Scuba Divers Learning to Freedive: Three Different Perspectives

A New Scuba Diver 

Hi, my name is Jessica Brown. This time last year I was sitting in my Open Water Scuba Diver Certification class. I caught the diving bug and dove every weekend after that and eventually through hard work made my way to become an SDI Master Diver. 

Any time I go onto social media, I see pictures or videos of freediving. Even as a scuba diver, I saw freediving as an almost magical sport. These people were diving into depths that seemed impossible on a single breath of air. They were able to get closer to marine life without the marine life bolting away. I had to try this sport! 

So many thoughts come to mind when I try to explain the class: amazing, challenging, and beautiful are the top choices. The eLearning and class sessions were well-detailed to the point that I was able to apply some of the information to everyday scuba diving in general (not the holding your breath part!). The truly amazing part of the course started in the pool with static holds. Hold my breath for a minute? Sure okay, two minutes? Ummm… maybe? Three minutes??? Yeah okay, that’s not possible… But I did it. At that moment, something clicked. My mental and physical barriers had just shattered. If I can push my body past that limit, what else can I do? 

For the open water session, we went to a spring in Florida. Almost as soon as we were set up to get started, a manatee swam up to us. I cannot begin to tell you how absolutely amazing this experience was. Not only was I proving my mental and physical barriers can be pushed, but I also got to see this majestic creature in the wild. The manatee was curious about all of us, he would swim up to us and look us in the eye and watched us dive. Freediving has allowed me to interact with marine life in the wild which has always been something that I wanted to do. It’s one thing to go to an aquarium, it’s a whole new world to get to see beautiful marine life in the wild. I was not even done with the course and I was already experiencing a life goal.

After the day of diving, we stopped for dinner and sat at a table that had a painting with a quote. The quote is everything that I experienced that day: “Oh to slip beneath the surface and soar along the silent bottom of the sea agile and shining in water honeycombed with light” (Ellen Melay). Freediving provides this moment that scuba diving: a peacefulness that is beyond any other. 

Scuba diving has opened so many doors for me, but freediving does the same while challenging me mentally and physically. I would not recommend freediving without certification or without a trained buddy, as it can hold more risk than scuba diving. I look forward to all the challenges that freediving will bring.

An Experienced Scuba Instructor

My name is Brian Shreve and I am an experienced scuba instructor. I teach rebreathers, I teach cave diving, and I’ve taught a ton of open water courses.  I also enjoy learning and strive to learn something new every year. But, I’m reaching a point in scuba diving that there’s not a lot of “new” to learn.  Enter freediving.

Last year, Performance Freediving International joined the International Training family (click here for more on that). At first, I wasn’t that interested. Been there and done that – early on in my instructor career with another agency, I used to teach breath-hold skin diving in the pool. I could do a 2-minute breath-hold. Couldn’t be much more, right? Wrong.

I was blown away with how much I learned in the PFI Freediver course. Not just about freediving, but also about myself.  The course challenged me in ways I hadn’t been challenged since my first doubles course or my first rebreather course as a diver, and in ways I’d not been challenged before. So much of the activity is mental that freediving brings in a whole host of personal challenges and when met, a whole string of new personal bests.  Each one of those as rewarding as the last.

Just like diving, much of the course is focused on safety and problem-solving. One of the things that separates PFI from many other freediving agencies is the focus on safety. The risks associated with freediving and how those risks are managed were an eye-opener from the perspective of a scuba instructor. The rescue techniques were also somewhat different, yet similar.

Classroom sessions followed by confined water and then open water made a comfortable, familiar progression. But rule number one is always hold your breath? And tuck your chin, don’t look down at the bottom/at the plate or up at the surface? Thousands of scuba dives have ingrained habits that had to be overcome to make proper freedivers with a clean entry and good form. But it was worth it. 

By the end of the course, I had maxed out the allowed static apnea time of four minutes and had maxed out the allowed maximum depth of 20 meters.  I had gone deeper on a single breath in the PFI Freediver course than I had gone during my open water scuba course. And the feeling of accomplishment it gave me was unparalleled. So much so, that I went on to take the PFI Intermediate Freediver course, the Safety Freediver course, the Freediver Supervisor course, and now hold the level of Assistant Freediver Instructor. I am one challenging skill away from teaching new PFI Freedivers myself.

Oh, yeah, and the manatees were super cool too!

A Freediver Instructor 

I’m Chris Bustad, an instructor for Performance Freediving International.  I’ve had several hundred freediver students on my line over the years.  Looking at the people who have taken my courses, I would say roughly one third are interested in freediving and haven’t taken a scuba course, one third are scuba certified and will continue to dive on scuba but want another tool in the box, and the final third are scuba divers who don’t want to put tanks on anymore.  Jessica and Brian both fell into the middle third.

Even with their experience levels so different, the challenges they met were roughly the same, just at different points into the static or the dive.  They both had to get rid of the chattering monkeys on their shoulders telling them they need to come up to breathe.  I tell my students frequently, never say your personal best is “only” anything.  Your personal best is your world record, you are battling the same demons that those that go deeper or stay longer are going through or have been through.  Any personal best is worthy of some pride.

What made them both successful students was their willingness to listen to what I said, and trust in the methods.  Trust in the techniques, the depth and time will come!  Trust in your trained buddy that is safetying you and the depth and time will come more easily.

For me, there is always great satisfaction when I get to watch students push themselves beyond what they thought possible.  That’s why I keep doing this.  And for the manatees. Always for the manatees.

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