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Snorkeling vs. Freediving – What’s the difference?

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Being in the water with just mask, snorkel and fins is all the same, right? Not quite. There are three ways in which you can enjoy the water using minimal equipment. These are snorkeling, skin diving and freediving. What are the differences? I’m glad you asked.

Snorkeling 

First, we will cover the simplest form – snorkeling. To enjoy snorkeling you must have a mask, snorkel and, possibly, fins. Without these, you’re just swimming.

You need a mask to see underwater. A snorkel makes it possible to breathe without lifting your head. The remaining equipment is optional. Some things that might help you enjoy snorkeling more include:

  • Comfortable, full-foot fins
  • A rash guard or wetsuit to protect you from stings, abrasions, the sun and getting cold
  • A snorkeling vest to increase your visibility and floatation on the surface

Once you have your gear, grab your buddies and hit the water. You can enjoy hours of snorkeling with minimal training. A good place to start is the Snorkeler course from Scuba Diving International (SDI).

Snorkeling is essentially swimming on the surface while breathing through your snorkel. Any dives you make will be brief and shallow — no more than 5 m/16 ft. This is like the deep end of a swimming pool.

Every day, millions around the world enjoy snorkeling. This includes:

  • Families on vacation or at home on the lake
  • Scuba divers between dives
  • People who want this to be the extent of their in-water experience

Snorkeling courses are readily available almost anywhere snorkeling is popular. They help make snorkeling a safer and much more enjoyable experience.

Skin Diving 

The sport of skin diving is the next level of diving without scuba. It gained popularity in the 1940s and 1950s, chiefly among soldiers and sailors coming home from overseas. Skin diving is generally more involved than snorkeling. It uses largely the same gear, but without the snorkel vest.

Skin divers typically go slightly deeper and stay somewhat longer than snorkelers. Hitting depths in the 5-10 m/16-33 ft range, skin dives generally last around 20-30 seconds. These are short dives to snap pictures of fish or perhaps collect dinner. In the past, many agencies required skin dives as part of the certification process.

Freediving

If snorkeling represents one end of a spectrum, freediving represents the other. It is significantly more complex both in terms of skill and risk.

People have been freediving for commerce and sustenance since the dawn of time. As one example, the Ama of Japan have been doing this for centuries.

There were many notable freediving pioneers including US Navy dive instructor Robert Croft, Jacques Mayol and Enzo Majorca. Breath-hold diving played a significant role in World War II with the USA, Italy, the UK and others employing freediving special operations troops. The legendary Jacques-Ives Cousteau was a freediver before inventing modern scuba with Emile Gagnan.

Modern competitive freediving traces its roots to 1949. This was when Hungarian-born Italian Air Force captain Raimondo Bucher won 50,000 lire by diving to a depth of 30 m/100 ft off Naples. Scientists predicted the pressure would crush Bucher’s lungs at this depth. They were wrong.

Today freediving is among the fastest-growing water sports. Although freediving has its competitive side, not all freedivers compete. Some spearfish. Some simply enjoy the activity.

Modern freedivers use highly specialized equipment. This includes:

  • Long-bladed fins which provide exception propulsion
  • Low volume masks which make equalizing easier
  • Special wetsuits which are warmer and more flexible than those used by scuba divers

Instead of the inflatable buoyancy devices scuba divers use, freedivers weight themselves for neutral buoyancy at 10-20 m/33-66 ft. Doing so makes controlling buoyancy easier and helps ensure a safe return to the surface.

The threshold for freediving is a depth of 10 m/33 ft and bottom times exceeding 30 seconds. The risks involved are substantial. This is why not only proper equipment but proper training is essential.

Fortunately, you can get this training through Performance Freediving International (PFI), the world’s leading freediver training organization. Like SDI, PFA is a member of the International Training family. PFA offers a wide variety of courses from beginning freediver through instructor trainer.

Whether your interests tend toward snorkeling or freediving, SDI and PFI have the right course to get you started.


To find out more about International Training, visit www.tdisdi.com.

