In the beginning was the freediver.
The available evidence suggests that human beings, and, perhaps, our immediate phylogenetic predecessors have submerged themselves under the waters of this world since time immemorial. We’ve gone down to get dinner, certainly, and also items for adorning ourselves and making tools and utensils. It seems likely , too, that breath-hold diving found other useful applications including military tactics, tax evasion (smuggling), theft, romance and ritual.
This went on for a long, long time. So, in the context of the Big Picture, one might add that in the very long middle of this story, was the freediver.
Then, during the mid-20th century, which is to say a few hearbeats ago, Mr. Cousteau et al brought into being a hybrid creature, part man, part machine: the Scuba Diver. Technology had made it possible for humans, finally, to swim like fish. Sort of like fish. Like airplanes realized the age-old dream of flying like birds. Sort of. Well, not really. In both cases there is a lot of clunky machinery involved, which for many is rather appealing in and of itself. People like machinery. Machinery is what people do. Other organisms are pretty much limited in their behavior by their physical infrastructure, but when we want to do something our bodies cannot do, we simply invent a machine that enables us to do it.
Scuba, then, is Chapter Two in the book of diving. And, since we generally suppose that human history is progressive, we naturally have supposed that scuba is a more advanced form of diving than the old way. I came into this world at about the time that Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus was first becoming more-or-less generally available to adventurous consumers, and I know that it was considered by watermen to be a leading-edge, out there, sophisticated thing. One had to learn about exotic apparatus and a lot of technical lingo, too.
So, folks who still dived by taking a deep breath and dropping down were the left-behinds: “only” skin divers. One hoped that one’s finances, courage and circumstances would somebody enable one to advance from that lowly station and become a real diver, a scuba diver.
But now, a curious thing has happened.
Freediving has made a big comeback over the past 15 years. We don’t need statistics to see the evidence of this: the fact that this web page exists and that you are reading it is but one of many indicators, others of which include The Big Blue, AIDA and other world class competitions, major media coverage and skyrocketing sales of freediving kit in an otherwise moribund industry.
Lots and lots of people are getting into freediving, all over the globe. And the thing of it is, many of these people are not scuba divers, have little or no interest in scuba, have never tried it and have no plans to.
Well, what of it ? Is this strange ? Is it interesting ?
There clearly is an evolving consensus that scuba is not, in fact, a more advanced form of diving, not a progression from the “primitive” breath-hold method. The new generation of freedivers, the unscuba divers, are telling us that what they see are two completely different things, and that they are attracted to the one but not to the other. The distinctions and differences are more salient to them than are the commonalities. This ought not be astonishing : nobody would suppose that a Boeing 747 is just a bigger, better hang-glider. Sure, there are similarities between freediving and scuba diving with respect to venues, some of the kit, and so on, but the newbies are telling us that these are almost coincidental.
And, frankly, there are more than a few freedivers who think freediving exists on a higher plane and is much cooler than scuba. They are snobs, and cannot be bothered with all that “bubble-blowing” thing.
I think this is wrong-headed, narrow-minded and not nice.
I think every freediver who is not a certified, competent scuba diver should take the time and trouble to become one. And remain one.
The arguments for this are utilitarian, esthetic and political.
Scuba is a very useful tool. A great deal of the freediving going on in the world is made possible by the scuba divers who have surveyed the bottom, set moorings, cleared obstacles and entanglements, and support competitions and record attempts. I think any freediver who wants to be a full contributor to our community ought to be in a position to pitch in and help with these missions.
The underwater world is beautiful. Freediving, it is true, offers a silent and unobtrusive window on that beauty. Scuba offers a different view, one which anyone truly interested in the marine environment ought to be able to appreciate.
Politically, the scuba and freediving communities are both better off making common cause, rather than competing for bragging rights.
I like the idea of the total, comprehensive underwater avocation. I think all scuba divers should learn freediving, and all freedivers should learn scuba. Each has its place in the pallette, and while some folks favor one over the other, none, I think, should reject either.
By the way, here’s a little-known but crucial bit of knowledge: SCUBA DIVING IS LOTS OF FUN !
Why can’t we all just get along ?