By Chris Bustad
People frequently ask me why I freedive when I can scuba dive and stay down longer. My interest in freediving started with a need to challenge myself physically and mentally. When I went freediving for the first time, I felt like I wasn’t burdened with extra gear; I could move and play in the water like I wanted to. Fast and agile like the animals around me, I felt more in touch with the environment — I could actually hear the fish and invertebrates.
First and foremost, the best part of freediving is getting even more in touch with the world below the surface. Kirk Krack, founder of Performance Freediving International (PFI), has said, “Scuba is like getting in the RV and driving over the pass, while freediving is putting on a backpack and hiking up the mountain.” And he’s right; when you have all this gear strapped to you, you may see the environment, but you don’t experience it as intimately. Wildlife is much more suspicious of you when you’re blowing bubbles, so animals tends to keep a cautious distance.
I also freedive because while scuba tends to be a leisure activity, freediving requires significant physical fitness. The number of calories you burn while you’re moving anaerobically far surpasses that which you burn when exercising aerobically. That being said, you’re meant to stay as relaxed as possible while freediving.
Also, I like a personal challenge. No matter how good you get at freediving, you can always go after that additional few feet of depth, or five more seconds on your breath-hold. It’s not about a fight between you and the sea — the sea will end up winning that one — but it can be about challenging yourself and your comfort levels. You can push your abilities a little further every year.
When you train to freedive, you learn about what’s going on physiologically inside you. You learn to control your breathing and heart rate. It’s an amazing feeling when you’re at depth and you feel your body make the necessary adaptations to facilitate diving, and your desire to breathe lessens. Knowing how to breath efficiently and how to lower your heart rate, coupled with the physical fitness side of the sport, will help reduce your air consumption when you do throw a tank on your back, and you will be able to stay underwater a little longer.
Another beauty of freediving is that you can do it into your later years. Without having to lug around tanks, regulators, BCDs and additional lead, it’s easier on your body as you age. Not to mention your metabolic rate will slow down as you get older and demand less O2. I frequently see the “old duffers” holding their breath much longer than the young guys in class.
Camaraderie! Most people practice the buddy system when scuba diving, but it’s an absolute must for freediving. I can’t stress this enough. With pony bottles and redundant gear you can get out of mishaps in scuba, but without your buddy in freediving, a mishap often ends tragically. The deep trust you develop with your buddy tends to develop into deep friendship. If you decide to enter into competitive freediving, you’ll see bonds develop very quickly as well. At Deja Blue (a PFI competition), people often refer to all the divers as a tribe. It’s an accurate description — different families (groups) come together to pursue their common interest in freediving. It’s amazing to watch current and former world and national record holders cheer as if a new world record just occurred for someone who just hit his personal best of 20 feet. We all realize that triumph is triumph, and your personal best is a world record for you and worthy of every cheer you get.
A a hot-button topic for some people is spearfishing and collecting. For it or against it, it’s true that holding your breath while going after prey does level the playing field a bit. Some areas will only allow you to spear while freediving.
These are just some of the reasons why I choose to freedive; there are just as many reasons to freedive as there are freedivers. It is a uniquely personal experience that is also shared with the other freedivers around you. If you choose to freedive, your experience will be as individual as you are.