By freedivinguae

Free divers have long defied science – and we still don’t really understand how they go so deep

‘Under’, Martina Amati. © Martina Amati

Free divers swim to extreme depths underwater (the current record is 214m) without any breathing apparatus. Champions can hold their breath for extraordinary amounts of time – the record for women is nine minutes, and men 11.

I’m a doctor with a special interest in extreme environments, so was intrigued when I was asked to collaborate in an art project about free diving for the Wellcome Collection’s new exhibition Somewhere in Between. Scientists and those who practise free diving are in many ways utterly alien to one another. When you look at the stresses this sport places on our physiology, it initially looks almost impossible that anyone should be able to dive to such profound depths – and yet they do.

Unsupported, breathing only air, you could just about climb Everest without any additional support other than your protective clothing. That’s 9km or so above sea level. But when you go into the ocean actually things change much more quickly because of the rapid pressure differences.

If you descend only 10m into the ocean, you are subjected to another additional atmosphere of pressure: that’s twice as much pressure as you’ve been used to at the surface. And for every 10m beyond you get another atmosphere of pressure. That starts to manipulate your body, your anatomy and your physiology in quite profound ways, which actually make the endeavour of diving into the deep ocean uniquely difficult. Not only does it compress you and shrink the air-containing spaces in your body, but also it alters your physiology, alters the way the gases act within your blood stream and how they act on everything, including your nervous system.

Somewhere in Between installation shot. © Wellcome Collection

In the very early days of free-diving, physiologists were pretty convinced that people couldn’t go beyond about 30 or 40 metres. They’d drawn their graphs as scientists and they’d worked out what they saw. They worked out what they understood about the human body and the effects of pressure on it and they said: “Well, look, your lungs are going to be crushed and you’re going to be spitting blood by the time you’re at 30 or 40 metres. So there’s no way that you can do this on breath-hold diving. It just can’t be done.”

But of course, free divers decided to do it anyway – and they swam well past those theoretical limits. How? Martina Amati, the free diver and artist involved in the project, tried to explain the mind set that goes with this extreme sport:

There is an element of physicality but it’s mainly mental. That’s what is incredible about free diving. It’s not about your physical ability, but about your mental skills and mental training basically. You need to let go of everything that you know and everything that makes you feel good or bad. And so it’s a very liberating process. But equally you need to stay completely aware of your body and where you are, entirely in the moment.

At a depth of 10m we need more oxygen in our bloodstream than at 100m, because the pressure of the water all around makes the oxygen more potent. So the most tricky part of a deep dive is the last stage of the ascent, when there is the risk of a shallow water black-out as the pressure fades and the oxygen levels in our tissues suddenly drop.

Getting started is hard too. You are buoyant at the surface and for the first few metres of the dive. As you start to descend, the pressure of the water pushes you back towards the surface, until around 13m to 20m deep when the dynamic is reversed. Here, according to Amati:

Your body begins to sink a little bit like a stone. We call this part the free-fall, the moment when freedivers stop moving completely, and the most beautiful part of the dive. When you eventually come back from a dive and you take your first breath, every time it feels like your first breath ever. So for me, it feels like being born again. I think of the water a little like the womb.

Martina Amati swimming back to surfaced. Photograph by Daan Verhoeven. © Martina Amati

As a diver, what you experience is the changing chemistry of your blood stream as the increased pressure allows gases to dissolve more easily and exert their effects more readily. So the nitrogen, the larger amount of nitrogen that dissolves in your blood stream, behaves as a narcotic and actually makes you feel quite drunk and at only 30 or 40 metres. If you dive at those limits, the additional nitrogen can make you feel quite euphoric.

As a free diver, going deeper, you’re just squeezing those last dregs of oxygen out of your blood stream and trying to subsist on much lower levels than any human being normally ever does. And you go into this sort of strange balance between the pressures that exist at depth temporarily helping to support you while your breath-holding is threatening your life. It’s really a very, very precarious balance and it requires you to enact some very weird and very strange and not all that well understood physiological feats just to stay alive. The depth records for human free diving now are quite absurd: not tens but hundreds of metres.

