Underwater Freediving

Right now, the sport of freediving in South Africa is alive and kicking. Freediving, as you might know, involves diving and swimming underwater while holding your breath. The sport combines a love for being in the ocean (and swimming pools, freshwater lakes, and the like), with the physical and mental challenge of learning how to hold your breath for an extended period of time. Similar to swimming, freediving also involves learning how to move fluidly and efficiently in the water. With only one breath of air, freedivers need to be as economical as possible underwater.

South Africans do tend to be a competitive bunch, and we tend to thrive on personal progress and success. If you combine this with the idea that freediving is also a competitive sport (Who can dive deeper under water? Further in a pool? Hold their breath for longer?), then it’s obvious why more and more South African freedivers are pushing the limits of the sport and setting records.

Two of these divers are Sophia van Coller and John Daines. Sophia has just broken the SA women’s record in the ‘free immersion’ deep diving event, and John recently set a new SA record in the pool-based ‘dynamic with fins’ event. Both divers are from Cape Town.

Freediving competition categories

There are two broad categories of competition freediving – the depth events and pool-based disciplines.

Depth events:

  • Free immersion (FIM): The athlete descends to depth and back up by pulling hand over hand on a vertical diving rope.
  • Constant weight (CWT): Constant weight involves diving to depth and back up with the aid of diving fins, but without pulling on the diving rope.
  • Constant weight no-fins (CNF): In this discipline, the athlete dives to depth and back up without the aid of diving fins and without pulling on the diving rope.

Pool events:

  • Dynamic with fins (DYN): In this discipline, the athlete swims as far as possible underwater on one breath, with the aid of diving fins. These days, most athletes use a ‘monofin’ and dolphin-kick style.
  • Dynamic without fins (DNF): Here, the athlete swims as far as possible underwater, typically using a modified breaststroke swimming style, on one breath and without the aid of diving fins.
  • Static apnea (STA): This involves athletes holding their breath and lying face down in water for as long as possible. This discipline tests a freediver’s breath-holding ability and is regarded as one of the most mentally challenging.

Safety first

Anyone can learn to freedive. But just like many ‘alternative’ adventure sports, freediving can be a deadly activity if done in the wrong way. The golden rules are to always dive with qualified and experienced freedivers (never freedive alone!) and from the beginning, seek out certified and experienced supervision and instruction.