You might think that freedivers are all crazy-eyed daredevils. Doesn’t it take a special kind of adventurer to penetrate the shadowy depths of the sea without oxygen tanks, to hold one’s breath for minutes at a time, many meters beneath the waves and far from air?
You might think that, but you’d be wrong. Talk to members of the growing community of sport freedivers in the Philippines and you’ll find that they’re among the most serene, soft-spoken and steadiest athletes you’ll ever meet. Though freediving is classified as an extreme sport — it’s quite dangerous, there’s no doubt about that — it’s also a sport that requires superhuman calm and incredible inner discipline. It’s a sport that is all about pushing limits, but it’s also about the pursuit of pure experience.
In places like Moalboal in Cebu, Panglao in Bohol and Anilao in Batangas, a growing number of people are getting involved in freediving, seeing it as a novel outdoor sport or simply as an exciting new way to “sightsee”. Either way, it’s perfect for an archipelago like the Philippines, where freedivers are able to swim up close to shoals of sardines (in Moalboal) or train in one of the planet’s most bio-diverse marine areas (Anilao).
Also read: Diving in Malapascua
Viewed from a certain perspective, freediving is an ancient practice. Even before it became a more-or-less organized sport in the 1950s, people across the globe were already practicing one form of freediving or another, whether it was for the purpose of fishing, gathering pearls or simply exploring the undersea realm. Freedivers also like to point out that people live in a watery environment before they’re born.
No gear, no fear
Freedivers require little more than a wetsuit, lead weights and extra-long fins made especially for the sport. Participants in some competitive freediving disciplines don’t even use fins. For beginners, training focuses on safety and breath-holding techniques, first in a pool and then in open water. (Fun fact: It’s actually easier to hold your breath for long periods underwater than it is to do so on land. This is thanks to the mammalian diving reflex, which allows our bodies to adapt to the absence of air underwater.)
Herbert Nitsch is an Austrian freediver who has held world records in all eight freediving disciplines and is known as “the deepest man on earth” (214m on a single breath, in the No Limits division). He regularly visits the Philippines to practice his sport. Nitsch’s close friend Wolfgang Dafert runs Freediving-Philippines and Cyan Adventures in Moalboal, which offer AIDA certification courses and tours. Visit www.freediving-philippines.com for more info.
This article originally appeared in the April 2015 issue of Smile magazine.