By freedivinguae

Freediving Is the Lung-Crushing, Mind-Altering Path to Inner Peace

How the high-risk, high-reward extreme sport helps conquer your fear of the deep through meditation.

The Guinness World Record for holding one’s breath underwater is 24 minutes and 3 seconds. Most humans, however, can barely make it a minute and a half.

For a diver, the degree of difficulty increases exponentially. Lungs shrink to half their size at a depth of 10 meters (33 feet). After about 30 seconds, blood vessels in the arms and legs constrict, redirecting red blood cells to vital organs, including the heart and brain, part of the “mammalian dive reflex.” After a minute or so, trapped carbon dioxide causes the diaphragm to spasm, signaling the brain to breathe.

Keep going, and eventually the spleen will release stores of red blood cells to keep you alive for a while longer. Below 50 meters, capillaries around the alveoli in the lungs expand to create a cushion to protect the rib cage from collapse as pressure increases on the body. Most people will shortly lose consciousness. If you’re still under­water at that point—watch out.

Freedivers—a slightly mental group of thrill-­seekers who focus on holding their breath while descending into the open sea—have figured out how to stay underwater for 3, 4, or 5 minutes at a time. They say the key to the sport is to relax, that humans can override the urge to breathe underwater by learning to embody the energy that flows throughout the universe. They say you can stay under­water for minutes even after the first contractions of the diaphragm.

Nine meters below the surface of the Red Sea, in my mask, wetsuit, and fins, I’m trying my best to do just that. But my lungs feel squeezed, as if in a vise. My arms and legs turn heavy as the blood vessels constrict. Every few seconds, my diaphragm heaves more intensely as the carbon dioxide increases. My brain feels fuzzy as the pressure in my head builds.

The payoff for this seemingly crazy stunt, I’m told, is a euphoria unlike any other. Freedivers talk among themselves of being addicted to the sport. The body and mind are altered. Surface cares dissolve, replaced by a profound immersion in the present.

It sounded great back on land, in the laid-back Egyptian village of Dahab on the eastern shore of the Sinai Peninsula. My instructor, the world-record-­setting freediver Sara Campbell, teaches Yoga for Freediving, a weeklong course that promises to unlock my potential. Our training begins with yoga and meditation in a sun-­speckled hut at the Coral Coast Hotel, timing our inhale with the mantra ong namo and our exhale to guru dev namo, meaning, “I bow to the divine teacher within.” Campbell tells us that at a certain depth, gravity will pull you down into the dark stillness and squeeze you in a loving hug. “It’s the one you have been waiting for your entire life,” she says.

Underwater, it feels more like strangulation. I’d already gotten tangled in the rope that extends from a buoy at the surface. At a depth of 9 meters, I reach neutral buoyancy—too light to sink, too heavy to rise—and I’m supposed to hang out and chill. But after a minute and 20 seconds, the convulsions are overwhelming. I stare at the white-and-red rope through my mask with only one thought: I have to get to the surface, or I’m going to die. I climb up hand-over-hand toward the light and emerge gasping for air.

In ancient times, people dove to these sorts of depths out of necessity, to harvest shellfish, sponges, and pearls. Only after the mid-1940s did divers start competing to sink deeper. Interest in freediving rose after the 1988 movie The Big Blue, a fictionalized rivalry between two real-life European free­divers. Four years later a group of enthusiasts formed a volunteer governing body—the International Association for the Development of Apnea, or AIDA—to organize competitions and set protocols. Since the ’90s the sport has attracted a dedicated and growing number of divers who want to go underwater as deep, as long, and as far as possible on one breath. Most everyone has a 30-meter dive and a 4-minute breath-hold inside them, says Grant Graves, head of USA Freediving.

Russian freediver Alexey Molchanov set a men’s record for a fin-propelled freedive in October 2016 when he swam down to 129 meters and stayed under for 3 minutes and 50 seconds. “It’s like surrendering to the pressure of the ocean,” he says. “And that brings peace of mind and calmness and acceptance.”

Still, it’s a risky proposition. The enormous water pressure can cause ruptured eardrums and create lung-squeeze, which can result in internal bleeding. The lack of oxygen from an extended breath-hold can lead to blackout, most often just before or after resurfacing. Molchanov’s mother, Natalia, also a champion freediver, drowned after giving a lesson in August 2015 near Ibiza. She was 53.

But fatalities are rare. According to the association, there’s been only one death in an AIDA competition over 25 years and more than 40,000 dives. In the past decade the number of countries that participate in AIDA events has more than doubled, to 35, and more people join each year, says the association spokesman, Denys Rylov, by phone from his native Ukraine.

The most popular competitions are held in places such as Kalamata in Greece, Roatán in Honduras, and what many consider the best location, Dean’s Blue Hole in the Bahamas. Despite little sponsorship or prize money, new contests keep coming. This September, the Authentic Big Blue will be held on Amorgos Island, Greece; another, the Sabang International Freediving Competition & Workshop in Indonesia, begins in November.

What makes Dahab a favorite, especially among Europeans, is convenience. Sharm El Sheikh International Airport is an hour south of the town. Rooms with a sea view can be had for less than $50, and it’s hard to spend more than $25 on a three-course fish dinner. Divers can plop down their gear a few feet from the water at dozens of open-air cafes with big cushions and the occasional stoned waiter. With its azure sea and jagged mountain peaks, the resort can lure visitors who arrive for a week to remain for years.

