The Benefits of Learning to Freedive for Scuba Divers
Updated: Apr 6, 2020
There’s something to be said about the unencumbered freedom of relying on your own skill and much less equipment. As Freedivers we must be in good physical condition as well as practice correct form. While in a SCUBA course much of the education is tailored to equipment handling, a freediving course will focus on handling yourself and making the most of what your body can do. You might be surprised at the improvements you can make! People of all ages and skill sets can learn, improve, and benefit. Here's how learning to freedive will benefit your scuba diving.
Freediving techniques and gear benefit scuba divers
Freedivers breathe more efficiently
Freedivers move more efficiently
Freediving Equipment is More efficient
A freedivers lungs are her ‘Tank’ and so it is important to monitor the air consumption like in SCUBA. But in freediving the ‘amount’ of air remains the same while the quality decreases. The gist of it is that your time is limited, and you have no physical ‘gauge’ to measure the amount of time left before needing to come up for air. That being obvious the not so obvious part is how to manage your freediving ‘tank’. Learning better breathing technique is like upgrading from diving with an aluminum 80 to a high pressure steel 130 tank on nitrox.
In a freediving course you will learn why proper breathing technique is important and why hyperventilation is not the way to achieve better performance. In SCUBA diving you have a finite amount of air typically 80 cubic feet. Most divers will be able to get anywhere from 30 minutes to 1 hour+ of bottom time on a tank. This is where the freediving breathing technique comes in to play
Most novice SCUBA divers will realize at some point they need to alter their breathing to improve their consumption but instead of breathing like a freediver they will just breathe less. This is bad. What happens is their air consumption improves but their CO2 begins to build in their lungs and what happens? HEADACHE!!! This is because of the way most people breath. When using the freediver's breathing technique you can both breath less often AND still get enough oxygen while eliminating enough CO2 to prevent headache. Genius!!!
The typical picture of a SCUBA diver will look like this (not the magazine advertizements but the real life divers mind you). Diver, wetsuit, bcd over that, maybe gloves, dangling from the BCD: SMB(surface marker buoy), noisemaker, pressure guage, inflator hose, primary reg in mouth, secondary octopus attached to BC, Knife, light etc, etc. And now we look at the typical freediver. Diver, mask, snorkel, hooded wetsuit, weight belt,long fins. ‘Yes . . .’ you may say '. . . but the diver can stay down longer'. Yes this may be true, but when a large animal swims by, as happens often here in Kona, the hydrodynamically challenged SCUBA diver will be struggling to keep up while the freediver will be lazily kicking and shooting epic go-pro footage along side said creature.
But it’s okay! YOU scuba diver can also be more streamlined and efficient harnessing the benefits of both scuba AND freediving.
How to be more efficient: Gear
Long fins are more efficient. There is no way around this they just are. The problem is when scuba divers wear long fins they are not as streamlined as they could be so the long fins don’t really benefit them to the same degree they do freedivers who are inherently more streamlined. “So why are you telling me this Byron!” you say. You too SCUBA Diver can be streamlined and here’s how.
Head position is one of the biggest things we correct when teaching freediving. Think of an umbrella in a wind storm. A large umbrella will catch more wind and carry you farther away Mary Poppins style. And so too is it with a mask but instead of carrying you it will slow you down (think drag race car with the parachute behind it) As you kick froward the water pushing against your mask will act as a form of resistance. To reduce this effect look down. Yes, that is all. Look Down instead of ahead. This way the water will slip around your head as you kick and you will immediately use less effort to move through the water. The size of the mask matters too. Get a smaller, lower volume mask with a smaller profile and it will immediately benefit you in your streamlining. You can even look forward and still require less effort or continue looking down to get even more benefit. Check out my blog on freediving masks to see what I'm talking about. Another benefit of using a freediving mask for SCUBA is you’ll only need one mask that will work for everything and packs lighter for travel.
Gear selection is another contributor to your R value (a scientific term used to describe your total surface area) The more dangly bits hanging off of your body the higher your R-value and thus the more drag (larger parachute) your body will become. Some ways to reduce your dangly bits:
Smaller SPG, and tuck it into your BC Pocket
Smaller Primary Regulator
Eliminate an extra octo (not usually advisable but some people do it) or get a smaller/slimmer model
Smaller knife or just get a line cutter <link> or wear no knife at all
Learn how to make noise underwater and ditch the noisemaker
Tech style BCD Harness and plate/pad with a small air bladder or no air bladder (old school style but requires excellent buoyancy control) and minimal D-rings
Hood - Makes your head one smooth surface for the water to slip past
Full-foot Fins - Open heel fin pockets and buckles create drag
Tuck a surface marker buoy into your bcd pocket
Now that your gear is fully streamlined you can don those long sexy-looking freediving fins and get the most from every kick. Got strong current? No problem!
Come join us in our next freediving course to learn these tricks and techniques and much more!
Real World Streamlining
If you really want to go the extra mile and become supremely streamlined check out this video by aerospace engineer Ron Smith where he is able to keep up with a pod of dolphins while on SCUBA using a unique cowling that covers his tank making him super streamlined. Keep in mind he is also using long fins. This is what freediving steamlining+scuba can achieve.