Herbert Nitsch is aptly known as “The Deepest Man on Earth,” as he holds the current world record for the deepest free dive at 831 feet.
He can hold his breath for 9-plus minutes. The craziest part is he’s entirely self-taught in freediving, earning himself 33 world records for various freediving escapades.
So, what is freediving anyway? Simply put, freediving is when a diver takes one deep breath, dives as deep as they possibly can and comes back above water again.
It may sound simple, but it requires an immense amount of skill and practice and can cause long-term damage if not executed properly.
Free Diving History
Diving without an oxygen tank is also known as “skin diving” or “snorkeling.”
Free Diving Started Out of Necessity
People used to free dive in an effort to salvage items lost at sea or to search for food or other goods below the water.
Scientists believe humans have been freediving for at least 8,000 years. After investigating the remains of ancient people who lived around 6,000 BC in Chile, scientists found that many of them suffered from a condition called exostosis. This causes the ear canal to grow across the opening of the ear to protect it from continuous exposure to freezing cold water.
Free diving has long since turned into a recreational activity, as well as one with many world records. On the other hand, competitive free diving comes with specific rules.
While recreational free diving may be done for fun to see how long you can hold your breath or how far you can go, competitive freediving has various disciplines to reflect various types of breath holding.
Types of Freediving
There are different types of freediving: Freediving can seem to have a language of its own for those who competitively compete.
These are the main types of free diving:
- Constant Weight Freediving: This can be done with or without fins. The diver is expected to descend and ascend with the weight they are carrying remaining the same throughout the entire dive. In recent years, this type of freediving has become more popular.
- Free Immersion Freediving: In this type of dive, fins are not worn and the diver uses a rope to immerse into the water. This type of freediving is often used as a warm up for other types of competitive free diving. It does not require immense tiring of the body and prepares the body for the depths of the water. This can also be used to prepare the diver’s ear equalization abilities for a deep dive.
- Variable Weight Freediving: This type of freediving uses added weight attached to the diver for them to travel to the initial depth. The diver then removes the weight to travel back to the top of the water. This is not used as a competitive form of diving but there are currently records set in the sport. This is widely used as a training method to teach novice divers different aspects of the sport.
- No Limits Freediving: This type of discipline is one of the most talked about and most dangerous. This involves having weight attached to the diver to take them as deep in the water as possible and then a special device to bring the diver back to the surface.
Pool Freediving Practices
Static Apnea (STA): This involves holding your breath as long as possible while on the surface of the water. This discipline must be learned because it teaches the diver to hold their breath and fight the urge to simply pop above water. It requires immense concentration and mental focus and should be continuously improved throughout the divers’ off seasons.
Dynamic Apnea: This discipline involves reaching the maximum distance below the water either with or without fins. This is another practice that can be maintained during an offseason of competitive freediving. The current world record holder for this type of practice is Peter Pedersen, who swam 610 feet while holding his breath.
Deepest Free Dive Fun Facts
One of the first freediving competitions was held in 1911 when a fisherman named Yorgos Statti took on a bet to dive more than 200 feet to salvage the anchor of another ship. He held his breath for close to seven minutes and won a few dollars as his prize. He was later known as the “father of freediving.”
Below are some more Free Diving facts:
One of the most common occurrences in freediving is a blackout. Here, the diver’s oxygen level drops to the point where the diver can no longer function properly and they pass out.
Ancient Greeks were known for using a technique called “Skandalopetra,” where the diver holds a large round rock with holes for their fingers to go through (like a make-shift steering wheel). The diver then turns the “wheel” rapidly to guide them down the bottom of their destination.
Free Diving Affiliations
There are two major organizations that recognize freediving: The CMAS (The World Underwater Federation, founded in 1958) and The AIDA (Association Internationale pour le Développement de l’Apnée) founded in 1990.
Twenty seconds after emerging to the surface of the water following freediving, your oxygen level is at its lowest. You must keep breathing slowly to allow your oxygen levels to return to normal.
Known as the diving reflex, when you submerge your head into water, your heart rate begins to lower up to 25% from its normal level. Blood also starts rushing to your extremities in an effort to protect them from harm.
Types of Fin Strokes
There are three types of fin strokes: The flutter, the frog, and the dolphin. The AIDA offers lessons for all types of Freedivers to help them build their confidence as divers and improve their overall skills.
Did You Know…
- At a depth of 65 feet, water pressure is over three times the level it is on the surface, which squeezes the lungs.
- Babies have a reflex called the bradycardic response, which makes them hold their breath and open their eyes when submerged in water.
- There have long been many comparisons made between free diving and yoga, primarily due to their self-regulating natures, their focuses on the importance of breathing techniques, and the mental strength required to effectively take part in either activity.
- Freediving has been used by scientists to study underwater marine life, due to the lack of noise and disturbance that diving without gear provides.
Health Benefits of Freediving
Freediving can help relieve and manage stress. Diving techniques help put divers in a calm, relaxed state of mind.
Free diving essentially requires you to free your mind of all extrinsic stressors and focus solely on the goal of getting to your destination safely and in a timely manner.
In fact, according to a study conducted in 2013, free divers maintain overall reduced levels of stress and anxiety in comparison to non-athletes.
- Brings you closer to nature: Freediving can bring you closer to nature than other forms of exercise, as you are entering the water with little to no gear and equipment. This allows you to be as close as possible to marine life and other sea creatures.
- Feel-good energy boost: Those who partake in this sport would undoubtedly agree that freediving provides an instant adrenaline boost, which provides you with a feel-good rush that gives your brain endorphins.
- Relieves pressure from the joints:Spending time underwater can help take the pressure off your joints that outside workouts can cause. In addition, the joints can experience and increased range of motion due to the fluidity of the water.
- Builds muscle: When diving underwater, your muscles must work harder and contract to work against the depth and current. This makes for an effective resistance training session involving no added weight or dumbbells.
- Increases lung capacity: It’s no secret that holding your breath for extended periods of time works out your lungs. Much like an effective cardio workout, your lungs become more conditioned over time. This can increase your oxygen capacity, meaning you can intake more air for longer periods of time. This can provide a multitude of health benefits in the long run.
- Increases endurance: Diving keeps your body and muscles constantly under tension and tones them rapidly. It requires continuous sets and repetitions of the same motions to exceed the previously set limits of the body.
- Pushes you to work harder: Like any sport, diving can help you learn to set limits for yourself and continue to safely reach new goals. For instance, a diver might attempt to see how much deeper they can dive in their next session in comparison to their previous one. They might also attempt to see how long they can safely hold their breath underwater or attempt to find ways to hold more weight during their dives.
Adding Free Dive in Your Bucket List
Divers may find that there are always new goals they can set for themselves. They strive for increasingly more difficult tasks to complete during their sessions, especially in freediving.
While even the deepest free dive you can do may seem too difficult, imagine the satisfying feeling of knowing you’ve set a goal for yourself that you not only reached, but you exceeded.