Underwater activities that challenge the ability to hold a breath until resurfacing is called freediving or ‘apnea’, and people have been freediving for thousands of years to hunt and gather food, harvest sponges and pearls, search for sunken treasure and assist navies in battles at sea.

Today, there are recreational freediving activities to enjoy — snorkeling, spearfishing, and underwater photography as well as competitions, including competitive apnea disciplines, underwater rugby, underwater hockey, underwater target shooting, competitive spearfishing, and synchronized swimming.

In “competitive apnea” disciplines of freediving, athletes attempt to attain great depths, times, or distances in a single breath.  Competitions are governed by two international organizations: the International Association for Development of Apnea (AIDA International) and the CMAS (Confédération Mondiale des Activités Subaquatiques – World Underwater Federation), each with separate rules governing the recognition of world records in the competitive apnea disciplines. There are also ‘record disciplines’ that are free dives not held in competition, but performed strictly for the purpose of setting world records, and the Guinness World Records along with AIDA and CMAS preside over the record attempts.

About Freediving – history, competition, physiology, recreational, education, CMAS website
What is Freediving? – introduction, education, sport, AIDA International website
8 Tips For Beginner Freedivers by Emily Bates, PADI (March 20, 2017)


In Lignano Sabbiadoro (Ud), Italy, 24 nations across Africa, South America, Asia and Europewill competed in 7 scheduled competitive freediving disciplines at the 2018 CMAS Apnea Indoor World Championship.  If you missed the live stream broadcast, there’s still time to watch video recordings of competition.  Just click/tap the “Watch Again” button or select from the video posts located on the media player below ↓

June 13 – Dynamic Apnea without Fins (DNF) Maximum distance underwater, in a pool, no swimming aids such as fins are permitted.

June14 – Static Apnea (STA) Timed breathhold endurance while floating on the surface or standing on the bottom.
8×50m Endurance Apnea

June 15 – 100m Speed Apnea
Dynamic Apnea with Bi-Fins (DYN BF) Maximum horizontal distance on one breath in a pool. Only bi-fins are permitted.

June 16 – 16×50m Endurance Apnea
Dynamic Apnea with Monofin (DYN) Maximum horizontal distance on one breath in a pool. Monofins only are permitted.


OK, now try a simple breath-holding test on dry land.  You’ll need something to measure the time —Use the stop-watch on your smart phone or sit next to a clock with a second hand.  Take a deep breath, hold, and watch the clock.  How long could you hold your breath?  Most of us struggle to hold a breath for more than a minute.  By comparison, the AIDA International-recognized world record for Static Apnea (breath-hold endurance while floating on the surface or standing on the bottom) is an astonishing 11 minutes, 35 seconds by French free diver, Stéphane Mifsud.

Breath-holding ability is really just a function of oxygen stores in blood & muscle, efficient oxygen utilization, metabolic rate reduction, and hypoxia (oxygen deficiency) tolerance.  Most freedivers train to increase lung capacity in order to improve breath-holding efficiencies, and it takes practice and good technique to be able to control and relax the body for a freedive.

What motivates a freediver to push the limits for world records, and how do they do it?  Watch these three videos, and you’ll learn at least a few of the answers as three very different freedivers tell their stories.


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Feature photo of monofin freediver by Jean-Marc Kuffer CC BY 3.0

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Posted by Zola Zeester

Zola is a vagabond playmaker, the On2In2™ recreation guru and primary source of inspiration for this article. Currently resides at Zeester Media HQ.

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