That’s what happened with Campbell. On vacation from her high-stress life in London almost 13 years ago, she had an epiphany: While on horseback on the shore at sunrise, a voice inside her said, “You’re home.” She returned to England, wound down her public-relations consulting company, and moved to Dahab to teach yoga.

It’s a popular spot for divers because of its storied Blue Hole, a large opening in a reef offshore that drops 91 meters. Locals call it a divers’ cemetery, because scuba divers can get lured in too far. But for freedivers, who descend and rise quickly, the conditions are perfect: The water is deep, clear, and warm, and has very little current.

Campbell took up freediving a year into her new life, and after nine months of training, she broke three world records at the Blue Hole, including diving to 90 meters using a monofin, which looks like a mermaid’s tail.

After Campbell set another record in 2009, with a dive to 96 meters, others began to seek her out as a guru. She credits her success to the relaxation and breathing techniques she learned through yoga and chanting. Campbell began teaching private sessions and weeklong courses, among them Yoga for Freediving, which I joined with four others in May.

In our first session, we practice pulling ourselves headfirst down the rope extended from the buoy, a discipline called free immersion. “Whether you are on the surface or going down, you are letting the ocean move you, and this becomes your first teacher,” Campbell says.

Don’t let the Zen-speak fool you: Freedivers, including Campbell, can be as fixated with numbers as any other extreme sportsmen or women, and quests for personal bests are always right below the surface. “Every time we say we do freediving, that’s the first question,” says Bart Denys, 48, a physiotherapist from Belgium and one of my course mates. “ ‘How deep do you go? How long can you hold your breath?’ I’m more interested in ‘How relaxed are you?’ ”

Kerry Hollowell, 41, a member of the US Freediving team and an emergency medicine doctor in North Carolina, is the most advanced diver in our group. She’s preparing for her goal of an 85-meter monofin dive, 10 meters deeper than her personal best, in the AIDA world championships this summer in Honduras.

Freediving, she says, “helped me find my authentic self. And when I’m in a stressful situation and a patient is dying in front of me, I don’t freak out. There is a bigger energy, a bigger sense of purpose that I have.”

I was curious to see how I’d fare in the undersea world. I’ve been a swimmer most of my life, and in a one-day basic certification before the course, I surprised myself by kicking with fins down to almost 18 meters. So I set a 30-meter target for the course.

After that first panicky day, the revelations come easier. I find I can expand my lungs to a greater degree by breathing into my belly first and then up into my chest. I learn that a hooded wetsuit helps me stay warm and lead weights help me to descend. And I discover the point after neutral buoyancy where gravity takes over and pulls you down in a ­free fall. “Flying in the sea” is how one classmate puts it.

The second day is full of breakthroughs. My dives begin to improve, because I slip down into the water like a seal, going in backward as I pull on the rope, instead of face first. I also learn to crouch and descend slowly, bending my knees to release tension, instead of rushing down.

I dive to 21 meters and stay under for 2 minutes and 26 seconds. But I keep forgetting to equalize on the way down; when my ears ache, I pinch my nose and blow too hard, causing “mask squeeze”—bright red blotches in the whites of my eyes from ruptured blood vessels. After that, I mostly use a nose clip instead of a mask.

After five days of training, I still haven’t reached 30 meters. On the roof of a divers’ hangout overlooking the Blue Hole, Campbell tells us to forget about the numbers—they’re a projection of our ego. “You have to let go of the outcome and be in the present moment, and then what it is you want to achieve comes naturally,” she says. “Just let your inner dolphin out to play.”

The sea that day is unsettled, and I bob on my back as choppy waves splash my face. Hollowell resurfaces after a 70-meter dive, flailing her head and shoulders in a “samba,” the term divers use when lack of oxygen briefly causes a loss of motor control. Campbell and Denys pat her face and call her name, and she’s soon alert, but it’s disconcerting.

I breathe deeply and slip into the silence, reaching along the rope as if raising a flag on a pole. At 20 meters, I find enough air to equalize and continue the free fall headfirst. But the pain in my ears makes me stop again, and in a moment, I decide the number isn’t worth bursting my eardrums. I pull back up from a depth of 26 meters.

Coming out of the water, I tell Campbell I want one more shot the next morning. “It’s not about the number, Patrick,” she says. But of course it is.

On my final dive, the urge to breathe doesn’t hit until after a minute. I welcome the first contractions as I look up at the divers’ dangling flippers, like frog legs at the surface. At a minute and a half, I feel the weight in my chest and arms increasing, but I’m able to shake my hips and relax the back of my knees.

At 2 minutes, I picture my spleen releasing oxygen-filled blood to my core as my arms tingle. I wiggle my neck to release tension and still feel in command. At 2:30, my arms start to quiver, and my head feels lighter, squeezed harder. The contractions are coming faster and stronger.

I pull back up the rope and feel a new reserve of air. My lungs and sinuses enlarge, giving me the sensation of being inflated with pure oxygen. It’s the closest I’ve gotten to that famous euphoria. And I don’t even know how deep I went. I pop up out of the water, catch my breath, and look at my watch: 2 minutes and 57 seconds. A personal best.

A six-day Yoga for Freediving course in Dahab starts at $775 per person. Fly into Sharm El Sheikh International Airport, a one-hour drive away. Standard rooms at the four-star Swiss Inn Resort range from $63 to $81. The Coral Coast Hotel (rooms from $34) is also popular with freedivers and scuba divers.


