Free-diver with monofin, ascending.

Freediving is any of various aquatic activities that share the practice of breath-hold underwater diving. Examples include breathhold spear fishing, freedive photography, apnea competitions and, to a degree, snorkeling. The activity that garners the most public attention is competitive apnea, an extreme sport, in which competitors attempt to attain great depths, times or distances on a single breath without the assistance of self-contained underwater breathing apparatus (scuba).



Freediving is a technique used with various aquatic activities. While in general all aquatic activities that include breath-hold diving might be classified as a part of freediving, some sports are more accepted than others. Examples of recognized freediving activities are (non-) competitive freediving, (non-) competitive spearfishing, freediving photography and mermaid shows. Less recognized examples of freediving include, but are not limited to, synchronised swimming, underwater rugby, underwater hockey, underwater hunting other than spearfishing, and snorkeling. The discussion remains whether freediving is only a synonym for breath-hold diving or whether it describes a specific group of underwater activities. Freediving is often strongly associated with competitive breath-hold diving or Competitive Apnea. The remainder of this article will discuss only competitive freediving as an athletic sport.

Competitive freediving

Competitive freediving is currently governed by two world associations: AIDA International (International Association for Development of Apnea) and CMAS (World Underwater Federation). Most types of competitive freediving have in common that it is an individual sport based on the best individual achievement. An exception to this rule is the bi-annual World Championship for Teams, held by AIDA, where the combined score of the team members makes up the team's total points. There are currently nine disciplines used by official governing bodies and a dozen disciplines that are only practiced locally. In this article, the recognized disciplines of AIDA and CMAS will be described. All disciplines can be done by both men and women and, while done outdoors, no differences in the environment between records are recognized any longer. The disciplines of AIDA can be done both in competition and as a record attempt, with the exception of Variable Weight and No limits, which are both done solely as record attempts.

The following official disciplines are recognized by AIDA, CMAS, or both.

Pool disciplines

  • Static Apnea is timed breath holding and is usually attempted in a pool (AIDA).
  • Dynamic Apnea With Fins. This is underwater swimming in a pool for distance. For this discipline the athlete can choose whether to use bi-fins or the monofin (AIDA, CMAS).
  • Dynamic Apnea Without Fins. This is underwater swimming in a pool for distance without any swimming aids like fins (AIDA).

Depth disciplines

For all AIDA disciplines, the depth the athlete will attempt is announced before the dive. This is accepted practice for both competitions and record attempts.

  • Constant Weight Apnea. The athlete has to dive to the depth following a guide line that he or she is not allowed to actively use during the dive. The ‘Constant Weight’ (French: "poids constant") refers to the fact that the athlete is not allowed to drop any diving weights during the dive. Both bi-fins and monofin can be used during this discipline (AIDA).
  • Constant Weight Apnea Without Fins follows the identical rules as Constant Weight, except no swimming aids such as fins are allowed. This discipline is the youngest discipline within competitive freediving and is recognised by AIDA International since 2003 (AIDA).
  • Free Immersion Apnea is a discipline in which the athlete uses the vertical guiderope to pull him or herself down to depth and back to the surface. It is known for its ease compared with the Constant Weight disciplines, while the athlete is still not allowed to release weights (AIDA).
  • Variable Weight Apnea is a record discipline that uses a weighted sled for descent. Athletes return to the surface by pulling themselves up along a line or swimming while using their fins (AIDA).
  • No-Limits Apnea is a record discipline that allows the athlete to use any means of breath-hold diving to depth and return to the surface as long as a guideline is used to measure the distance. Most divers use a weighted sled to dive down and use an inflatable bag to return to the surface (AIDA).
  • The Jump Blue also called "The Cube" is a discipline in which an athlete has to descend and swim as far as possible in a cubic form of 15 x 15 meters (CMAS).

Each organization has its own rules on recognizing an attempt. These can be found on the website from the respective organizations.


Freediving is also a recreational sport, celebrated as a relaxing, liberating, and unique experience. Many snorkelers may technically be freediving if they perform any sort of breath-hold diving - it is important to stress the importance of training and supervision when making this association.

Physiology of freediving

The human body has several adaptations under diving conditions,[1][2] which stem from the mammalian diving reflex. These adaptations enable the human body to endure depth and lack of oxygen far beyond what would be possible without the reflex.