From its humble beginning in 1994 to today, the group of training agencies Scuba Diving International (SDI), Technical Diving International (TDI), and Emergency Response Diving International (ERDI) form one of the largest diving certification agencies in the World – International Training. With 24 Regional Offices servicing more than 100 countries, the company today far exceeds the original vision the founders had when they conceived the idea on a napkin, sitting at a kitchen table in the early 1990’s.

Freediving Blogs

How can a breath-hold class help with SCUBA?

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By Chris Bustad

Unless you have been under a rock, you have heard that freediving is growing.  Classes are being offered all over.  Maybe you have even thought about taking one and that’s great, you should!  There is a lot you can learn about yourself in a freediver course and there are stress reduction and breathing techniques that will absolutely help your scuba abilities.

But what if there was a breath-hold course that wasn’t all about meditating?

A course that wasn’t about putting you in the most relaxed state you can get into before trying to hold your breath.  One that sticks you into a high stress, high heart-rate environment and then tells you, “now it’s time to hold your breath!”

There is… it’s called Breath-Hold Survival.

This is a course that Kirk Krack, founder of Performance Freediving International, developed to fulfill a request from professional big wave surfers.  From there, it morphed into a course that is used to teach US, Canadian, and British Special Forces what to do when going up is more dangerous than staying down and how to address the problem underwater.

This course has been used by athletes ranging from Red Bull and Oakley surfers, Racing Cup teams, and even snowboarders, skiers, e-gamers, and Olympic competitors.   There are physiological reactions that occur within your body when you train breath-holding, such as splenic contractions, where the spleen will contract to expel older red blood cells into your circulatory system after as little as a one-minute breath-hold, giving you an advantage over athletes that don’t train this way. The result is similar to blood doping, but it is natural and not illegal!

So how can this help your scuba abilities?

Glad you asked!  First, any in-water training you receive will make you more comfortable in the water.  This will allow you to handle high stress situations without allowing them to become a problem. You will be more likely to remain calm and deal with the issue.  Since this course specifically targets situations where “stuff” is hitting the fan, so to speak, this will help even more during an emergency.  And, it’s all done without being able to breathe off your regulator.  This can also help if you are getting in or out of the water in the surf zone and get knocked over or lose the regulator from your mouth.

Confidence in the water will make you more relaxed as well.  As you know, the more relaxed you are, the less air you consume, the longer your dive will be.  And, don’t forget about the breathing techniques I mentioned earlier!  The more control you have over the way you breathe, the longer your dive will last.

The course breakdown

The Breath-Hold Survival course is a specialty that typically takes place over 4 days and is based on the PFI Intermediate Freediver course.  There are 3 confined water sessions and two open water sessions.  This class is available to anyone comfortable in the water with average swimming skills.  There is also a pool only certification available if you don’t want to head out to open water.

Some of the skills you will be practicing include relaxed static breath-holds on a full breath (static is a breath-hold on the surface without moving), relaxed statics on an exhalation, and duress statics on full breath (getting tossed around like you are in the surf zone or a river).  You will also learn safety techniques so that you can continue to practice with a trained buddy after the course, some entry techniques for cross-training with freediving, and more.

So, go take a Freediver or Breath-Hold Survival course and create more comfort in the water that will help you avoid a potentially serious situation altogether or have the tools in your toolbox to better handle one!  See you in the water.


To find out more about International Training, visit www.tdisdi.com.

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Freediving Blogs

Jeff chats to… Mehgan Heaney-Grier – freediver, explorer and educator (Watch Video)

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In this exclusive Zoom interview, Jeff Goodman, Scubaverse Editor-at-Large, chats to Mehgan Heaney-Grier – freediver, explorer, educator.

Well-known freediving personality and conservationist Mehgan Heaney-Grier has recently premiered her new web series “Imperfect Conservationist” and we will be sharing it with Scubaverse visitors soon here. Mehgan is a member of the Women Divers Hall of Fame and a popular speaker for the environment. She  says that the new series will provide viewers with ways they can become involved in protecting the environment in their daily lives.

Find out more about Mehgan at www.mehganheaneygrier.com


Rather listen to a podcast? Listen to the audio HERE on the new Scubaverse podcast channel at Anchor FM.

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www.thescubaplace.co.uk

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