By freedivinguae

Why Freediving Is My New Favorite Way to Get Active on Vacation

“Learning to freedive takes any limitations we may feel about ourselves and blows them out of the water.”

When you go away for a tropical getaway, there’s no end to the list of ways that you can fit in fun physical activity. You’ve got beach volleyball, snorkeling, kayaking…the list goes on.

At one point or another, I’ve tried them all. Heck, the stand-up paddleboard (SUP) trend even had me doing yoga inversions on a board in the middle of the ocean. (OK, they were pretty horrible inversions, but still, I did them.) And SCUBA diving? I got certified several years back and now make it a priority to go diving each and every time I visit someplace with open water.

But it wasn’t until a recent trip to the Galápagos Islands with Lindblad Expeditions and National Geographic that I considered freediving—a form of deep-water diving where you simply hold your breath. In all honesty, when I first tried freediving, I didn’t even know it had a name. I was snorkeling with an underwater photographer, and when he dove down to get up close and personal with the sea turtles, manta rays, and even sharks that were just 20 or so feet below us, you bet your wetsuit that I was diving down after him to see what there was to see.

By the time I made it back up to the surface, I knew two things for sure. First, that what I just saw was awesome. And second, that I was out of breath and every muscle in my body was exhausted.

Apparently, our bodies are built for freediving and have a handful of mechanisms that kick in to help us do it.

“Humans have evolved to be freedivers,” Emma Farrell, a certified freediving instructor and owner of Go Freediving, tells SELF. “We spent several million years of our evolution living in the shallows, foraging for nutrient-dense food that fueled brain development, and escaping from land-based predators. During this time in the water, we evolved to lose our body hair, gain a layer of subcutaneous fat to keep us warm in the water, and developed the mammalian dive reflex, the physiological changes that occur in the body when we freedive to enable us to dive deeper, safer.”

For one, like seals and other water-loving mammals, humans experience a decrease in heart rate the second we dive into the water, Patrician Alexander, M.Sc., a researcher at Mid Sweden University who has studied the physical effects of freediving, tells SELF. This allows the body to conserve oxygen when it’s scarce. What’s more, blood reroutes away from the arms and legs and toward the heart, lungs, and brain to keep the high-priority organs working at top speed, he says. The blood around the lungs also works to protect the lungs from increasing water pressures as you go deeper and deeper. While most recreational freedivers swim 30 to 55 feet underwater, elites can go as deep as 130 feet (!!!).

And how’s this for trippy: As you descend, your lung volume actually decreases as the air within them compresses. As you swim back up to the surface, they expand back to their previous volume. Changes in air pressure also make your inner ears feel “full,” kind of like when you’re on an airplane, Alexander says.

“Even with basic training, we have a pretty remarkable ability to dive underwater,” he says. After all, we’re built for it.

Freediving is more than just awe-inducing—it’s actually a great way to challenge and tune into your body.

No matter how naturally freediving comes to us homo sapiens, that’s not to say it won’t push you. Swimming in general is a great workout, and when you add the currents that open waters provide, well, you can expect every muscle to be sore the next day. What’s more, if you decide to wear a wetsuit while freediving, which allows you to float at the surface of the water without too much effort (handy if you’re also snorkeling, or just in cold waters!), swimming down to depths will be an act of resistance training.

But perhaps the greatest physical benefit of freediving is that it gets you practicing deep, diaphragmatic breathing. To hold your breath for any length of time, you need to first take a big, deep breath, Farrell explains. That means relaxing the diaphragm to allow the lungs to fill more fully.

Diaphragmatic breathing enables you take in more oxygen, and increases vital capacity, the amount of air that we can take in and expel in a single breath. “This impacts all aspects of life and has huge associated benefits for all other sports,” says Farrell, who has worked with multiple U.K. Olympic ­­­­athletes across a wide range of sports to help increase their lung function and performance.

What’s more, diaphragmatic breathing also calms the body and mind and lowers the heart rate, Farrell says. Recent research in the journal Frontiers in Psychology found that deep, diaphragmatic breathing lowers levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the body to improve mood, and it also improves mental function and your ability to focus.

As far as Alexander is concerned, these mental benefits are what truly sets freediving apart from other water sports. “You become more in-tune with your body and it becomes easier to relax and dive longer,” he says. That way, you can really get the experience of freediving—being just “one of the fish” and hanging out with underwater animals in their natural habitat, with no air tanks or bulky equipment hanging on you or getting in the way. (I love SCUBA diving, but I do hate it when my tank bops me in the back of the head mid-dive!)

To Farrell, this “tuning into your body part” is important for improving confidence and self-esteem. “Learning to freedive takes any limitations we may feel about ourselves and blows them out of the water,” she says. “When you learn to hold your breath and dive to depth, you realize just what you are capable of, and how the barriers we feel are mostly self-created and self-imposed.

Before diving in, always make sure you’re doing it safely.

Like in all sports (especially underwater ones), staying safe when freediving is priority number one. “One of the most crucial considerations is to always dive with a buddy and be watchful of one another,” says Alexander, noting that in rare cases, freedivers can black out from too-low levels of oxygen to the brain. And, just like when snorkeling and SCUBA diving, it’s important to safely manage current, marine life, and boat traffic. Learning to equalize the pressure in the inner ear (again, like on an airplane) is important so that you don’t rupture the ear drum.

