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.
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.
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.
What motivates a freediver to push the limits for world records, and how do they do it? Watch these videos, and you’ll learn about the demands and motivations of the sport as three very different freedivers tell their stories.
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)
The 4 Best Groups and Forums for Freedivers by Sarah Russell, PADI (April 5, 2019)
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Feature photo ‘One Breath’, courtesy of Marco Assmann/Unsplash CC0