The adaptations made by the human body while underwater and at high pressure include:[1][2]

  • Reflex bradycardia: Drop in heart rate.
  • Vasoconstriction: Blood vessels shrink. Blood stream directed away from limbs for the benefit of heart, lungs and brain.
  • Splenic contraction: Releasing red blood cells carrying oxygen.
  • Blood shift: Blood plasma fills up blood vessels in the lung and reduces residual volume. Without this adaptation, the human lung would shrink and wrap into its walls, causing permanent damage, at depths greater than 30 meters.


Training for free-diving can take many forms and be done on the land.

One example is the apnea walk. This consists of a preparation "breathe-up", followed by a short (typically 1 minute) breath hold taken at rest. Without breaking the hold, the participant then initiates a walk for as far as they can, until it becomes necessary to breathe again. Athletes can do close to 400 meters in training this way.

This form of training is good for accustoming muscles to work under anaerobic conditions, and for tolerance to CO2 build-up in the circulation. It is also easy to gauge progress, as increasing distance can be measured.

Before competition attempt, free-divers perform preparation sequence, which usually consists of physical stretching, mental exercise and breath exercise. It may include sequention of variable length static apnea, special purging deep breaths, hyperventilation. Result of preparation sequence is slower metabolism, lower heart rate and breath rate, lower level of CO2 in bloodstream[3] and, last but not least, overall mental equilibrium. Failing ordinary warning signals or crossing mental barrier by strong will may lead to shallow water blackout or deep water blackout.[2][4] Trained free-divers are well aware of this and will only dive under strict and first aid competent supervision. However this does not, of itself, eliminate the risk of deep or shallow water blackout. All safe free-divers have a 'buddy' who accompanies them, observing from within the water at the surface. Due to the nature of the sport, any practice of free-diving must include strict adherence to safety measures as an integral part of the activity, and all participants must also be adept in rescue and resuscitation. Without proper training and supervision, free-diving/apnea/breath-hold diving is extremely dangerous.


Archaeological evidence suggests that people have been freediving since the 5th century BCE. The first known were the haenyeo in Korea who collected shells and sponges to sell to others. The Ama Divers from Japan began to collect pearls 2,000 years ago.[4][5] Both Plato and Homer mention the sponge as being used for bathing in ancient Greece and this may represent an early reference to commercial free-diving to obtain them; the island of Kalymnos was a main centre of diving for sponges. By using weights of as much as 15 kilograms (33 lb) to speed the descent, breath-holding divers would descend to depths up to 30 metres (98 ft) for as long as 5 minutes to collect sponges.[6]

Spearfishing around the Mediterranean Sea was important for the historical background for the movement of the apnea sport.

AIDA recognized world records

As of 8 June 2011 (2011 -06-08) the AIDA recognized world records are:[7]

Discipline Gender Distance [m] Time Name Date Place
Constant Weight Apnea (CWT) Men 124 - Herbert Nitsch 2010-04-22 Dean's Blue Hole, Long Island Bahamas
Constant Weight Apnea (CWT) Women 101 - Natalia Molchanova 2011-09-22 Kalamata, Greece
Constant Weight Apnea Without Fins (CNF) Men 101 - William Trubridge 2010-12-16 Dean's Blue Hole, Long Island Bahamas
Constant Weight Apnea Without Fins (CNF) Women 62 - Natalia Molchanova 2009-12-03 Dean's Blue Hole, Long Island Bahamas
Free Immersion Apnea (FIM) Men 121 - William Trubridge 2011-04-10 Dean's Blue Hole, Long Island Bahamas
Free Immersion Apnea (FIM) Women 85 - Natalia Molchanova 2008-07-27 Crete, Greece
Variable Weight Apnea (VWT) Men 142 - Herbert Nitsch 2009-12-07 Dean's Blue Hole, Long Island Bahamas
Variable Weight Apnea (VWT) Women 126 - Annelie Pompe 2010-10-05 Sharm el Sheikh Egypt
No-Limits Apnea (NLT) Men 214 - Herbert Nitsch 2007-06-14 Spetses, Greece
No-Limits Apnea (NLT) Women 160 - Tanya Streeter 2002-08-17 Turks and Caicos
Static Apnea (STA) Men - 11 min 35 sec Stéphane Mifsud 2009-06-08 Hyères, Var, France
Static Apnea (STA) Women - 8 min 23 sec Natalia Molchanova 2009-08-21 Aarhus, Denmark
Dynamic Apnea With Fins (DYN) Men 273 - Goran Čolak 2011-10-16 Lignano, Italy
Dynamic Apnea With Fins (DYN) Women 225 - Natalia Molchanova 2010-04-25 Moscow, Russia
Dynamic Apnea Without Fins (DNF) Men 218 - Dave Mullins 2010-09-27 Naenae & Porirua, New Zealand
Dynamic Apnea Without Fins (DNF) Women 160 - Natalia Molchanova 2009-08-21 Aarhus, Denmark

