Just like the earth, humans are made up mostly of water. For those who feel the tide in their bodies, their souls, it is a pull that draws them inevitably down creeks and streams, into lakes and rivers, and finally out into the great, wide ocean. While there are many ways to get there, perhaps the most intimate, the most totally immersive approach is freediving. Breath-hold diving offers many things that are uniquely its own. The feeling of harmony divers gets with nothing between themselves and the sea. Insights they gain about their bodies and limitations. Calming the mind and training the body to control the urge to breathe are meditations unto themselves, but using them as tools for exploring the deep is akin to gliding through the sky in a wingsuit–it’s practically a superpower.
Of course, nothing that transcendence comes without effort. The focus and confidence that come with this self-mastery have to be practiced and developed. Only with mindful training can you find that balance between keeping yourself safe and pushing the edges of your comfort zone. It’s worth the effort though, and the level-up can have a ripple effect that improves other aspects of your life–in addition to giving you access to an underwater environment that very few people ever get to experience.
PADI Worldwide wouldn’t have it any other way, except for that “very few” part. Getting into freediving can be really intimidating: even if you’re familiar with the practice it can be hard to believe that your body is capable of such amazing feats. Part of what makes super powers so extraordinary is that not many people have them. But in freediving, the gap between those who can’t and those who can is mostly mental–with proper training and practice almost anyone can extend their breath-hold. That’s where PADI’s super powers come in, and for dive training, they’ve proved to be a dynamic combination of reach, consistency, and expertise. The result is the ability to offer the opportunity to almost anyone who wants to learn, at whatever level they want to participate.
In much the same way one might Hoover a carpet or Xerox a report, underwater thrill-seekers coalesce in dive centers around the world seeking their PADI certification. With over 6,400 stores across the globe, it really is The Way the World Learns to Dive™. Until recently that has overwhelmingly meant scuba, but after careful development and rigorous beta-testing, PADI is eager to debut the program they’ve built for scuba’s fraternal twin: recreational freediving.
From early on, there’s been a place for breath-hold diving under the PADI umbrella. Beginning with training in skin diving, the program later evolved into Intro to Snorkeling classes. Before long, instructors were bringing their own expertise and passion for apnea to the organization and writing distinctive specialties in freediving. Demand kept growing, and in 2015 those regional classes were incorporated into the regular specialty curriculum. Today freediving is more popular than ever and PADI has been gearing up to boost that momentum by doing what they do best–delivering effective, consistent training to promote safety and inclusivity.
Scuba is a sport with inherent risks–part of the excitement is using life-support technology to access places that are normally out of our depth. PADI has managed to successfully train divers in 186 countries to push their boundaries and venture into the abyss. Along the way, they have nurtured a huge community of recreational and professional divers who all speak the same language once they sink beneath the waves. This means that wherever in the world you are if you’re diving with PADI certified divers or dive pros it’s a pretty safe bet that their training matches yours. Even if they measure air pressure in bar while you breathe in PSI, you’ll both know to expect a three-minute safety stop and to descend no further if your ears won’t clear. The program is so effective that even your ten-year-old can learn to dive safely–and that kind of success doesn’t happen by accident. It must carefully be cultivated not only to convey the most accurate, useful information but to do it in ways that give students the best chance to absorb and retain it.
That’s why the PADI R&D toolkit contains principles from disciplines like applied learning theory and cognitive psychology. The aim is to create an environment that fosters the optimal conditions for learning and to keep the student engaged throughout the process. Study options like eLearning and PADI Touch give students the option to begin their training whenever the mood strikes and to work through the material at their own pace. Essentially, students can choose their own best learning conditions. This frees the instructor up to use class time helping new divers develop motor skills and also gives them a bit of flexibility to adapt their lessons to the needs of the unique individuals in each class. Personalized, responsive training means safer divers, which is better for everyone.
PADI dive instructors are students themselves, learning not only the nuts and bolts of diving, but the fine art of educating as well. And that process never stops: PADI is constantly offering and incentivizing opportunities for dive pros to advance their development. By expanding their focus to include a formal recreational freediving program, they’re well-positioned to usher in a fresh explosion of interest in the sport.
Right now, you can find scuba pretty much anywhere there are good places to dive–and many places there aren’t. Imagine what it would be like if freediving was just as widely supported. Mixed boats of divers exploring sites that accommodate both, liveaboards that offer scuba sites on one day and apnea adventures the next. Close encounters with creatures like sperm whales that prefer to interact with humans sans bubbles. Epic journeys to remote locations where it would be nearly impossible to lug a tank. Freediving opens up the ocean to a new set of enthusiasts and provides a new way to experience the deep for divers that are already hooked.
Just as with scuba, there will be divers whose whole lives are centered around their training as well as those who only dive on vacation. There will be kids who pick it up as Boy or Girl Scouts then forget all about it, only to rediscover a passion for freediving as adults. Some could do a Discover Free Diving* experience to amplify their snorkeling adventure in clear, warm waters and never end up getting their certification. But each diver who has the chance to enter the underwater environment is one more person with a first-hand relationship with the ocean, one more choice, one more voice that can speak on its behalf. If it’s true that we protect what we love, there is no more powerful way to spread the spirit of conservation than by showing people how much there is that’s worth protecting.
Over the next couple of months, DeeperBlue.com is going to bring you the stories and insights of people whose lives have been changed through freediving, and who have come to find a home in the PADI community. The paths that led them here are different–some are scuba divers who crossed over into freediving, while others are PADI scuba instructors who found a passion for apnea. You’ll also meet experienced freedivers who brought their expertise into the PADI network.
Once you’ve heard about their experiences you may begin to wonder if there’s a place in PADI freediving for you. There is. Whether you’re a competitive athlete, a spearfisher who feeds their family with their catch, or just a garden-variety Homo Aquaticus, freediving offers a chance to fall in love with the ocean all over again. Explore wrecks and coral reefs, get up close and personal with shy sea creatures, push your boundaries and get to know yourself a little bit better! You’re closer to awesome than you think, and who better to help you get there safely than the agency whose name has become synonymous with quality dive training?
You can learn more about PADI Freediver at https://www.padi.com/padi-courses/become-padi-freediver
* Discover Free Diving is not really a class offered by PADI. It exists only in the imagination of the writer.
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