By: Emil Lars
Aptly called the City of Gentle People, Dumaguete is a gateway to some of the best dive sites in the country. Only 15 kilometers south of the city, Dauin’s coast is known for its world-class macro diving. Several marine protected areas along Dauin’s brown sand coast offer amazing underwater scenery – from beautiful corals to exotic marine creatures. Dauin is also the jump-off point to the renowned Apo island, known for its exceptional marine biodiversity.
What many have yet to realize is that Dauin is also a great location for freediving. As freediving’s appeal continues to gain traction, Dauin is becoming the home, playground, and training ground for the freedivers in Dumaguete-Dauin area. It is also fast becoming a destination for quality freediving education. The protected sandy bay makes for easy water entry. The clear waters and very gradual increase in depth make it ideal for beginners. For the more advanced freedivers, reasonable training depth can be done within a relatively short swim away.
A gateway to your getaway, Dumaguete can be reached by flight from Cebu in less than an hour, and less than 1.5 hours from Manila. From the city, it takes 20 to 25 minutes to get to Dauin. You can get to Siquijor in less than an hour, Tagbilaran (Bohol) in under 2 hours, and Cebu in 4 to 6 hours by ferry. You’d have to check the ferry operator’s links for up-to-date schedules and bookings.
Freediving, you say? My first freediving course took place over a decade ago. As a scuba diver, it was natural to be curious about it. I just had to try it. I wasn’t immediately drawn to it after taking the course, but it was a catalyst for the inevitable – I was to fall in love. It was very different from scuba diving. Equalization was challenging for me and I wasn’t particularly good at holding my breath. But because I thought it was cool and presented an intimate challenge, I pursued it more over the years, albeit very slowly. Although scuba diving was just as fun, I liked that I could grab my mask, snorkel, and fins and go at any time. It felt freer.
From the Ama divers of Japan, the Haenyeo divers of Korea, the Badjaos of Malaysia, Indonesia, and Southern Philippines, the ancient Greek divers, to the Egyptian hieroglyphics depicting breath-hold dives, it’s evident we have been freediving from early on, with some relying almost entirely on the sea to survive even. Although it isn’t a matter of survival for the modern freedivers of today, freediving remains and continues to gain popularity across the world. It is certainly one of the fastest-growing water activities. In the Philippines alone, the number of freediving schools has jumped from a couple not long ago to dozens in just a few short years.
Freediving is diving while holding your breath. “Thanks, but no tanks,” as some say. While some are naturally better than others at holding their breath; with proper education and training, it gets easier. It’s not unusual for beginners to manage holding their breath for 3 minutes or even longer. I don’t particularly like holding my breath, but as a freediving instructor, it’s just part of the job. Let’s just say that holding the breath is the least enjoyable part of the job.
Freedivers have been known to push the limits and that may have given the sport somewhat of an intimidating tone. While a few competitive freedivers are without a doubt superheroes, most are just regular people like you and myself. While competitive freedivers strive to push their limits by going deeper, farther, or longer, those are not requisites in the world of freediving. Done safely, pushing limits can be inspiring and crucial towards the discovery of human potential. For the majority of us, freediving makes for a great excuse to go on a holiday, live an endless summer, get wet, observe marine life, see and discover new places, expand creativity through underwater photography or videography, to hunt or gather food, and perhaps to manifest new life possibilities. It’s a feel-good activity and surprisingly easy to learn.
A freediving course teaches you breathing and relaxation techniques and to avoid hyperventilation before a dive. In essence, the ability to hold your breath largely depends on your ability to relax. If your heart rate is fast, you’ll use up oxygen quicker which will consequently shorten your ability to stay underwater. As a waste product of metabolizing oxygen, carbon dioxide is produced, which triggers the urge to breathe. The quicker you burn oxygen, the quicker you accumulate carbon dioxide, and the quicker and stronger the urge to breathe comes.
Humans share a distinct set of adaptations that mammals (such as dolphins and whales) experience every time they dive. Collectively, these adaptations are known as the dive reflex or the mammalian dive response. Our heart rate slows down and blood shunts away from the extremities into the more critical organs – the heart and the brain. Also, the blood vessels in the lungs engorge with blood to protect the organs from collapsing under pressure. All these happen naturally when we freedive, helping us dive longer, deeper, and safer.
Although very rarely, and like in any sport or activity, accidents can happen in freediving. Generally speaking, blacking out upon surfacing is the most talked-about concern. Avoiding problems in the water is simply a matter of following some very simple rules: never hyperventilate, positive buoyancy on the surface, proper breathe-up and recovery breaths, and never freediving alone among other things. You learn all the rules by attending a formal freediving course from an accredited instructor and you follow them. You wouldn’t engage in scuba diving without proper training; why would you in freediving?
So what do you need to get started in freediving? Other than a clean bill of health, being able to swim, some curiosity, and meeting a few standard requirements, there’s not much. While it’s ideal to have your basic freediving equipment (mask, fins, and snorkel) to start with, how would you even know which ones to buy? Luckily, most freediving schools have equipment that either comes with the course or is available for rent. Ideally, a good-fitting low-volume mask, long freediving fins that provide maximum propulsion with minimum effort, and a comfortable basic snorkel should be in your kit. Add a stretchy form-fitting wetsuit and a weighted rubber belt to offset the excess buoyancy of the wetsuit and you’re pretty much set for an adventure. So what now? Find a freediving school in your area or destination and get in touch!
The fact of the matter is that freediving isn’t as difficult as some make it out to be. Attending a formal freediving course makes it safe, more fun, and significantly shortens the learning curve. It’s the best and safest way to get started, period. A typical entry level certification course covers equipment, physiology, equalization, technique, breathing and relaxation exercises, and safety at a minimum before the in-water sessions. The course usually takes 2-3 days. During that time, you’ll learn everything that you need to safely freedive to a maximum of 20 meters. A depth of 20 meters in a single breath may be a terrifying thought, especially to a complete beginner, but freediving is a lot easier than you might think. Regardless of depth, students generally finish a course blown away by the experience and what they’ve accomplished.
Years from now, it just might be one of the best things that have ever happened to you. For me, freediving is a time and place where I naturally don’t think about anything that is out of the water. I suppose you could call it a sort of a meditative state. To put it in other words, freediving takes me to a completely quiet place where I and everything around me feels very present. It sounds vague and maybe even corny, I know. Perhaps you just need to experience it for yourself. Give it a shot. Fall in love with something new. Discover your new self.
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