Across the globe and throughout history humans have been irresistibly drawn to the ocean. Long before we learned how to capture breathing air to take with us, we explored the deep using nothing more than our own natural abilities. Today, those ancient practices and natural instincts have evolved into a booming sports industry. Divers come to freediving for a variety of reasons, with a variety of goals, and PADI wants to help them all succeed.
Mobilizing the effective teaching methods and vast global network for which they’re world-famous, PADI has advanced its apnea program from a one-off skin diving specialty to a full-fledged freediving training division. They’re taking advantage of the growing body of knowledge on the sport, and forming partnerships with professional freedivers not only to teach their methods but to leverage their individual expertise to improve the quality of the training itself.
Philippe Beauchamp is a freediving professional from Montreal, Canada whose unlikely path to the sea began in martial arts. After a series of knee surgeries forced Philippe to seek other outlets, he found himself drawn to a tight-knit community of freedivers. What began as “something to do on a Tuesday night” soon took over his life. He threw himself into the lifestyle and before long had five years of competition under his belt. Along with partner Francois Leduc, he founded Apnea City to train and certify freedivers in Quebec. Teaching keeps his good form, and Philippe enjoys sharing his love of breath-hold diving with new divers and watching them discover a whole new world beneath the waves.
Though not primarily a scuba diver, Philippe had some previous experience with PADI. While he was learning to freedive he took the Rescue Diver course, and he believes it has made him a better freediving instructor to students who cross over from scuba. Over a year ago, he made the jump to the PADI Freediving program at the urging of training consultant Eric Albinsson. His first task was to get familiar with the PADI training system, and he highlights some features that really impressed him.
There are as many ways to get into freediving as there are students who seek it out. PADI’s inclusive program meets them where they are and helps them get to where they want to be. It’s well organized, and the online Touch platform is an important asset. With electronic access to learning materials, students are able to study and do most of the work before class, which leaves more time for Philippe to address questions and focus on the practical aspects of apnea training. The two-minute video clips are especially helpful tools, showing students exactly what to do so that by the time they get to the pool they already have a visual reference of what they’re looking to learn.
Listening to him talk, it’s not hard to see why Philippe “feels in love” with the sport.
“When I discovered freediving, I became a kid again. It’s about play.”
It’s also about pushing oneself, about doing things you think you can’t. Teaching apnea gives him the opportunity to help people discover just how amazing they are, and it brings out different things in different people.
“I love seeing people overcome their fears. In the pool, you say, ‘Today we do two minutes.’ And they think, ‘Not a chance.’ But they do, of course, and they come out with a huge grin on their face.”
Philippe likes being on the receiving end of all those triumphant high fives but notes that there are other benefits to freediving besides discovering hidden superpowers. For one, breath training helps scuba divers become better breathers when they do use tanks. The relative lack of gear and noise makes it easier to get close to wary wildlife and sensitive environments. He tells of the cold beauty of excursions under the ice, where the viz is amazing and the sunlight filters down through the frozen water and trapped air.
For divers just getting into breath-hold, Philippe’s got a few words of advice. Safety is always first. Master the techniques of being a good buddy, learn to spot each other in the water and commit to never diving alone. Then you’re ready to start developing your own practice. He also advises that in freediving you can’t progress too fast–you have to go at a reasonable speed. That’s one of the unique things he discovered about apnea, it’s one of the few sports where adrenaline doesn’t help, in fact just the opposite. Freediving helps you cultivate the important discipline of letting go.
Kris Landers of Juno Beach, Florida, comes from a more technical perspective. Recreationally, he’s been in the water since childhood, the surfing, fishing, snorkeling son of ocean-loving parents. Professionally, he originally specialized in sports performance and kinesiology, making his living as a physical therapist. These two paths merged once he got really into freediving, and started sharing his passion with his patients. More than one encouraged him to follow his bliss, and eventually, he took their excellent advice and embarked on the seven-year journey that finally brought him to PADI.
Kris’ friend Forrest Simon is literally a poster boy for PADI Freediving and had been trying to recruit him for ages. Until recently, Kris resisted crossing over but as they began to assemble more and better instructors and to focus on developing their program, he became convinced that PADI was the place for him. In fact, the day of his interview just so happened to be the one-year anniversary of his official crossover. Since then, his work with PADI has brought him fantastic opportunities to travel and teach in a beautiful location –like the Bahamas where he and Forrest were invited to demonstrate their expertise in the next round of PADI Freediving training videos.
Like Philippe, Kris believes the PADI training program has definite strengths that make it a real contender in the Freediving agency arena. The most obvious is accessibility. PADI is already a household name with shops all over the world, providing a network of infrastructure, business relationships, and reputation that is easily adaptable to meet the burgeoning needs of the apnea industry. He echoes Philippe’s sentiments about students’ ability to study theory in advance of the class and cites the simple, clear instruction in the training materials themselves which guide students toward gradual advancements in easily-digestible increments. Not every diver has ambitions of getting down to 160 feet, and PADI has room for all kinds.
Another major strength that Kris touts about PADI Freediving, is their investment in the strengths of their pros. They constantly strive to improve their training based on innovation, research, and the expertise of their instructors. Talented freedivers aren’t brought aboard just to become clones regurgitating lessons by rote, they’re tapped to refine the program and its techniques. During the aforementioned Bahamas trip, PADI pros watched Kris and Forrest performing dives correctly, and were able to translate those observations to a better understanding of kicking cycles, optimal head and body positions, and other effective physical techniques. According to Kris, PADI is full of good, down-to-earth people and that collaborative attitude is strong evidence.
So, why freediving? It’s simpler and quieter than scuba, and there’s much less gear to carry or scare wildlife. That’s crucial because as Kris notes, you never know what you’ll encounter when you’re at one with the water. His best advice to new divers?
Get rid of your tanks.
No matter where you end up, hundreds of meters down on a weighted competition sled or just a few feet from the surface swimming with sea lions, we all start at the beginning. It is those first lessons, in theory, safety, and technique that form the foundation of all our future practice. PADI can provide talented instructors and world-class training–the only things missing are salt, water, and you. So bring your ambitions, and let’s get wet!
You can learn more about PADI Freediver at https://www.padi.com/padi-courses/become-padi-freediver
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