These are all things that a qualified freediving school and certified instructors can teach you. “The courses are great first exposure because they allow anyone to get the most out of the experience and in a safe learning environment,” Alexander explains. Check out PADI to learn about courses and find freediving centers wherever your next vacation takes you.


By freedivinguae

Dolphin diet study gives conservation clues

Wild dolphins need up to 33,000 calories a day, researchers have found – equivalent to about 60 portions of salmon.

In contrast, Olympic swimmers – who are smaller and less active – burn about 12,000 calories a day during training.

Studying the metabolic rates of whales and dolphins is important for their conservation, say scientists.

They found that a common bottlenose dolphin needs 10 to 25kg of fish each day to survive in the oceans.

The study was carried out on common bottlenose dolphins living in Sarosota Bay off Florida.

Adult and young dolphins were captured briefly to measure their resting metabolic rate.

This provides an estimate of how much a dolphin needs to eat in a day, said Andreas Fahlman of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the Oceanografic Foundation in Spain.

“We can then add this up for all dolphins and estimate how much fish/prey they need,” he said.

“This may be vitally important when considering managing fisheries and making sure that the quota are not too high so that animals lack food.”

The researchers found that a 200 kg dolphin would burn between 16,500 and 33,000 calories a day, which is lower than expected.

In contrast, an Olympic swimmer carrying out intensive exercise might need around 12,000 calories.

For a dolphin, the amount of energy required depends on whether the animal is resting, sleeping, diving or swimming, as well as the temperature of the ocean.
Health check

Finding out more about the diet and energy requirements of whales and dolphin will help in their conservation, say the researchers.

They measured lung function in wild dolphins for the first time.

“Lung function testing of wild populations in different areas of the world may help us understand respiratory health in wild populations,” said Dr Fahlman.

“We can use this as a health check of various populations and thereby the environment. If the dolphins are sick, there may be problems with the environment.”

The research is published in the journal Royal Society Open Science.


By freedivinguae

Freediving photographer makes unsettling images of polluted seas

When freediver Janeanne Gilchrist noticed an increase in the amount of debris washing up on the shores of her favorite diving spots, she decided to do something about it.
To raise awareness of the problem, she created a collection of breathtaking images, transforming waste into art.
Gilchrist, who dives without breathing equipment off the coast of Scotland, began taking photos of debris in the water over a year ago. Since then she has photographed plastic bags, discarded sous’westers (fishermen’s hats), and entangled fisherman’s rope, all captured in beautiful light.

“I didn’t want to just document a piece of plastic in the water. There is a lot of imagery like that available to people but it doesn’t necessarily make them sit up and take notice,” explains Gilchrist. “The images are made from man-made debris, which shouldn’t be there. It looks ethereal and majestic – but it makes people go wow, that’s amazing, what is it?”
The Edinburgh-based photographer has been taking photographs underwater for over 10 years. In that time she has seen a drastic change.
“Sadly, over this period of time I have seen an increase of debris in the water. This is a large problem and it’s not just off the coast of Scotland. This is a global problem,” says Gilchrist.

Capturing the images was no small feat. Gilchrist, who has been diving for over 15 years, had to retrain herself to photograph underwater. She says that the conditions around Scotland can be very challenging and the currents “are playing with me and the objects the entire time.”
But in the end, Gilchrist stresses, the process is well worth it.
“The images are a one off. I can’t reproduce this work. It’s caught at a moment of time and at a location that you just can’t recreate again,” she says.
Freediving is when divers swim without an air tank or snorkel, holding their breath underwater. Gilchrist prefers this method as it allows her to move more freely
“The work is not for the faint hearted. You’re in cold water, holding your breath and you have to make sure you get the image at the right time,” she explains.
Gilchrist’s main goal with her work is to “evoke emotions and spark imaginations” that inspire conversations about the worldwide problem of pollution and climate change.
“The irony of my work is that I’m using waste that shouldn’t be there,” says Gilchrist. “We all need to come together and figure out a solution. Because by the time this plastic and rubbish gets into the water, the damage is already done.”
An exhibition of Gilchrist’s work, titled “Above, Below, Beyond,” will be shown until March 24, 2018, at the JD Ferguson Gallery in Perth, Scotland.

Source :

By freedivinguae

Dream jobs . . . and how to get them: from finance to free diving instructor

How Mike Board left a finance job in Canary Wharf and became an instructor in Indonesia

I remember sitting on the 10th floor of One Canada Square in London, the rain beating against the window, and thinking, “This isn’t what I want to be doing for the next 10 years”.

I was 38 and working as a consultant in the finance industry. I’d previously been a commando in the Royal Marines and I think that training gives you an amazing sense of belief in what you can achieve. So I left London to work in a bar in the French Alps for a season, then came here to Gili Trawangan, a tiny island just off the coast of Lombok in Indonesia. I faced a lot of questioning when I jacked in the job. But I think in my own mind I knew it wasn’t really a risk — if you work hard, you’ve always got the ability to start anew.

I started free diving by accident. I was working as a scuba instructor, and there would often be times I needed to dive down and do things without any equipment — to free an anchor, say, or to check the current. I really enjoyed the challenge and it became a question of “How deep can I go?” When I started researching techniques for holding my breath online I learnt what I was doing had a name — free diving — and that it was something you could do professionally. I went and did an instructor course in Thailand, and decided to open a school. Over the years I’ve added to it — there’s now a yoga studio and a vegetarian restaurant.