Some famous competitive apnea divers


Freediving in fiction

  • The Big Blue is a romance film about two world-class freedivers, a heavily fictionalized depiction of the rivalry of freedivers Jacques Mayol and Enzo Maïorca.
  • In the 2005 film Into the Blue, a group of divers find themselves in deep trouble with a drug lord after they come upon the illicit cargo of a sunken airplane.
  • The Freediver is a 2004 film about a talented free-diver woman who is discovered and brought to an island, where she is trained by an ambitious scientist to break a free-diving world record currently held by an American woman.
  • The Greater Meaning of Water (2010) is an independent film about competitive constant weight free-diving, focusing on the "zen of freediving".
  • In the computer game The Secret of Monkey Island, the main character, Guybrush Threepwood, boasts being able to hold his breath for ten minutes. Although not exactly freediving, Guybrush ends up underwater in a certain point of the game, and he dies if the player doesn't solve the puzzle in ten minutes.
  • In Greg Iles' novel Blood Memory, the main character Cat Ferry is an odontologist and a free-diver.
  • In the video game Splinter Cell, the opening cut scene shows Sam Fisher, the main character, free-diving in the ocean.
  • The children's novel The Dolphins of Laurentum by Caroline Lawrence, which takes place in ancient Rome, describes the applications of free-diving (sponge and pearl diving), and its hazards, as one of the principal characters, as well as the main antagonist, try to beat each other to a sunken treasure.
  • In the TV show Lilo and Stitch, Lilo swam to the bottom of the ocean to save her friends (before she went, she said that she was a freediver).
  • In the Canadian television series Corner Gas, the character Karen Pelly (Tara Spencer-Nairn) competed in static apnea, ranking fifth in Canada with a personal best of over six minutes.
  • In Ian Fleming's 1964 James Bond novel You Only Live Twice, the character Kissy Suzuki is an ama diver. This connection was not mentioned in the film version.
  • Man from Atlantis is a TV series which features a man with the ability to breathe underwater and free dive in his own special style.
  • The Pearl by John Steinbeck. While diving, a poor man, Kino, finds the pearl of heaven—valuable. His life is changed forever.


  1. ^ a b Brubakk, A. O.; T. S. Neuman (2003). Bennett and Elliott's physiology and medicine of diving, 5th Rev ed.. United States: Saunders Ltd.. pp. 800. ISBN 0702025712. 
  2. ^ a b c Lindholm P, Pollock NW, Lundgren CEG (2006). Breath-hold diving. Proceedings of the Undersea and Hyperbaric Medical Society/Divers Alert Network 2006 June 20–21 Workshop.. Durham, NC, United States: Divers Alert Network. ISBN 978-1-930536-36-4. Retrieved 2008-04-30. 
  3. ^ Neal W. Pollock, Richard D. Vann, Edward D. Thalmann and Claus EG Lundgren. (1997). "Oxygen-Enhanced Breath-hold Diving, Phase I: Hyperventilation and Carbon Dioxide Elimination". In: EJ Maney, Jr and CH Ellis, Jr (Eds.) Diving for Science...1997. Proceedings of the American Academy of Underwater Sciences (17th Annual Scientific Diving Symposium). Retrieved 2009-04-16. 
  4. ^ a b Lundgren, Claus EG; Ferrigno, Massimo (eds). (1985). Physiology of Breath-hold Diving. 31st Undersea and Hyperbaric Medical Society Workshop. UHMS Publication Number 72(WS-BH)4-15-87.. Undersea and Hyperbaric Medical Society. Retrieved 2009-04-16. 
  5. ^ Rahn, H.; Yokoyama, T. (1965). Physiology of Breath-Hold Diving and the Ama of Japan.. United States: National Academy of Sciences - National Research Council. pp. 369. ISBN 0309013410. Retrieved 2009-04-16. 
  6. ^ Sandra Hendrikse and André Merks (12 May 2009). "Diving the Skafandro suit". Diving Heritage. Retrieved 2009-10-16. 
  7. ^ AIDA International. "History of Records". Retrieved 2011-06-08. 

External links

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