‘Under’ film still. © Martina Amati

People have rough models of how that is achieved. It’s not a total mystery – but clearly there’s more going on than we fully understand. What I found really fascinating working on this project was that the free divers and non-scientists that participate in free diving talk about this sort of quite holistic experience of being at one with the ocean and this great feeling of well-being. To a physiologist, that’s the euphoria of oxygen starvation and hypoxia, which is not great, but for the free divers themselves this is part of the experience. It’s impossible for them to disentangle that from the diving itself.

There’s a grey area between life and death in which there is a chance and things can happen. In medicine we don’t explore this boundary for fun – but people who are involved in endeavours like free diving do it as a pastime.

And so the act of free diving, looked at by two different cultures – the free divers and the scientists – has very little real overlap. One looks on in fascinated horror and the other sort of sees it as a way of life. For me, then, this was much more than just an art-science collaboration. There was a real reason to bring those two spheres together here – each can learn an awful lot from the other.


By freedivinguae

What Is Freediving? Everything You Need To Know

What is Freediving? Is it just to dive without oxygen? Well- in it’s simplest form – yes.

Freediving has exploded in popularity in the last few years. Once only the sport of accomplished divers and photographers, it’s now becoming a sought after hobby within general sports and activity.

In its simplest form, freediving is diving without the assistance of breathing apparatus and without leaving any effect on your surroundings. To accomplish this, freedivers learn breath hold techniques in order to do entire dives on one breath.

If you’ve ever swum underwater while holding your breath for any amount of time, you’ve experienced freediving.

The origins of freediving can be found in Ancient cultures that used to dive for sponges, using weights tied to their body, to reach the body of sea bed. Mentions of sponge by Plato suggest that freediving dates back as early as the Archaic Period.

One of the earliest recorded instances of freediving> is of the Ama pearl divers, found 2,000 years ago in Japan. The divers were almost always female and specialised in freediving 30ft into cold water wearing nothing more than a loincloth.

“The first competitions were the skandalopetra, which was based off the first sponge divers” says Ian Donald of Freedive UK. “They were the first who started competing against each other.”

“Popular freediving as we know it now was really kicked it off by people seeing The Big Blue, a documentary of freedivers doing competiitons.”

“It coincided with the formation of Aida International as an organisation. Before Aidaexisted there was no organised national or international competitions, they were the first ones who started properly tidying the whole thing up.”

Simultaneous dives are very commnon in freediving


While the technique of freediving is the same in any environment, it does not look the same in every case.

There are eleven different freediving disciplines, each practicing the breath hold technique in different environments and circumstances.

During training most freedivers practice static apnea, in which a divers hold their breath in a still position in a swimming pool, while another person times them.

When practiced recreationally, freedives can be anything between deep dives on a line to very shallow dives around reefs and rocks and mid depth dives with sealife and bigger sea mammals.

The freediver returns to the surface from the deep dive in Blue Hole, Dahab. Egypt

Freediving Training

While giving freediving a try looks like a very simple thing that anyone can do, in reality, everyone should have a short course or tutorial before diving on their own.

“It’s one of those thing that’s incredibly easy thing to get into and a very tempting thing to get into it without instruction” says …..

“It’s not like scuba, where you have to have a certificate to hire a tank, so  So the temptation to do it without a course is really strong, if you want to freedive, you should definitely do a course to sty safe.”

The basic techniques that go into freediving are simply the practice of breath hold and building a tolerance to higher levels of carbon dioxide in the body.

A course teaches individuals to understand the bodies reaction to rising carbon dioxide levels, how to hold their breath beyond their usual comfort level and how to come back to the surface and regain normal breathing in a safe way.

Freedivers equalize pressure while moving down

What Gear Do You Need?

At the most basic level, you can freedive or practice breath hold without any specialist equipment, but different conditions require additional pieces of kit.

If you’re diving with Freedive UK, or another school in the UK, you will need a wetsuit as the temperature drops significantly at lower depths and deeper dives in the ocean requires a diver to wear a mask to safely map out their route to the surface.

There are two types of fins used by most freedivers, by fins, one separate fin on each foot and monofins, one large fin that hold both feet, to create a dolphin-like movement.

“By fins are more useful for recreational stuff” says Ian “You can still snorkel with them on the surface, they’re more maneuverable, they’re easy to pack.”

