With today’s X generation popularizing extreme sports such as Inline skating and Sky surfing it isn’t hard to understand why a new group of North American Aquanauts are diving into the sport of Free Diving/Breath-hold Diving. Both here in the Caribbean and throughout North America, the sport of Free Diving/Breath-hold Diving has seen a major rise in interest and participation. It is a sport that can include everything from surface snorkeling to deep breath-hold dives well in excess of 100ft. Snorkeling/Free Diving is the most popular family orientated water sport today, enjoyed by all levels from beginners to professionals! Free Diving has forever been a very popular sport in Europe, Asia, Central and South America. The sport competes with many other national sports for popularity. Some of the World and National record holders enjoy super star Status. Here in Cayman we can even brag that the Islands are home to Free Diving stars Tanya Street, world record holder in three different Free Diving categories and Brett Lemaster, an American National record holder, both residing in Grand Cayman.
In order to start understanding the sport of Free Diving one must look to the water. The need for sustenance and pure love of the aquatic realm is what first drew ancient peoples from the tropics to initially explore human aquatic potentials. Dating back thousands of years archeologists have uncovered mother-of-pearl inlays in garments providing proof of early commerce coming from the sea, this resulted in further pushing human’s beings to expand their Free Diving reflexes. As with human nature, it wasn’t long before people began to compete directly with each other. Today there are many different competitions held all over the globe.
As with any extreme sport safety is the most important aspect of Free Diving. One of today’s most popular water sports is scuba diving. People understand that with scuba diving, being properly trained is necessary to ensure diver safety. Understanding all aspects of scuba creates a safe environment to enjoy the underwater world with a minimum of risk. However in Free Diving anyone can grab a set of mask, fins and snorkel go into the water, do a head first breath-hold dive without understanding the basics of safe, proper Free Diving. An organized certification course will include History, Equipment, Physics, Physiology, Psychology, Free Diving Techniques and Safety Practices. Comprehension of these topics combined with in water practical training under the direct supervision of a Free Diving instructor will arm a Free Diver with the needed knowledge, rescue skills and experience to go out free diving safely. Training reduces the risk of problems or worse, accidents. However in the unlikely event the something does go wrong, a properly trained Free Diver will be well equipped to deal with all possibilities. The old adage, "Practice Makes Perfect" is so true for the sport of Free Diving.
The three most popular categories in Free Diving are:
Constant Ballast, which involves a Free Diver usually descending with a small amount of weight (although weight is not required). When the Free Diver is at depth and preparing to ascend back to the surface they will bring the weight back to the surface with them. In the unlikely event of a problem the Free Diver can ditch the weight to assist them back to the surface for safety. Constant Ballast Free Diving is the most demanding form of Free Diving because it is totally unassisted. In the realm of Free Diving competitions Constant Ballast is the most respected of all forms. Italian Free Diver Umberto Pellezarie at an amazing depth of 245ft salt water holds the world record in the men’s category at this writing. Cayman’s own Tanya Street holds the woman’s world record at an equally amazing depth of 220ft salt water. Tanya also holds the fresh water world record for both woman and men in Constant Ballast. You go girl!!
Variable Ballast, Free Diving requires the Free Diver to ride a sled loaded with weights down a fixed line to their target depth. The free diver returns to the surface kicking or pulling them up the line. Gianluca Genoni holds this form’s world record at 420ft salt water. Cuba Free Diver Debora Andollo holds the woman’s world record at 295ft.
No Limits, Free Diving is the most extreme category. It is the deepest diving form of Free Diving. Its popularity comes from the incredibly deep depths involved in this form of free diving. In competitions Free Divers will ride the sled as in the Variable Ballast category. On ascent No Limits Free Divers are assisted back to the surface via a lifting bag device. Using the air filled lift bag No Limits Free Divers are achieving unbelievable depths in the 350ft plus range. Tanya Streeter once again holds the woman’s world No Limits record at 375ft. Incidentally Tanya’s record was set here in the Cayman Islands. The men’s Gianluca Genoni holds No Limit world record at 450ft salt water.
Whether it’s heading out with the family to snorkel a shallow reef and fish watch, free diving a mini wall to take photo’s of interesting underwater animal life or competing in different category’s of the many global free diving competitions, Free Diving has some incredible rewards. It is the most serene self-absorbing sport anywhere. To submerge silently beneath the waves with only ones own skills and abilities. Feeling the waters warm embrace, alone in the depths of the fantastic sea a Free Diver does exactly what they are named, they Dive Free.
Sled: Mechanical device to speed up Free Diving descent times.