Why Surfers should learn Freediving

Why Surfers should learn Freediving

The joy about surfing a wave can quickly change into fear for ones life, when a wave buries you with tons of water. In the surfer paradise of Bali we are focussing on an important aspect of surfing - holding your breath.

Written by Melanie. Original publication in German on 20min.ch

Complete silence surrounds me. The only sound comes from within me. A strange gurgle, as if I'm trying to beatbox. But I’m not. I’m located sixteen meters below the water surface, without a breathing apparatus. Even though my body is screaming for air, I keep on diving into the deep. Beside me is our instructor Kirill. Effortless he hovers on my side and makes an unmistakable sign with his fingers: I should smile!

We signed up for a two day freediving course for surfers in the idyllic fishing village of Amed. Freediving is the art of diving for as long or as deep as possible with only one breath of air. The world records are at 281 meters and 11.85 minutes. However our goal is not the depth. The bigger the waves get - the longer you stay underwater after a wipeout. In extreme cases these “hold-downs” can last minutes. If you get caught by a wave and whirled around it feels like you’re in a washing machine. Panic and disorientation are not uncommon. With the freediving training we want to prepare ourselves for situations like these.

Freediving as a preparation for surfing

The first part of the course takes part on solid ground. Sitting on yoga mats we listen to Kirill’s lessons about freediving and learn different relaxation and breathing techniques. He teaches us small tricks that help us relax underwater. For example if we smile, our body interprets this positive and calms down.

The mental strength is a fundamental aspect of freediving. The better you know your reflexes and instincts, the easier it is to apply and control them underwater. Moreover, the oxygen consumption is lower if body and mind are relaxed. Only real life practice reveals if the theory and the exercises on land are actually beneficial.

One after the other we dive towards the bottom of the ocean. A rope is attached to a buoy and serves us as orientation. During the first few tries I’m nervous and impatient, no trace of relaxation. Way to quickly I yield to the internal pressure to dive back up to the water surface. However we improve quickly and are gaining more routine. By now diving head first comes natural. Even the strange gurgle doesn't bother me anymore. This reflex results from the raised CO2 Level in the blood and is harmless - the body still has enough oxygen reserves.

Calmly diving down to 20 meters

On the second day of the course I experience my personal highlight. At this point diving feels almost meditative and I smile automatically. I enjoy the tranquility around me and I’m mesmerized by the underwater world. Somewhat inebriated I return to the water surface and I learn the depth of my last dive: 20 meters - with just one breath of air!

We can recommend freediving to all surfers. With a diving drill the course also focused especially on the stressful situations, that we encounter while surfing. We learn to accept our faith when we get washed around by a wave and even more importantly we learn to trust our bodies in these dangerous moments. Nature is unpredictable, but thanks to the experience we gained with freediving we can face big waves much more laid-back.