The basic set of skills for free diving really aren’t complex: you hold your breath and you swim underwater. It seems quite challenging because it taps in to one of our most basic fears, going somewhere you can’t breathe — but once you’ve got over that it’s easy. Then all you need to learn is how to swim using oxygen in the most efficient way. Out in the tropics we’ve got perfect conditions. You can learn to free dive to between 10 and 20 metres on a two-day course.

Gili Trawangan is an interesting island. It’s 2km by 3km, with no motorised traffic — we get around by bike or horse and cart. It’s become a bit of a party spot since I moved here eight years ago so we get a lot of gap-year students, but the ones who walk into the free diving shop tend to be the more interesting people.

I think that’s because the challenge of free diving is really internal. When you discover you can go down to 10 metres without panicking you’re so interested in what’s going on inside you that you’re not actually looking at the fish.

Once you’ve mastered the technique you can go out exploring on a breath hold. The waters around Gili are full of tropical fish, turtles and reef sharks, and you can get up close to them because they’re not spooked by the bubbles like they are with a scuba. You’re part of the natural environment.

When I’m not teaching I compete in free diving competitions. I’m 47, and in any other sport I would have stopped years ago, but this has actually been my best year: I dived to 108 meters and was in the world’s top five. By the time you get 100 metres down you’ve got an 11th of the volume of air in your lungs that you had at the surface. Some people talk about feeling a crushing pressure but I’ve always just felt totally absorbed — it’s a sort of meditation.

I think marines tend to go on to do quite odd things, so I don’t think my friends from that time look at me and think I’m doing anything more interesting than the next person. At the end of the day I’m running a business, but I get to do it in a tropical paradise, not sitting at a desk in London.


By freedivinguae

Freediving, a Yacht & The Ionian islands

We have been exploring new locations and discovering site gems for years. I remember diving in Dahab in 1999, and taking my first group there in 2001 – when The Blue Hole was strictly a 4×4 excursion, since then we seem to be bombarded with offers from further and further afield, promising a freediving experience like no other. Then, last year, a small sailing company, dedicated to delivering personal experiences contacted us: I was intrigued to see how much of a true expedition we could find just 3h away from London.

We sailed from the island of Kefalonia, the biggest of the Ionian Islands, as a location I have explored a few times getting tanks for the sled was easy on a stopover in Fiscardo, before checking out “The Cracken” as well as “Seal the Deal”. Two amazing natural surface formations. The Cracken being an invisible (at least up-to 5m away) crack, which effectively separated a huge rock from the mainland – about 30m long and 3m deep. As it twists and turns, the crystal clear water is reminiscent of a ridiculously exotic film location. A simply stunning find for our 1st day!

The Skipper deftly motored/sailed around the islands, sometimes sheltering from winds and high water behind them, sometimes taking us on open water to new unexplored territories. After a brief discussion on the 2nd day that went something like

“we cannot anchor in water deeper than 20m… but we would love to anchor in 80 – 90m”

“OK – we’ll work out a way”: every dive location we could think of was available to us. From the awe-inspiring “Eye of Cyclops” – a huge cave with an entrance (the eye) in the top at 20m and an exit at 30m – to the “Pressure Chamber” a hidden iridescent blue cave filled with air that tests your equalizing by pressurizing every time a swell forces it way in.

On the 3rd afternoon, when all equalization cobwebs had been blown away and the stress of London life was but a passing thought, we came to a secluded beach frequented by only a few ships in the winter as it offered sheltered anchoring and more importantly a makeshift barbecue pit on the beach. The water was insanely flat which allowed us to spot “A ladder which we should avoid tangling our anchor on”. Due to the water being gin clear, we could see that this “ladder” was a strange looking wreck that required further exploration. It turned out to be the wreck of a 40 – 45ft yacht, unmarked on charts or diving maps. The steel frame was in one piece, with the wooden shroud all but completely rotten away leaving an almost perfect freedive wreck sitting at 20 – 25m. After the morning rope session on a deserted island and a few excited dives on our new favorite wreck, we needed to find a port.

After a night dreaming of wreck diving, we came back and as the yacht was expertly moored almost directly above “The Unnamed Wreck”, we set up the sled and started diving. We take our travel sled with us most places we go and have done since the early 2000’s when we invented it. A simple machine that uses the scuba tank as the mainstay, to which the weights and lift bag are connected with climbing slings. The secret of this is the way it falls, as in the tank “wants” to fall at an angle, which means – if you let it – it actually sinks perfectly straight not requiring the rope to guide it at all. Resulting in a freefall Guillaume Nery would be envious of.

Almost immediately we found the sheltered bay had virtually zero current allowing unprecedented ability to arrive directly on the wreck every dive. Some of the guests were at their limit as we touched down but, of course, having had a free ride were able to stay and enjoy the awe-inspiring view for a few seconds before returning ‘a la’ sled.