“Mono fins are technically more efficient for doing distance or depth, all of the records have been set with monofins.”

“They have the downside however of being massive and being very difficult to use on the surface and their very tight around the feet.”

Freediving Films

The Big Blue, a film about competitive freedivers, is the most well known film about the sport and inspired many people to give freediving a go.

Many divers point however, towards record holder Guillaume Nery’s videos, for true freediving inspiration.




By freedivinguae

Sea Turtles Getting Life Saving Treatment In North Texas

GRAPEVINE, Texas (CBSDFW.COM) – A new exhibit at Sea Life Aquarium in Grapevine aims to educate the public about the dangers threatening sea turtles as well as nursing sick ones back to good health.

“Pancake,” is the first sea turtle to be brought to the aquarium from South Texas for rehabilitation after having tumors removed.

Pancake the sea turtle (CBS11)

The Sea Turtle Hospital, as it’s called, was built into the exhibit and is visible through a glass window so visitors can see the work that goes into caring for the turtles.

Senior Aquarist Krista Huebner said, “Really the problems that they face are problems that all ocean animals face.”

She said the sea turtles are susceptible to environmental dangers and those created by humans.

“Any chance that we can give them to fight to live, to reproduce is great for the entire species,” said Huebner.

By freedivinguae

Record-breaking free-diver leads guests on ocean adventures

When Ms Hanli Prinsloo started diving 18 years ago, she was not interested in competitions, yet she went on to smash 11 national recordsin her home country of South Africa.

It was the experience of being underwater that got her hooked.

In 2012, the free-diver stopped competing to focus on teaching her craft to the world.

Ultimately, Ms Prinsloo’s life mission is to save oceans – she founded the non-profit I Am Water Ocean Conservation in 2010 – and free-diving is her tool to spread the message.

Ms Prinsloo, 39, previously collaborated with travel companies such as Extraordinary Journeys from the US and Steppes Travel from Britain.

For the first time, she is focusing her work in South-east Asia. Teaming up with luxury tour operator Jacada Travel – which is headquartered in London – on its new Departures To The Last Wilderness journeys, she hopes to get more travellers involved in ocean conservation.

By freedivinguae

Free diver urges Hong Kong to rethink shark fin soup to give hope to the oceans

Free diver Hanli Prinsloo holds her breath for several minutes at a time as she plunges into the deep blue sea. It may sound terrifying, but what distresses her more is the way Hong Kong consumes seafood.

The South African visited Hong Kong to display ocean photos in “The Last Wilderness” exhibition.

“I meet so many people who love our photographs and the stories we’re telling,” she said. “But it breaks my heart to know just downstairs from the hotel I’m staying in there are restaurants serving shark fin soup.”

Over the course of her free-diving career she has seen the ocean change.

Hanli Prinsloo feels a sense of freedom when she dives. Photo: The Last Wilderness

“In Hong Kong and into mainland China, an understanding of how we consume seafood can really influence the well being of our ocean,” Prinsloo said. “There are many places where I’ve seen the disappearance of sharks and I can see the devastation it can cause to the reef.”

It is not just Hong Kong, though, as she has seen bleached coral, plastic-strewn beaches that were once pristine, dolphins playing with plastic bags where they once played with puffer fish and over fishing devastating ecosystems all over the world.

Free diver Hanli Prinsloo at the opening of The Last Wilderness exhibition. Photo: The Last Wilderness

“It’s heartbreaking to see a place you’ve explored and loved for so long being destroyed because of our actions and because we haven’t thought about what our actions can do,” she said. “ But I believe in sharing a hopeful message – if we give up hope the ocean is hopeless.”

The photo exhibition, which is by former swimmer Peter Marshall, who held eight backstroke world records during his career, and features Prinsloo, is showing at 29th floor Wyndham Place on Wyndham Street until August 18.

Prinsloo’s path to free diving was not an obvious one, as it is for many who take up the sport after growing up on the shore or on islands.

When sharks disappear it can devastate ecosystems. Photo: Brian Skerry/Photographers Against Wildlife Crime/Wildscreen

She grew up on an inland farm near Johannesburg where her father raised horses. It was not until she moved to Sweden in the 1990s that she found a free-diving coach.

