific to training and freediving with custom alarms for target depth, max dive time, sequential depth, surface time, and max session time. For each alarm, the diver will receive both haptic and visual notifications. Additional features include surface heart rate tracking, heart rate training zones, surface data, and more.

Freedive mode includes a feature called “Stealth mode” which will automatically dim the screen while underwater. Stealth mode disables all haptics and alarms and reduces the display brightness by 90% while diving. This clever feature ensures freedivers won’t startle the fish during their dive. When back on the surface, the display automatically goes back to normal brightness, keeping all surface alarms intact to help fine-tune training.

With a simple click of the logbook, a detailed view of each individual dive made is shown. This includes the total session time, max dive time, max depth achieved, total number of dives, and coldest water temperature. Also seen is each dive on a map with a start and ending point.

While the Apple Watch Ultra is great for real-time critical data, Oceanic+ on iPhone offers a closer view of freedives in much more detail. All dives are automatically saved in the logbook, showing individual session statistics with detailed dive information, and an overall summary. This includes ascent and descent times, heart rate data from each session to provide a recovery assessment, relaxation improvement, and enhancing carbon dioxide recovery resistance.

In addition to Freediving Mode on Apple Watch Ultra, Oceanic+ has received many new enhancements for an enriched diving experience. The new “Activity Map” on Oceanic+ allows divers to visualize their dives on a global mat, showing hotspots with color-coded indicators for different modes, such as scuba or freedive. Divers can also enter beginning and ending tank pressure and tank type in their Oceanic+ logbook, as well as easily export all dives to their preferred logbook.

“Oceanic+ continues to expand its capabilities,” said Mike Huish, CEO of Huish Outdoors. “Now with Freedive mode on Apple Watch Ultra and the many additional improvements to the app including advanced photo and video color-correction, Oceanic+ improves the way we will share our underwater adventures.”

Planning for dives is now easier with Diver Generated Content™ which provides real-time water temperatures at various depths as reported by our diverse diving community. The new Weight Planner assists divers in determining the right amount of ballast needed for their dive.

The updated logbook allows divers to instantly share their dive stories. Dive photos and videos taken with the Oceanic+ Dive Housing are now seamlessly integrated into their logs, allowing divers to overlay their dive profile alongside visuals to tell a complete story.

Oceanic+ 2.0 also includes advanced editing capabilities for photos and videos taken with the patent-pending Oceanic+ Dive Housing. The free version includes automatic color correction for both photos and videos, while the premium version allows access to advanced editing – adjust blue or green color dominance in images and videos; utilize keyframes to make color corrections throughout videos; and the ability to apply color correction to imported media, even if taken with other devices.

The Oceanic+ app is subscription-based and includes a free version and a paid subscription for more advanced photo and dive computer features as well as freediving. The Oceanic+ app can be downloaded here.

About Oceanic

Founded in 1972 by industry pioneer Bob Hollis, Oceanic is a global dive leader committed to providing modern, reliable, accessible, and easy-to-use dive equipment to recreational divers so they can focus on what matters most: exploring the underwater world and appreciating the wonders of marine life. For over 50 years this philosophy has been woven into everything Oceanic does and is the foremost reason the company is considered a best-in-class, recreational dive brand. Recreational divers of all experience levels benefit from the large selection of products like regulators, computers, and BCDs for all types of diving, as well as masks, snorkels, fins, bags, and accessories for watersport newcomers and veterans alike. Oceanic is one of Huish Outdoors’ premier dive brands. To learn more, please visit oceanicworldwide.com.

About Huish Outdoors

Since 2011, Huish Outdoors has been passionate about the outdoors and connecting people to their adventure dreams. Huish Outdoors unites the world’s best diving and outdoor brands – Atomic Aquatics®, BARE®, BARE Exowear, Hollis®, Oceanic®, Oceanic+, Stahlsac®, Suunto®, and Zeagle® – all under one roof, showcasing the best there is in outdoor sports from deep trenches to snowy peaks. From research to development, the Huish Outdoor brands combine leading design with advanced materials and proven technologies to define what’s next in diving. In partnership with retail partners and distributors across the globe, the company is working together to grow the above- and below-water adventures industries. For more information, please visit huishoutdoors.com.

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