Thursday, July 18, 2024

Busting the Myths: Top 7 Freediving Misconceptions Debunked


Freediving has been making quite a splash lately in the international world. A big reason for this is the Netflix film “The Deepest Breath,” which told the story of Italian freediving champion Alessia Zecchini and Irish expert safety diver Stephen Keenan, highlighting their tragic tale but also exposing audiences to the beauty of the ocean and its powerful pull on freedivers.

But with notoriety comes common misconceptions, and we’re here today to clear up the top 7 myths centered around the underwater sport. So hold your breath and take the plunge as we separate fact from fiction and gain a deeper understanding of the incredible world of freediving.

Myth 1: You Need To Hold Your Breath For A Long Time

Freedivers training static breath-holding in the shallow water of a calm bay.
Freedivers training static breath-holding in the shallow water of a calm bay.

Okay… well, freediving is also called “breath-hold diving,” so the concept of holding your breath is involved. But must it be for a long time? Absolutely not!

If you want to become a freediving instructor or a competitive freediving athlete, your focus will be more on breath-holds because longer breath-holds = longer dive times. But if you’re beginning to learn how to freedive, or simply using it as a way to explore the sea when you’re on vacation, then you can take a breath because I’ve got good news for you – in freediving, you dive according to your own personal limits.

So whether you can stay underwater for 15 seconds or 1.5 minutes doesn’t matter – it’s still freediving! And the more you do it, the longer you’ll naturally be able to hold your breath. Just make sure that if you’re holding your breath in water, you have a certified buddy right there with you.

Myth 2: Freediving Is Dangerous

A freediver competing in a freediving competition ascending with safety divers in tow.
A freediver competing in a freediving competition ascending with safety divers in tow. Photo by Daan Verhoeven.

This is possibly the biggest myth of all when it comes to freediving, and I’ll tell you exactly why – the media exists to sell itself. What gets more clicks on a news headline: “The Stunning Sport of Freediving” or “Open Your Mouth and You’re Dead”? I’ll admit it – I’d click on the 2nd!

However, the truth is that freediving can be a dangerous sport, but it doesn’t have to be if you’re freediving “correctly.”

Most importantly, that means:

  1. Taking a certified freediving course from an experienced instructor
  2. Never freediving alone (only with a certified buddy)

In a certified freediving course, you learn many aspects of freediving safety. With continued education, you can learn how to dive deeper and longer – all while staying safe and well within your limits.

Myth 3: Freedivers Need To Have Scuba Diving Experience

Scuba diving vs. freediving – what an endless and fun debate that happens often among underwater sports lovers. But do future freedivers need scuba diving experience to learn freediving successfully? Absolutely not – but it can help!

Any previous experience with open water can help you by being more confident and relaxed in the pool and at sea. But it is truly not a necessity as these are two completely different sports with totally different techniques. And with plenty of time, patience, and a very good instructor, anyone can eventually learn the relaxation required to freedive with joy!

Myth 4: Only Professional Athletes Can Freedive

Huh? Talk about gatekeeping! Maybe people mean “only professional athletes can set freediving records” because this is true. There are special techniques, lots of dedication, and a ton of experience needed to reach some of these unheard-of numbers.

But the truth is that almost anyone can freedive, and even age isn’t a limit – children’s freediving courses now exist (we’re looking at you Molchanovs Junior Freediving Education and AIDA Youth Program). There’s no shortage of older adults taking courses, either. So even the most “unprofessional” of us can freedive – and at any age, too!

Myth 5: You Have To Dive Deep To Enjoy Freediving

A freediver doing dynamic apnea at the AIDA 2016 Freediving World Pool Championships.
A freediver doing dynamic apnea at the AIDA 2016 Freediving World Pool Championships.

Wait a minute, did we forget that there are different freediving disciplines?

Yes, freediving for depth has its own particular disciplines, but we can’t forget about dynamic apnea, which involves swimming for distance in a pool on a breath-hold. And not to mention static apnea, which just involves holding your breath for as long as possible while floating at the surface in a pool.

Plus, for recreational freediving, deeper isn’t always better! Colors are brightest nearer to the surface, and as you go deeper, you stop seeing the color red (4.5m / 14.8ft), then orange (7.5m / 24.6ft), and finally yellow (around 10.5 – 13.5m / 34.4 – 44.3ft) due to each color’s wavelength. So even if freedivers can dive deep, they’ll still use their extended breath-holding abilities to spend a longer time at shallower depths with better light (unless there’s something special to see in the deep, like a shipwreck).

And who gets to decide how to enjoy freediving, anyway? You – that’s who.

Myth 6: Freediving Is Harmful To The Environment

If anything, it’s the exact opposite! Freedivers often have a deeper respect for the ocean since they spend so much time in it – similar to scuba divers.

But with freedivers, gear is minimal, so freedivers are less likely to have a piece of equipment dragging along the ocean bottom while diving (think of dangling SPGs when you go scuba diving). But what both freedivers and scuba divers have in common is a love for the underwater world, which translates into a strong approach to eco-tourism, picking trash out of the ocean, avoiding touching marine life, and a passion for leading a more sustainable life to slow down global warming, which is putting our oceans in a perilous state.

Myth 7: Freediving Is A Solitary Sport

Freedivers having fun together in the sea.
Freedivers having fun together in the sea.

I explored this question in another article, “Is Freediving a Solitary Sport?” and my conclusion was a big, resounding “No, not at all!”

When you watch a freediving competition with Diveye (an underwater drone) footage of a freediver going to 100m+ (328ft+), it can feel like they’re all alone down there. But if you watch the full footage of the dive, you’ll see that they have a coach, judge, medics, and supporters at the surface, and as they come back to the surface, safety divers meet them at specific depths to escort them back up in case they need help.

And we can’t forget the number one rule in freediving, which is never to dive alone, always with a certified buddy. So that means in your every freediving adventure, whether you are practicing breath-holding or diving for distance in a pool, exploring underwater corals, or cruising and underwater creatures in the Red Sea, you should always be accompanied by a buddy who can provide you dependable safety.

Final Thoughts

A freediver playing underwater.
A freediver playing underwater.

A final thought to leave you with is this – freediving is so much more than what a Netflix documentary, YouTube video, or article can capture. It is undoubtedly physical, unquestionably mental, and indescribably emotional. An experience that you can only understand by actually doing it.

So stop reading this article, find an experienced instructor, take a course, and feel it fully!

You’ll see what I mean.

Kristina Zvaritch
Kristina Zvaritch
Kris is an AIDA/Molchanovs Freediving Instructor, freelance copywriter, and one of the founders of SaltyMind Freediving on the little island of Xiao Liuqiu, Taiwan. She has written 100+ articles centered around freediving for and co-authored the Molchanovs Wave 4 - Competitive Freediving manual. When Kris isn't writing or teaching freediving, you can find her floating on a wave at the beach or struggling to learn Mandarin on land.