“The first time I free dived was in a fjord, in dark water, my wetsuit didn’t fit and my mask was fogged up but it felt like coming home,” Prinsloo said. “It was the freedom I’ve always been looking for, that total immersion and being part of nature.”

Since then, Prinsloo went on to break a number of South African free diving records and became the first South African to hold records in all competitive free-diving disciplines – such as diving to 126 metres with no fins, a dive known as dynamic apnoea.

Hanli Prinsloo descends into a school of fish. Photo: The Last Wilderness

“Free diving is a mental sport,” she said. “Mental prep is around being incredibly calm and centred. When I was competing for really deep dives, it wasn’t just in a couple of hours leading up. It was days leading up of calming down and almost being simplistic.”

“The breath really helps you connect with the mental side of the body. It becomes an anchor.”

She has gone on to set up I am Water travel and I am Water conservation, aimed at promoting sustainable habits for ocean conservation while giving people the chance to travel and interact with nature.

“Free diving is such an inclusive practise,” Prinsloo said. “You don’t need any equipment but because of the risks involved make sure you start with a teacher.


By freedivinguae

vacationer rescued ‘Jack’ the sea turtle from ‘death’s door’

Clinton Deane just might have saved Jack the sea turtle’s life.

While swimming in the ocean with his kids between 65th Avenue North Friday afternoon, the vacationing Maryland resident noticed a large Loggerhead Sea Turtle floundering as it struggled through the waves.

Believing that the turtle likely wasn’t going to survive the situation, Deane ushered it to shore, where Myrtle Beach fire and police watched over it until members of the South Carolina United Sea Turtle Enthusiasts arrived to take it Charleston.

“It wasn’t going to make it out there, so hopefully it will make it here,” said Deane, whose daughter named the turtle “Jack” following the rescue.


By freedivinguae

This Whale Tail Took Grand Prize in the Photo Contest

Until last year, photographer Reiko Takahashi was working as a semiconductor engineer, escaping the office a few times a year to pursue her longtime passion for marine life, diving, and underwater photography. Then, in early 2018, a last minute trip to snorkel off the coast of Kumejima Island near Okinawa, Japan, brought the photographer face-to-face with humpback whales for the first time, where she unwittingly captured the image that won grand prize in the 2018 National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year contest.

“I was really longing to see the bond between a humpback whale and her calf,” Takahashi recalls. Fascinated by the close relationship between whales and their young—and the time they spend together at the beginning of life—Takahaski committed herself to researching the animals. Though she photographed many types of marine life—sharks, manta rays, jackfish, and more—she had yet to swim with humpback whales, a species she longed to see in person. “I became crazy about whales,” she admits.


By freedivinguae

Secret to whale shark hotspots

A study has uncovered the secret to why endangered whale sharks gather on mass at just a handful of locations around the world.

The new insights into the habits of the world’s largest fish will help inform conservation efforts for this mysterious species, say the researchers.

Large groups of whale sharks congregate at only around 20 locations off the coasts of countries including Australia, Belize, the Maldives and Mexico. Why the sharks, which can reach more than 60 feet in length, choose these specific locations has long perplexed researchers and conservationists.

The new study, by researchers at the University of York in collaboration with the Maldives Whale Shark Research Programme (MWSRP), has found that the shark “aggregation sites” show many common characteristics — they are all in areas of warm, shallow water in close proximity to a sharp sea-floor drop off into deep water.

The researchers suggest that these sites provide the ideal setting for the filter-feeding sharks to search for food in both deep water and the warm shallows, where they can bask near the surface and warm up their huge bodies.

Supervising author of the study, Dr Bryce Stewart from the Environment Department at the University of York, said: “Sharks are ectotherms, which means they depend on external sources of body heat. Because they may dive down to feed at depths of more than 1,900 metres, where the water temperature can be as cold as 4 degrees, they need somewhere close by to rest and get their body temperature back up.

“Steep slopes in the sea bed also cause an upwelling of sea currents that stimulate plankton and small crustaceans such as krill that the whale sharks feed on.”