Marco (my assistant instructor) had recently discovered the joys of photography over spearfishing and was intrigued with the idea of photographing the wreck – while using the sled. A seemingly benign proposition considering he had descended to it at least 10 times during the session under his own propulsion, but the proposition of holding both the sled and the camera whilst equalizing was a step too far. The obvious solution – a camera caddy. Elias obligingly took the job of diving to the wreck with the camera, Mika drove the sled and Marco went along for the ride. SIMPLE. Well – simplish. As we needed 3 safety divers as well, the total of 6 divers that needed to be co-ordinated was a point of mirth – but ultimately successful. A demonstration that we can set our own targets, irrespective of what would be considered a difficult dive by other people. 2hours and 30 dives later we clambered back on board to a delightful veggie/vegan brunch that would make London restauranteurs jealous.

The sled is a reasonably new invention, brought about by Jaques Mayol’s desire to maintain the world record. It’s forerunner, by several hundred years, was the skandolapetra. A tool used by Greek fishermen to harvest the ocean floor long before underwater breathing apparatus. A large stone was held by the diver, attached to a rope that was fed out (and hauled back in) by a partner onboard a boat. The EYSailing guys were very excited about the new skandolapetra they had on board, and we wanted to try this ancient Freediving system out. The principle is simple, jump overboard holding a heavy stone, get pulled back when you’re done. The reality is not quite as simple, especially if you are not able to use a noseclip to equalize as the Ancient Greeks were not. We were, however, able to test the new TiTAN titanium nose clip. After an hour of photo shoots, dives and dubious “pull me back” rope signals we were getting a bit cold and ready for a call into port for an evening on land.

Finding depth is not a problem in the Ionian Islands, more often than not the shores drop off into deep iridescent blue, inviting rope sessions at every location. We resisted the temptation in favor of exploration most afternoons, leaving the AM dives open for rope sessions. This was not the only objective of the trip… a more sinister (some would say sinister, I would say “playful”) objective had been given to us. Mermaid photos. Merfolk would be a better description… either way we had to photograph them!

I had some ideas beyond the basic “Merman on a rock” – which involved the interaction of Merfolk and Freedivers. instantly the complexity of these shots became a problem for us to play with and eventually solve. There’s not a lot more I can say – except: we did it. And had fun doing it.

The final part of the trip involved accessing some caves we had previously explored on Kefalonia. We moored off the coast on the last day before returning to the airport, and jumped on the tender for the short trip to the beach to the bemusement of the locals… a group of freedivers coming off a boat – onshore – to dive? We opted to dive the easier of the caves and attempt to photograph our exploration in 360 panoramas. This required a little invention to float the camera exactly 1/2 way out of the water, to which a chip shop polystyrene tray came into its own! Not very technical, but very effective.

3 of us were returning – excited by the prospect of diving in the most amazing location I have ever dived, 3 of us were apprehensive about the prospect of pitch black cave with vertigo-inducing clear water. It did not disappoint. Awe-inspiring dive, with some photos actually getting close to capturing the assault on our senses. The entrance to the cave a bright blue, mesmerizing arch at one end… its light dwindling as we moved 10m from it, leaving us totally dependant on our torches (no ordinary torches I might add). The darkness always holds secrets and breathtaking expectations, especially when there are several chambers beyond your torchlight. Although the main chamber is 15m deep, it feels like you are always just 2m from the surface throughout each dive, you feel like you can reach out and touch the ceiling. From the surface looking down, your buddies seem to get smaller, without moving away from you… a very disconcerting experience.

I have written about the caves of Kefalonia in the past, and filmed them, and photographed them – but they never lose their awesomeness. The pure feeling of freedom within the seemingly endless caverns is addictive and seductive. On this trip, the 3 newbies were (as expected) in sensory overload, unable to take in all the information resulting in dives where they failed to see the 10ft high stalactites just 5m from the surface. Returning divers always seem to have a calm acceptance of what they are experiencing, and a soft focus on what they want to do/see. This trip was not an exception. It was, however, exceptional.

As we walked along the beach back to the tender we reminisced about the amazing trip we had just experienced. 6 days of exploration, crystal clear water, caves, photography, sled diving, drone flying and good times – not forgetting Mermaids and Mermen.
Facilities Overview

I was pleasantly surprised to find although it was a “small” yacht with only 8 beds, how the set-up maximized space, and we never felt cramped. The showers in the 2 “heads” (ships loos) were awkward but with a hot fresh water shower on the rear of the boat, these hardly seemed necessary.

I can’t speak highly enough of the crew, Elias (Skipper) was insanely knowledgeable and helpful beyond any expectations, Panos (host) became so in tune with our requirements the merest thought of tea or light lunch was enough to bring it into existence. The presence of a vegan, a veggie and recovering caffeine addict was not the slightest problem with them.

They have a standard Freedive Bouy onboard, with enough rope to dive deep. Of course, they stipulate that the depths they offer a group depend entirely on skill levels and qualifications. Oxygen is available on the islands, but again is the responsibility of the group.


By freedivinguae

Facts about Freediving and its amazing records!

Since Dahab is one of the world´s main spots for freediving, almost every day I see freedivers around here practicing their skills (if I actually just look to my right now, I can see three different floating devices around 30-40m offshore). I am totally astonished by their abilities of holding their breath, relaxing to a point where the heart beat slows down to less then ten beats per minute and controlling their mind. I watched dozens of videos and just cannot be anything else than fascinated.

Freediving or Apnea (the Greek word a-pnoia literally means “without breathing”) is based on a subconsciousness reflex (mammalian diving reflex): As soon as cold water encloses our face, the body shifts its bloodstream from the extremities into the brain and heart and slows the heart beat down. The body does so attempting to keep the most vital functions alive and concentrates the flow of oxygen into the heart & brain. This effect has been studied in dolphins, seals and other mammals. The deeper the dive, the stronger it gets. After years of training freedivers are able to calm themselves down using various breathing techniques and achieving a state of general fitness. So freediving is a lot about relaxation and very mental, as one has to learn to deal with the urge to breath to extend the dive.

