Performance Freediving International Course

January 12th, 2009, 11:13 pm
Tags: freediving

What is Freediving?

Freediving (also called breath-hold diving) is the sport of diving underwater without SCUBA apparatus. Essentially you are diving on one breath of air, either to challenge your time or depth limits, to explore the underwater world, to spearfish, or just to have fun.

Isn't this dangerous?

Like any sport where you are testing yourself physically, freediving does have risks. While you remove the risks of gear malfunction that come with sports like SCUBA where you rely on a tank of compressed air, you add both physical and psychological challenges that must be overcome. With proper training and using the buddy system, freediving can be extremely safe. By knowing your own limits and following established safety standards you can have a great time while still challenging yourself.

How does it work?

In order to train yourself to go deeper and stay longer, you need to practice controlling your airway. With increased depth comes increased pressure, which means that the air in your lungs decreases in volume. For those who have been SCUBA diving, you will know that you need to equalise the pressure in your mask and ears as you descend. This is a tricky with freediving, because your lung volume decreases as well! Proper equalisation techniques at depth are one of the most important things to learn.

In addition to dealing with depth, you can train your body to go longer "without air". While many people think that just a few minutes without taking a breath can cause brain damage, this isn't true. Oxygen from a breath lasts in your bloodstream for several minutes (although of course the ratio of oxygen to carbon dioxide decreases over time). Using Freediving Exercises you can actually train your body to become accustomed to higher levels of carbon dioxide, and lower levels of oxygen. This allows you to hold your breath for longer.


The sport of freediving has several competitive and recreational disciplines. Some of the most popular are:

  • Static apnea: Holding your breath, trying to do so for as long as possible (either on land - "dry", or underwater - "wet").

  • Dynamic apnea: Swimming underwater, trying to go as far as possible (distance).

  • Constant ballast :Probably the most popular and well know discipline. CB involves descending to a depth with the aid of fins, with the same amount of weight descending and ascending.

  • Constant ballast without fins :Same as CB but no fins.

  • Free immersion :Descending by pulling yourself down a line.

  • Variable ballast :Descending with weights (usually a weighted sled), ascending under your own power (either with fins or by pulling up a rope).

  • No limits :Descending on a weighted sled and ascending using a lift bag (filled with air at the target depth by the diver). NL is the most dangerous discipline due to the requirement to equalise very quickly, and the great depths which can be reached.

Performance Freediving Course

In October 2008 I took the Performance Freediving International Intermediate Course. This course focuses on safety, technique, physiology, and psychology in order to improve your skills as a freediving. I was essentially a novice before the course, I have some SCUBA skills and I'd done a bit of freediving on my own (using bad technique and NO safety protocol - bad me!).

The course was 4 days long and involved classroom lectures, pool sessions, and ocean sessions. The lectures were amazingly detailed; I thought I had a fairly good understanding of the cardio-pulmonary system prior to this course but there was a lot I didn't know! We learned about the physical changes in the human body at depth and while breath holding. In addition we learned about the mammalian diving reflex, which helps freedivers reach greater depths and longer breath-hold times.

Practicing Static Apnea in the Pool

Static Apnea: Trying to relax while holding my breath underwater for 3 minutes...calm thoughts, calm thoughts...

Static Apnea: My buddy keeps me from floating away!

Static Apnea: Being a safety involves making sure your diver is ok before, during, and after their breath hold.

Facial immersion: By immersing your face in cool water before a breath hold, you can lower your heart rate. This is part of the mammalian dive reflex.

Static Apnea: Fighting the 'contractions' that most people get when you hold your breath for a long time. Your diagraphm is trying to kick start your breathing. You have to try to relax!

Static Apnea: Periodically your buddy will tap you on the shoulder to make sure you are ok, and to let you know how long you've been holding your breath. You respond with a signal.

Static Apnea: It's not uncommon for you to pass out or have a 'samba' (loss of motor control) after a long hold, so you must give the ok to your safety person while they make sure that there won't be any problems.

Pool techniques

Negative pressure dives: In order to practice equalising your ears with a low lung volume, we would exhale prior to swimming to the bottom of the pool, then hang out and try to relieve the pressure in our ears. It's a weird thing to breathe out BEFORE going underwater!

Kick Cycles: Practising finning techniques for descending and ascending.

Safety Scenarios

Rescues: Being 'rescued' at depth by my buddy.

Rescues: Practicing performing AR while towing a buddy. That's me as the comatose victim.

Ocean Sessions

Free Immersion: Getting used to the depth, and equalisation, by pulling myself down a line.

Free Immersion: A plate marks the target depth.

Free Immersion: At 33ft I check my bouyancy. I should be positively bouyant (floaty!) from here on up, as most problems happen at the end of the dive, near the surface.

Free Immersion: Proper technique involves NOT looking up, a tricky thing to do!

Free Immersion: Reaching the plate at 66ft. It's a bit darker and colder down here, and I can see the rocks.

Safety: Proper surface protocol is to help your diver through recovery breathing once they reach the surface.

Negative Pressure Diving: So, just breathe out all my air once I'm 33ft underwater? Sure, sounds great!

Constant Ballast: Reaching the plate at 80ft!

Constant Ballast: Trying to use good technique on the way up. Facing forward, arms up, nice and streamlined.

Constant Ballast: Almost to the surface, it's getting brighter.

Constant Ballast: My deepest dive was 93ft, just short of the plate which was at 100ft. I couldn't quite equalise fast enough to get there - maybe next time!

Mask Face: I'm pretty happy for someone with some serious forehead wrinkles going on.

PFI Course class: My class from the PFI course, from left to right: Kirk (instructor), Me, Ryan, Mandy (instructor), Jill (instructor), Daryl, Patrick.

I'd highly recommend this course to anyone interested in this sport. Mandy and Kirk are world renowned instructors, and they put safety first. I learned so much and had a great time!

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