However, these perfectly contoured locations are not without their drawbacks due to human activity. Sharks swimming in shallow waters close to the surface are vulnerable to boat strikes caused by vessels ranging from large ships to tourist boats hoping to spot them.

Lead author of the paper Joshua Copping, who carried out the research while studying for a masters in Marine Environmental Management at the University of York, and is now working on a PhD at the University of Salford, said: “Individual whale sharks can be identified by their unique pattern of spots and stripes which allows researchers to follow specific sharks that visit these aggregation sites. That means we have a good idea of the rate and extent of injuries at each of these locations and sadly it’s generally quite high.”

Boat strikes, along with accidental trapping in fishing nets, and the targeted hunting of the species for their fins and meat, have contributed to an alarming decrease in global whale shark numbers in the past 75 years.

By highlighting what makes these areas important to the whale shark, the researchers hope this study will also highlight the importance of managing these areas carefully in order to minimise human impact on the shark’s habitat and behaviour.

Dr Stewart added: “The more we know about the biology of whale sharks the more we can protect them and this research may help us to predict where whale sharks might move to as our climate changes.

“Not only do we have an ethical responsibility to conserve this miraculous animal for future generations, but they are also extremely valuable to local people on the coastlines where they gather, which are often in developing countries. While a whale shark can be worth as much as $250,000 USD dead, alive it can provide more than $2 Million USD over the course of its life span.”

Co-author James Hancock from MWSRP added; “Whale sharks can travel huge distances around the globe and the existence of such a small number of known aggregation sites suggested there had to be something about the depth and shape of the underwater terrain in these areas that makes them appealing.

“It’s very exciting to have narrowed down some of the key reasons why whale sharks choose these specific areas. However, the main focus of this research was on costal aggregations which are largely made up of young sharks — exactly where the rest of the demographic hang out is still unclear.”


By freedivinguae

100 Women: ‘You are truly free while freediving’

Freediving can be a dangerous sport – descending to extreme depths and holding your breath until you resurface.

Yet, according to Egypt’s record-breaking freediver Raghda Ezzeldin, as soon as you go underwater, “you forget about everything”.

Raghda and Aliaa Hassan, who in 2014 became the first Arab woman to compete and break records, explain why free diving is their passion.

Video Journalist: Sara Abou Bakr.


By freedivinguae

Freediving off Hawaii’s big island

Two minutes and 12 seconds.

That’s how long my spearfishing partner had been underwater on one breath. I last saw him descending past 100 feet, toward the 125-foot bottom. I floated on the surface, ostensibly as his safety diver, more realistically just praying that he would ascend out of the abyss. Soon. With each passing second a new and more terrifying scenario ran through my mind. Maybe he shot a fish and got tangled in the reef. Did he pass out on the bottom? What about that shark we saw?

Then, just as I was about to do … something … I caught a glimpse of him rocketing up from the depths. I swam over to meet him as his head burst above the waves. I was relieved he was OK.

Right up until his eyes rolled back in his head and he sank below the surface, dropping his gun.

I grabbed him and pulled his head back above water.

“Kyle! Kyle!” I yelled. His eyes opened and he took a breath.

“I’m good,” he said. But he wasn’t. His lips were blue, he was disoriented and weak. Kyle had experienced a shallow-water blackout. Essentially, he had fainted from hypoxia. On land, you might fall and bump your head. In the ocean, without help, you sink and die. While statistics are elusive since most deaths occur alone, it’s said that shallow-water blackout accounts for more than 99 percent of freediving deaths. Sharks, boat accidents – nothing else comes close.

It’s tragic because it’s so preventable. Just. Don’t. Be. Stupid.

Soon after watching my friend almost die – motivation I would not recommend – I did an uncharacteristically smart thing: I boarded a plane to freediving’s mecca, the west coast of Hawaii’s Big Island, to take a Freediving Instructors International level-one class, a course designed to make a very dangerous sport safe, or at least safer.


I met my FII instructor, Cory Fults, shortly after I landed. A 24-year-old underwater photographer with male supermodel looks and the modesty of a guy who genuinely doesn’t know he looks like a supermodel, Fults — who grew up in Newport Beach before moving to Hawaii to pursue the sport — spends four to six hours in the ocean every day.