The history dates back several thousand years. Humans are believed to have been freediving a long time in search for sponges, fish & shells making freediving most probably one the most ancient sports of them all. A great myth tells the story of a sponge diver recovering an anchor of a Italian ship in front of an island in Greece. In 1913 the ship lost its anchor and asked one of the best spongedivers in this area to recover it. This guy was named Chatzistathis or Haggi Statti, was about 1,70m in heights and weighed around 65kg. The legend says he recovered the anchor from 88m depth, holding his breath for about three minutes. He used a primitive technique, Greeks have been using as long as their civilization exists: the so called “Skandalopetra”. A round stone with holes for the fingers, almost used like a steering wheal of a car enabling the driver (or diver) to change directions while diving down headfirst (!). According to the story, he was rewarded a little amount of money and the permission to fish with explosives.


Whether its a myth or not, fact is that nowadays freedivers have gone much deeper than this. From the 1950s on freediver constantly broke their records and achieved greater depths on one single breath. Today there are two major organization, the CMAS (The World Underwater Federation) founded in 1958 and the AIDA (Association Internationale pour le Développement de l’Apnée) founded in 1990. There are many different disciplines within the competitive freedive sport, some of them only recognized by AIDA, others by CMAS and some by both. Here are some examples:

Static Apnea

Usually this discipline is practiced in a pool and aims to hold the breath as long as possible. The current world record recognized by AIDA lies at 11min and 35s, hold by Stéphan Mifsud since 08.06.2009.

Constant weight Apnea

This discipline is about deepdiving. It is not allowed though to drop any weights during the dive and fins (either mono or bi) can be used. The current world record (AIDA) lies at 128m achieved by Alexey Molchanow on the 19.09.2013.

Constant weight Apnea without fins

Basically the same like above just without any use of fins. The current AIDA world record holder William Trubridge achieved an incredible depth of 101m on the 16.12.2010.

Free immersion Apnea

In this discipline divers use a vertical guiderope to pull themselves down and up again without dropping weights during the dive. Again William Trubridge holds the current world record (AIDA) with 121m since the 04.10.2011.

Variable weight Apnea

Divers use a weighted sled to descend and ascend by using fins or pulling themselves up a line. William Trubridge holds the world record (AIDA) of this discipline as well with 145m. He achieved this depth on the 03.09.2013.

No Limits Apnea

This discipline allows all kind of equipment to dive as deep as possible. Usually a weighted sled is used to descend and an inflatable device to ascend again. Herbert Nitsch holds the world record (AIDA) with an incredible 214m since the 14.06.2007.

One doesn´t have to aim that high in order to practice freediving and enjoy it. There a various freedive centers offering training from beginners to more advanced freedivers. The ones I´ve looked into either offer a training by SSI or by AIDA . By being able to hold your breath for as long as possible and equalizing properly to achieve greater depths, people will encounter completely new experiences of diving. Fish and other marine inhabitants are not as disturbed from noise of bubbles and breathing, allowing you to get a much closer look than they most probably would have granted you while scuba diving. Therefore, underwater photographers might want to improve their freediving 😉 Just the other day I had a nice encounter myself: I was practicing a bit and saw some squids below me in around 7 m depths or so. I slowly pulled myself down the rope and gently swam towards then. They are usually very shy but let me get quite close before they opened the line formation only a bit (I don´t know why, but I´ve usually seen them like this) and let me swim through them – Awesome!

People have been freediving and spearfishing for a long time and still today there are many people practicing it (though I do not support this, as I rather see all kinds of fish swimming than on a plate..). I just started recently with some easy exercises here in front of Bannerfish bay and I really love it and hope to be able to do a course soon or at least before I leave beautiful Dahab.. My girlfriend and me had a day with freedive Instructor Brian Crossland almost two months ago now, but this course was rather targeted at improving the breathing in general for scuba diving in order to achieve longer dive times. Nevertheless we gained some very interesting knowledge which I try to apply now.

There are some dangers in freediving, that shouldn´t be forgotten to mention. One doesn´t have to dive 100m deep to encounter them. A shallow water blackout can happen to anyone, whether experienced or not. There is no warning system or whatsoever prior to blacking out. The only warning system we have concern the carbon dioxide level in our blood. CO2 is a waste product of normal breathing, when oxygen is being metabolized. If the concentrations reaches a certain point, we feel the urge to breath. Hyperventilation causes the CO2 level to drop, extending the time until the urge to breath kicks in. It cannot saturate the blood more though, as the normal breathing rate the body dictates already achieves a saturation of oxygen of around 98-99%. Hyperventilation can become dangerous and lead to blackouts as the trigger is not reached before the oxygen level is already very low. The following diagram demonstrates this:

If consciousness is lost, drowning may appear. Therefore it is very important, that you always dive and train with a buddy. If you dive without a buddy, no matter how deep, and a shallow water blackout occurs, you are likely do drown. By now there are thousands of active freedivers around the world, and every year a number of them dies. There are no statistics about this, but most likely a couple of dozens loose their lives while freediving.

