For those of us with seawater in our veins, the pull of the ocean is a sweet compulsion that enriches our lives when we heed the call. Every one of us knows the joy, the comfort, and the challenge of nurturing our relationship with the sea. There are some individuals, however, whose passion is so great that they are inspired to share it with others, helping them to discover their own connection with the water with confidence and safety.
PADI has long offered a home to those special people with the patience and dedication to instruct others in the gospel of scuba, but with the increasing popularity of tank-free diving, their platform has expanded. Adapting their comprehensive training methods to include apnea has created new opportunities for divers and instructors alike. In the following stories, you’ll get to know two men who have undertaken different voyages through the PADI system, both of which eventually led them back to the beginning of their love affair with the ocean, back to freediving.
Meet Farron Taijeron of Guam. Living on an island for most of his life, he was practically born in the water. Like most kids fortunate enough to have the ocean as their playground, he began experimenting with breath-holding very early. There’s not much of a formal freediving culture on Guam (yet — Farron’s working on it!), but many of the local Chamorro are avid spear-fishers, so the practice is all but taken for granted.
Farron was working at a hotel when his boss, a trained scuba diver, noticed him freediving with an $8 mask and plastic snorkel. Alarmed by his lack of training (and buddy), the man invited him to explore the world of scuba. Unsurprisingly, Farron took to it like a fish and began climbing the PADI training ladder to become a safer diver and better buddy.
In 2012, he followed the other love of his life, his soon-to-be wife, to Australia, becoming a PADI divemaster in anticipation. There, he was hired as an underwater photographer and spent his days doing the same dives every day and documenting other divers as they got their first taste of scuba. In time, his wife encouraged him to further his training and go to the island of Koa Tao in Thailand to become an Open Water Scuba Instructor (OWSI).
In this scuba diver’s Never Never Land, as Farron calls it, the progression from OWSI to Master Scuba Diver Trainer (MSDT) was the natural outcome of diving every day. At the end of 2015, he learned about the PADI Freediving program and followed the call of his heart back home. He spent two weeks in February 2016 in Moal Boal in the Philippines earning his advanced and master freediving certifications–and didn’t do a single scuba dive. In describing his love of breath-hold diving he quotes another instructor who once told him, “You enjoy scuba with your eyes. I enjoy freediving with my soul.”
Now he’s a PADI freediving instructor, sharing his passion for apnea with new divers as he works his way up a new training ladder. Already an old pro at the PADI method, Farron found it easy to apply his well-honed teaching know-how to the new content of formal freedive training. His only prerequisite is that students have a comfortable relationship with the water.
His excitement is infectious as he describes how subjecting your body to varying levels of hypoxia and the pressure at depth can lead to a meditative state, a new understanding of your abilities as a human animal, and can even flip the switch on epigenetic genes, allowing you to push yourself farther than you ever thought possible. There’s no limit to how much you can challenge yourself–whether you want to take it easy and just check out what’s below, or want to train aggressively to go deep and stay long.
For those who believe that freediving is only done by crazy adrenaline junkies he stresses that just like every activity, apnea involves calculated risk and can be done safely with proper training, religious adherence to safety practices, and the most crucial element–a vigilant buddy. And for those who are already sold, his best advice for tapping in is to find a nice patch of sand at 50-60’ and lay on your back, looking up at the surface. The negative buoyancy will keep you there, the pressure at that depth will surround you like a hug from the ocean, and the wonder of everything around you will help you find an intense peace.
For Farron Taijeron, apnea was a foregone conclusion…and becoming a PADI freediving instructor has just made it better. For Michael Sumlin, the stoke is the same, though the path he followed was a bit different.
Michael is from Alabama and like Farron grew up on the beach. He spent much of his childhood snorkeling and chasing fish with a pole spear. He’d always played around with breath-hold diving, but as a kid had no real idea what the human body was capable of. In 1993, at the ripe old age of 12, he got his PADI Open Water certification. By the mid-2000’s he was working on a boat and starting to shift his focus to freediving.
Before long, he was freediving exclusively and looking around for opportunities to teach. As a veteran PADI scuba diver, he was reluctant to change agencies, so the Course Director at his local dive shop suggested he become a scuba instructor. That way, he could stick with the system he’d grown up in as a diver, and get access to the distinctive specialty curriculum for freediving, which had grown out of the original PADI Skin Diver course.
Michael took that advice, but never stopped wanting to grow as an instructor. He laughingly recalls bugging his regional director Eric Albinsson at every opportunity about the development of an independent formal freediving division for PADI. Eventually, all that hounding paid off, and he got word that a full program was on its way that would be more standardized, more thorough, and more detailed than the specialty.
Like it’s scuba legacy, PADI’s freediving program is very supportive of instructors and offers a lot of opportunities to network. Michael likes the PADI Freediver Touch online system because it delivers the material to students in advance of the first day of class. This means more class time can be devoted to in-water training, which gives instructors more opportunities to help students work through their practical challenges. And that means more chances to watch people accomplish goals they never thought they could and more ecstatic high fives from students who catch the buzz.
Another key strength of the PADI program is that everybody knows their name and their reputation for safety and accessibility. You can find PADI in any place you want to dive, and they can even help you find places to go and shops to visit. As the sport expands, Michael expects to see freediving expand the way scuba has, with dedicated travel excursions to places like Baja, California, and Dominica in the south Caribbean. An inherently exciting and glamorous sport, apnea is already exploding all over social media as more and more young people discover its draw.
Michael’s best advice to those interested in learning more about breath-hold diving is to find a class and just do it. By the time he’d gotten certified, he’d already been freediving recreationally for a few years, and he counts himself lucky to have not gotten hurt before he learned the importance of safety and the buddy system. Having the benefit of an instructor will also ensure that new divers develop good habits and proper form–foundations that go a long way towards a successful practice.
Apnea has changed Michael’s life. It’s a less invasive way to enter the ocean environment so it helps him get closer to wildlife, true enough, but it also helps him get closer to himself. It gives him the freedom to relax and let go, and surprisingly, he credits freediving with teaching him how to breathe correctly.
Freediving is something anyone can do, and in fact, many of us can look back into our past and recognize it as something we’ve always done naturally, even before we knew there was a name for it. For those who already feel at home in the water, formal breath-hold training offers an insight into the theory behind the practice and adds layers of safety and awareness that help us protect ourselves and channel the benefits of apnea into our topside lives.
Learning to freedive through PADI gives divers access to its time-tested teaching strategies and its global network of divers, instructors, dive centers, and excursion operators. Teaching freediving through PADI offers instructors the benefits of a fully-developed infrastructure based on exhaustive research not just into the sport itself, but into the most effective methods and strategies for helping students achieve success.
So whatever your training goals or previous experience, if you’re ready to deepen your relationship with the sea, with yourself, or with other divers PADI has a way to help you get there. The rest is up to you — and the deep’s the limit.
You can learn more about PADI Freediver at https://www.padi.com/padi-courses/become-padi-freediver
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