Like many other world-class freedivers, Fults moved to Kailua-Kona for the ocean conditions. Because the island is the youngest in the chain, it hasn’t had time to build up many sandy beaches or mature coral reefs. This means the water is very clear and very deep mere yards from shore.

“Plus, the island is so large that it blocks the trade winds, so ocean conditions are smooth and perfect most days of the year,” Fults tells me.

Then there is the abundant sea life; Kona has long been fabled for its world-class sportfishing. So, whether you’re a spearfisherman or just want to swim with large ocean animals like dolphins, whales and sharks, Kona is the place. Most people take up freediving for one of those two reasons, many defecting from scuba: You’re not getting near dolphins or gamefish sounding like a bubble-blowing Darth Vader.

It might seem that freediving is so dangerous because we air-breathing, finless humans are ill-equipped for the ocean. You’d be wrong, says Fults. Freediving is dangerous because most humans are idiots (I’m paraphrasing). One, we do really stupid things like diving alone and pushing our limits. Two, we don’t properly use our natural gifts.

In fact, humans have been freediving since long before the advent of $700 wetsuits and custom-made monofins. There’s evidence of freediving activity dating back 4,500 years, and Greek historians write of freedivers recovering treasure and sneaking behind enemy lines.

The point, says Fults, is that the best equipment humans have for freediving is their own physiology, specifically something called the mammalian diving reflex: When our face is submerged in water, our heart rates slow, blood is diverted from the extremities to our vital organs, and blood vessels constrict. This allows us to dive longer and more safely. It’s how world-record holder Herbert Nitsch was able to dive to 831 feet on a single breath.

“We’re not as good at it as whales or dolphins, but we’re pretty good,” says Fults.

The better part of the next two days are dedicated to attaining and retaining this state, along with learning how to make freediving as safe as possible. That is why world-record freediver and Kona resident Martin Stepanek founded FII. He saw too many needless deaths and contends that when done with proper training, knowledge and safety precautions, freediving can be as safe as surfing, sailing or soccer. I tell Fults that I have received stitches in all three of those endeavors.

There’s an awkward silence. We move on.

After working on diaphragmatic breathing to slow my heart and calm my mind, the proper technique for breaking the surface and a dozen other things I’ve developed horrible habits for, I’m ready (very relative term) to hit the ocean for some line diving – literally diving down and up a line.

We travel a few miles down the coast to Honaunau Bay, a bite out of the coast that’s a favorite among freedivers. So frequented is Honaunau by freedivers, there are three permanent mooring lines at various depths. We swim the 75 yards out to the first one, in 160 feet of water, to tie off our float, then drop a weighted line to 80 feet. The short swim takes a while, though, since we run into dolphins and I spend many awe-inspiring moments diving and swimming with them. The dolphins do laps in the bay, making them easy to get near.

Fults says this has become a problem because they use the bay to sleep, which means turning off half their brain while leaving on the other half to identify predators. The contrast created by the sandy bottom of the bay, one of few on the island, makes it easy for them to spot predators. It also means that tour boats and bozos like me can easily find them for GoPro selfies, disturbing their rest.

“If they can’t rest, it makes them less successful hunters, which could lead to survival issues,” says Fults.

Way to kill a dolphin buzz, bro.

At the line, Fults tells me to remove my mask but keep my snorkel in my mouth, and submerge my face for five minutes while practicing relaxed breathing from my diaphragm. This will trigger the mammalian diving reflex.

After that, I’ll perform a few 33-foot warmup dives. When I freedive at home, my first half-dozen dives are usually deeper than they are long — 24 seconds at 30 feet, etc. — so I know it’s going to take more than two of these to get warmed up. Still, I breathe, descend, wait, return to the surface and flash Fults the OK sign.

I look at my watch. One minute, 21 seconds. Whaaaaat? “That felt like 20 seconds,” I almost scream.

Fults just grins. He’s used to this reaction. “The mammalian reflex, bro. It’s no joke.”

Fults teaches me other ways not to “be an idiot and die.” For instance, he explains that it’s not our lack of oxygen that triggers our urge to breath but a buildup of carbon dioxide. That’s why hyperventilation, which decreases the natural level of CO2, is so dangerous. Sure, you’ll stay underwater longer, but it can delay the urge to breathe until your oxygen level is below the level you need for consciousness. Hello shallow-water blackout, or worse.