Another potential dangers is the squeeze of your eardrums and finally their explosion. The deeper you go, the higher the water pressure gets pushing your eardrums in. There are several equalization techniques, but if you don´t know how to to them, it can get very painful and worst case scenario is that you can lost your ability to hear or suffer from ear problems for the rest of your life. Obviously this danger increases the deeper you go. Beginners are not likely to encounter severe problems (if they don´t push it without proper training).

There are many other dangers concerning freediving, especially the competitive deep diving. If you are interested in knowing more about these, I´d recommend some more reading on this.


By freedivinguae

Scores of Dolphin Deaths Have Scientists Baffled

Though the dolphin die-off has be attributed to a virus, the cause of the disease remains a mystery.

Since late last year, four or five dolphin carcasses have beached in Brazil each day. Scientists have confirmed that a virus is to blame, but the mortalities still have conservationists baffled.

The Associated Press reports more than 130 gray dolphins have washed up in the Bay of Sepetiba, a coastal area about 45 miles west of Rio de Janeiro, since late November. Another 40 dolphin carcasses were found on the neighboring island of Ilha Grande. Combined, that’s more than 20 percent of the area’s known dolphin population, which, at an estimated 800, may be the highest concentration of the species in the world.

Local conservation NGOs like the Boto Cinza Institute and SOS Botos have examined the carcasses’ skin, blood, and bones under the suspicion that a bacterium or virus was to blame. The School of Oceanography at the State University of Rio de Janeiro confirmed that cetacean morbillivirus, which can infect dolphins, porpoises, and whales, killed the marine mammals.

But scientists aren’t sure what caused the outbreak, or how long it might last. They are still trying to determine other reasons for the dolphin die-off.

The virus attacks the animals’ immune systems, resulting in skin lesions, pneumonia, and different types of infections. Boto Cinza Institute chief coordinator Leonardo Flach told StoryTrender in early January that if a pathogen-related disease was diagnosed, 70 to 80 percent of the population could die. Cetacean mirbillivirus can spread between animals through inhalation or contact. Often living in pods of up to 200 individuals, dolphins have close relationships, and a contagious illness could be devastating.


By freedivinguae

Could machine learning save this sea cow?

It’s hard to imagine this adorable sea cow getting caught in a fishing net, or losing its home to coastal development. Unfortunately that’s what’s happening to many populations of large marine mammals around the world. It’s urgent—sea cows are under threat of extinction.

Sea cows might be cute, but it turns out they’re also really hard to keep track of. And keeping accurate data on populations is critical for conservation efforts.

For decades, scientists had to spend days peering out of small planes to count populations, which was expensive and sometimes hazardous. Dr. Amanda Hodgson of Murdoch University has helped to change that, using drones to take aerial photography of the ocean. But now that they can collect aerial photos remotely, there’s a new challenge: how can they find the sea cows in 45,000 photos?

Try it yourself—look for the sea cow in this image, which you can click to get in full resolution:

Can’t find it? Hint: it’s in the middle of the lower-left quarter. Yes, that little gray smaller-than-fingernail-sized sliver. To see where it is, check out the image with the sea cow circled

Now, what if you had to do this manually on tens of thousands of images? It would really slow down research, and it wouldn’t scale to other regions and other species of sea mammals.

So Dr. Hodgson and team decided to apply a little magic: machine learning. She teamed up with Dr. Frederic Maire, a computer scientist at Queensland University of Technology. Using TensorFlow, the free open source machine learning platform that’s now been out for exactly one year, they built a detector that could learn to find sea cows in these photos automatically. (It’s a little like the image recognition that lets you search Google Photos for shots of particular dog species, or sunsets, or whatnot—but much more specialized for this scientific task.)

The results are encouraging: an early version of their detector could find 80% of the sea cows they’d found manually in images, and they expect to improve performance over time. This suggests the approach may scale well—not only for sea cows, but for other sea mammals such as humpback whales and certain dolphins as well. Eventually if they’re able to track these threatened populations on a large scale, conservationists have a much better shot at knowing how they’re impacted by human activities, and where it’s most urgent we protect their habitats. In a small way, machine learning might help save the humble sea cow


By freedivinguae

Whale Allegedly Protects Diver From Shark, But Questions Remain

For 28 years, Nan Hauser has been researching and diving with whales. The biologist is the president and director of the Center for Cetacean Research and Conservation, a group that has researched everything from the population status to feeding behaviors of these animals.

But during a trip to look at whales in the Cook Islands in the South Pacific last September, Hauser says she had an encounter unlike any she had experienced before.

A humpback whale, a marine mammal capable of weighing 40 tons and growing 60 feet long, swam toward Hauser. For ten minutes, it nudged her forward with its closed mouth, tucked her under its pectoral fin, and even maneuvered her out of the water with its back.

At the time, Hauser was frightened by the encounter and unsure of what to do and what the whale was intending.

“I was prepared to lose my life,” she says. “I thought he was going to hit me and break my bones.”

In addition to conducting research, Hauser says she was also in the Cook Islands to work on a nature film, so at the time the whale approached, both she and a fellow diver were armed with cameras. Hauser’s point-of-view footage shows just how persistently the whale nudged her. A second whale can also be seen lurking just behind the first.

When she finally made it out of the water and up onto her boat—bruised and scratched from the barnacles on the whale—Hauser saw a third tail moving from side-to-side.

“I knew that was a tiger shark,” she says.