The Rules Have All Changed! A Scuba Instructor Learns to Teach Freediving

By: Brian Shreve

Rule number one is always hold your breath. Don’t look down when you descend. Don’t look up when you ascend.  What?!!  That’s not how I learned to teach scuba, that’s for certain!  And the breath-hold freediving I taught as a scuba instructor in the past was done as I’d been taught. Hint – not necessarily the way “real” freediving is done.

As an experienced scuba instructor, I’ve ingrained years of habits. For teaching scuba, they were good habits.  For freediving, however, some became personal challenges to overcome.  Then again, I’ve always enjoyed a challenge, so I embarked on the journey to becoming a PFI Freediving Instructor (You can revisit my experiences in becoming a certified freediver here).  Turns out, with just a little practice, new habits can be developed for freediving and teaching freediving.

Step one as a recently certified PFI Intermediate Freediver was to complete the PFI Safety Freediver course.  This can be thought of as the Rescue Diver course of freediving.  The focus of the course is on safety, problem management, and rescue techniques. While focused primarily on acting as a safety diver for deep freedives and competition settings, this course also greatly improves the diver’s skills and confidence when handling issues and problems related to freediving.

Next came the first professional level course – the Freediver Supervisor.  Much like the SDI Divemaster, the PFI Freediver Supervisor focuses on supervision. It trains a Safety Freediver to assist with courses, to lead guided freedive excursions for certified freedivers, and allows a budding professional to play a larger role in competitions.

Up to this point, I was already seeing similarities in the progression of a freediver to a professional, leadership-level freediver to that of a scuba diver to scuba professional.  As my journey progressed into the PFI Freediver Instructor course, I discovered that there are an awful lot of similarities, along with a few very important differences, in teaching these two distinctly different types of diving.  So, here’s what I found.

Similarities

The similarities far outnumber the differences in teaching the two types of diving. In a nutshell:

  • We teach in the classroom, pool, and open water for both
  • We use the same basic format for delivering presentations. This means as scuba professionals, we already know how to teach in these environments.
  • We’re teaching very similar subjects – physics, physiology, dive theory, equipment, etc.
  • Many of the skills we teach are similar between the two disciplines
  • The basic personal equipment is very similar
  • Students are looking for fun, adventure, and experiences – not just a class.
  • Certified assistants can be invaluable to teaching in the pool and open water

Differences

There are some important differences. 

  • While fitness for scuba is certainly important, for freediving it is even more so. You’re going to do a LOT of dives as a freediving instructor since you accompany each student on each dive one at a time.
  • What you teach about the various topics does have a different focus
  • Scuba fins don’t work well for freediving, nor do scuba masks – it’s important for students to have the proper equipment
  • Frenzel is king for equalizing in freediving
  • The open cell wetsuits are harder to get on and off, but definitely worth it.

As a scuba instructor, I was able to skip the PFI Assistant Freediver Instructor course. That program focuses on developing the Freediver Supervisor’s ability to teach in the classroom, pool, and open water. Since the scuba instructor program had already done that, credit was granted for that step. Co-teaching a course with my PFI Instructor Trainer allowed me to see how the course flowed and how different topics were presented.  I’ve got this – But the instructor exam itself turned out to be even more challenging than I anticipated. Accompanying the instructor trainer and student on each dive, briefing, debriefing, and then doing it again with another student just a few minutes later was a bit of a reality check. While I was able to do it, I felt I was approaching the edge of my comfort zone on repetitive 20-meter dives. I was still able to respond to problems, but I quickly realized I was back to being an inexperienced instructor. 

Due to cold weather and the onset of a head cold, I was unable to complete the stress test and had to wait until after quarantine restrictions eased up to try again. Seven months later, I was finally able to try it again and passed with no problems.  Now, I’m looking forward to being able to teach my first course. Until then, I’ll keep on building up my endurance and fitness so I can make it look as easy and graceful as my instructor trainer does!

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2 replies
  1. Tec Clark
    Tec Clark says:

    This sounds like an outstanding area of professional development for scuba instructors. It is always humbling to be a student again, but it is so important to always be learning! Thanks for this article!

    Reply
  2. Dave McKinnon
    Dave McKinnon says:

    As always, understanding how things work and what needs to be done, is better when we listen too, read or hear about personal (real) experience – Thank you (Brian) for sharing

    Reply

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