You may ask, as I did, “What’s worse than passing out in the ocean with a bunch of weights strapped to your waist?”

“A samba is worse,” says Fults, explaining that’s the nickname for loss of motor control. “Picture a seizure, in the ocean.”

During a blackout, he tells me, your brain does a pretty smart thing: It closes your windpipe so no water can enter. So, until you take your last desperate “terminal breath,” your body prevents water from entering your lungs. But during a samba, that doesn’t happen, and since you can’t control your limbs, you sink, breathe and drown. “It’s another reason that the first rule of freediving is always dive with a partner,” says Fults, for like the 186th time in three days.

In the next 30 minutes I easily hit 66 feet and want to go deeper. But in level one, Fults can’t let me. Safety strikes again.

Two freedivers train by diving down and up a line. Cory Fults, who has descended to 220 feet on a single breath, says training with a partner is essential.


Pulling myself up and down on a line is great and all, but it can get a bit repetitive, so Fults lands me a spot on Wild Hawaii Ocean Adventures’ Snorkeling & Marine Life Experience. WHOA is owned and operated by former Army Ranger and freediving world-record holder Brett LeMaster, who launched WHOA in 2011 with his former Navy SEAL attack boat, Ocean Warrior. I ask him how he got a military attack boat. “To get this boat you have to kill five terrorists, the last one with your bare hands,” he says. A moment later, he cracks a smile. “I bought it from a friend.”

Dubbed the Rolls-Royce of Navy SEAL attack boats, LeMaster’s 11-meter rigid-inflatable boat is built for speed and maneuverability; it can reach 50 miles per hour and turn or stop on a white cap.

LeMaster uses these features to hunt large open-ocean animals — everything from dolphins and pilot whales to false killer whales and large sharks — so guests can swim with them. His is the only tour on the island that does this, so I ask him how he gets away with it when others can’t.

“We ignore our insurance policy.”

About 30 minutes later, that phrase runs through my mind as we slide overboard about a mile offshore in thousands of feet of electric blue water and immediately see two very large oceanic whitetip sharks, a species known to be aggressive. I did my best to get my mammalian reflex to kick in and slow my heart — not easy when a 10-foot shark is deciding whether you are food. But really, it’s an experience like no other. LeMaster limits his tours to eight people, with two in the water at a time, so animals don’t spook and encounters are as natural, and as close, as possible.

In the next hour we swim with (awake) dolphins, short-finned pilot whales – “The males can get protective, so stay alert,” says Fults – and finally move into Kealakekua Bay for a reef snorkel.

On the boat ride in, everyone smiling and calm after their ocean encounter, LeMaster decides it’s a good time for some “speed work” to show just what an ex-Navy SEAL attack boat can do. LeMaster makes the “grippy grippy” sign (a clenched fist in the air) and puts the hammer down on the 940-hp jet engines below our feet. The SEAL boat leaps into action as if armed combatants have just invaded Kona. LeMaster steers directly — directly — at the cliffs in a move that I’m certain is expressly forbidden by his insurance policy. We close on the cliffs, each of our fun, excited, wow-this-thing-is-fast Disneyland grips rapidly turning to this-maniac-is-trying-to-kill-us death grips.

About the time we are all thinking, “Do I have time to abandon ship before we smash into that cliff face?” LeMaster throws the helm to port and we seemingly bank off the cliff at 50 mph, close enough to see crabs fleeing into cracks.

LeMaster looks back and smiles – or checks to see whether we’re still there. I’m not quite sure which. I do see why LeMaster does this on the way in, however – my heart rate won’t be under 100 until Christmas, and if I got in the ocean right now I’d have a breath hold of two seconds. LeMaster performs a few more of his “speed work” maneuvers while Fults tells us about the history of the cliff faces we nearly smash into (Honestly, Cory, no one is listening).

Soon we are back at the harbor and LeMaster has skirted another massive wrongful death suit, given seven visitors a lifetime of cocktail chatter and helped convince me that, relatively speaking, maybe freediving isn’t so dangerous after all.

Mission accomplished?