Novice freediver Vanessa Tai shares four things she learned about the sport
“I’m very uncomfortable,” I mumbled to Bing Alto-LaRocque, my freediving instructor.
It was day one of a two-day course at Freediving Boracay. There I was, bobbing along the Sibuyan Sea, snorkel in hand, and feeling out of my element. Even though I’ve been a scuba diver for many years, being out in the open sea without a buoyancy control device (BCD) and breathing apparatus made me more than a little anxious.
“Remember the breathing exercises we talked about?” Bing asked. In a calm, measured tone, she guided me through long, deep breaths. Within a few breaths, my heart rate had slowed to a steady thrum and any tension I felt in my muscles had dissipated.
With a nod to Bing, I took a deep gulp of air and plummeted myself into the water. The moment my head went under, I was enveloped by the familiar sense of serenity that comes from being underwater.
Aside from discovering that freediving can be challenging but also incredibly fun and therapeutic, here are four other things I learned about the sport.
Being relaxed is key
Being able to relax is integral to enjoying your dive. You need to be completely relaxed in order to use oxygen efficiently, so you can stay underwater longer.
Freediving is safe
Even though freediving is considered an extreme sport, it’s actually pretty safe if you stick to the basic safety rules. These are: never freedive without a buddy; wait at least 12 hours after scuba diving before freediving; and always freedive with a dive flag so you’re easily visible to passing boats. The second day of the course at Freediving Boracay focuses on rescue techniques, which you’ll practice both in the classroom and out at sea.
We’re born to do it
Humans have a built-in Mammalian Dive Reflex, which is a set of reflexes that kick in when your face is cooled (such as by the water during a dive) or when you hold your breath. This is how it works: First, your heart rate slows, then your blood vessels narrow, causing reduced blood flow to your limbs. This ensures oxygen-sensitive organs like your brain and heart continue to receive oxygen. During deep dives, a blood shift also occurs to allow blood plasma and water to pass through organs and circulatory walls to protect your organs from the increase in pressure.
It’s all in the mind
When you’re freediving, it can feel tempting to resurface the moment you feel the urge to breathe. This is because we assume our bodies are low on oxygen. In truth, it’s the concentration of carbon dioxide in our bloodstream that triggers our desire to breathe. Freedivers learn to get used to the sensation of wanting to breathe while continuing to hold their breath. They “sit with the discomfort”. Over time, with proper training and practice, it becomes possible to increase tolerance to rising carbon dioxide levels, which helps extend dive time.
For more information on Freediving Boracay, visit freediveboracay.com or email Bing at firstname.lastname@example.org