A few weeks ago I was chatting with a diver at one of our amazing local dive sites; Bare Island. He had taken an interest in my Freediving kit, obviously, the long fins and smooth skin suit were at odds with his thick drysuit, chunky BCD and massive 15L Steel cylinder.
When I told him I was going for a dive he laughed and said that couldn’t be possible! “That’s just fancy snorkelling!” He shouted as he trundled down the hill towards the entry point. The truth is, for a Master Freediver they may very well be able to dive deeper than he has certified without the need for that all that equipment!
But it leads to this point, where I thought it was worth looking at the differences between the two sports and why there can be some confusion from both divers and non-divers alike. This confusion could lead to serious consequences; as a confident snorkel is NOT the same as a confident freediver. Snorkelling and Freediving are about as comparable as parasailing and skydiving: the former, a leisurely activity that can be enjoyed after a few cocktails by the pool on holiday, the latter, a sport that requires training, concentration, and technique.
As the sport of freediving increases in popularity, the once blurry line between the recreational worlds of snorkelling and freediving is becoming more defined. The two are not one and the same, and that misconception could ultimately cost someone their life.
Snorkelling can be enjoyed by those of all ages, requiring minimal equipment and training in exchange for the incredible chance to gaze into the underwater world. This activity calls for basic knowledge of the importance of buddy pairs, how to respect marine life, and how to evaluate ocean patterns such as tides and waves.
Snorkelling equipment ranges from affordable masks, fins, and snorkels that you can find at Target or Rebel Sport, to more sophisticated equipment manufactured with high quality, long-lasting materials. Buoyancy compensation vests are also optional and can make an uncertain swimmer feel more comfortable in the water. Not all snorkelers necessarily want to become scuba divers or freedivers.
Unlike snorkelling, freediving requires training, both in the classroom and in the water. Sure, anyone can put on a mask and fins and dive down below the surface, but the knowledge of what is happening to your body as you make that move could be the deciding factor between life and death. Students are introduced to the fundamentals of breathing techniques, physiology, and safety in order to be successful once you hit the pool.
Whatever the objective, freediving must be taken seriously and requires training before attempting to dive. The PADI Freediver course is recommended for ages 15 and up, and requires mask, snorkel, fins, and you may also use a wetsuit and weight belt. The risks and hazards are also more serious than snorkelling, and therefore safety is the most important component of a freediving course.
Most divers take a freediving course with the hope that they will extend their bottom time, but they will also gain lifesaving knowledge. Without following the safety protocol, what could have been a simple rescue with the proper training, could escalate into a serious emergency without proper training. Fortunately for freedivers, the rudimentary safety techniques are quite simple and, if followed correctly, educate participants on how to swiftly rescue their buddy in times of trouble.
While the risk is greater in freediving compared to snorkelling, the reward is equally increased. For me, there is no feeling more liberating than immersing yourself in the sea with minimal equipment and exploring the underwater world from a perspective that makes you almost feel a part of the aquatic life surrounding you. Freediving is a challenge certainly, but with the proper training and safety measures, it is an experience like no other.
Freediving is about inward power, discipline and control. If you’ve always wanted to enter the underwater world quietly, on your own terms, staying as long as your breath allows, then freediving is for you. Learning to freedive is a simple process so you should book your freediving course today.