apnea

Underwater apnea is a temporary, voluntary interruption of breathing and immersion into water with only the air in the lungs, without a breathing aid.

 

Although the word "apnea" is not associated with water, it is used as a synonym for freediving, thus apnea = freediving.

 

Freediving is often mixed with scuba diving, where additional equipment enables breathing under water for longer periods of time. Apnea is a more sustainable form of diving: most freedivers only need a mask, wetsuit, and fins.

 

Recreational freedivers dive for the pleasure of exploring both their capabilities as well as the underwater world; some are interested in spearfishing; while the most prominence is given to competitive freediving, where professional freedivers compete in depth, distance or time.

Freediving started for survival and commercial purposes. Its beginnings date back to prehistoric times.

 

Ancient freedivers hunted fish, gathered sponges, corals, and pearls, salvaged sunken treasures and aided in military actions. They dove without masks and used only basic tools, such as leather bladders for breathing or primitive flippers. Due to limited knowledge of safety, freediving back then could be a deadly activity.

 

For centuries, Greek freedivers used a rope tied to a stone weight (skandalopetra), with which they would easily and quickly descend to the bottom, while others pulled them up to the surface. Japanese freedivers Ama have been traditionally harvesting pearls for 2,000 years and still dive the way their ancestors did. They freedive their whole life since older divers can remain submerged for longer than their younger counterparts.

 

In the second half of the 20th century, freediving evolved considerably as competitive freedivers entered the scene and started moving the limitations of what was possible. Since then, the safety, science, and understanding of freediving have rapidly progressed.

FREEDIVING IS SCUBA DIVING

Unlike scuba divers, freedivers can use 'only' the oxygen inhaled before each dive. Thus, freedivers can remain under water for only a few minutes, but can more rapidly and easily dive deeper, are more agile and more in harmony with the underwater world.

 

FREEDIVING IS AN EXTREME SPORT

While competitive freediving deserves this title due to unrelenting conditions in depth, the much more commonplace recreational freediving does not. In both cases, the key is total relaxation, which can only be achieved when we know that we are completely safe and watched over. Freediving is the only 'extreme' sport, where we achieve better results when the body does not release adrenaline.

 

FREEDIVING IS A DEADLY, SUICIDAL SPORT

Freediving is anything but. It’s a tribute to life, where the first breath after a dive is akin to the very first breath at birth. Most people are misinformed because they encounter freediving through:

  • the movie "The Big Blue", where the main protagonists are competing in the now excluded "No Limits" discipline and at the end of the movie voluntarily decide to die under water

  • competitive disciplines, which the media likes to depict as a dangerous, alienated sensation where freedivers, full of suicidal tendencies, compete for depth records.

 

While the mentioned fictional film brought freediving a lot of useful publicity, it also did a lot of damage, because it uses names of real-life freedivers, but depicts tragic events that in fact never happened.

Freediving is dangerous only if basic security protocols are not followed. With the correct measures in place, all hazards are virtually eliminated.

 

MOST ACCIDENTS OCCUR DEEP BELOW THE SURFACE

In the entire history of recreational freediving only a handful of freedivers died in the depth. Contrary to popular belief, most accidents occur just below the surface - in shallow waters or in the swimming pool. The main reasons are inexperience and lack of safety.

 

FREEDIVING IS AN INDIVIDUAL SPORT

Every freediver exposes himself/herself to potential dangers while under water, such as loss of consciousness or coordination of movement. That’s why we should never dive alone, as one day our life just might depend on our freediving buddy’s help. Or vice versa. Freediving is a team sport because we intimately trust another person with our life, which also makes it a very social activity.

 

EXCELLENT PHYSICAL CONDITION IS KEY

It has long been known that elder traditional Japanese freedivers Ama can remain submerged for even longer than their younger counterparts. It takes time and practice to calmly overcome psychological barriers and keep holding your breath. In freediving, mental fitness is more important than physical strength.

 

GREAT LUNG CAPACITY IS KEY

Over 50% of oxygen is stored in the blood, 13% in muscles, and up to 35% in lungs. Increased lung capacity is helpful, but is not the most important factor. The most important factors to preserve oxygen in freediving are relaxation and the mammalian diving reflex.

The MAMMALIAN DIVING REFLEX is a set of physiological processes in the human body, which are automatically triggered during a dive to optimize oxygen supply under water. In essence, it’s an important defense mechanism of the body that everyone is born with.

 

Thanks to this subconscious reflex we can achieve exceptional depth, further levels of relaxation, and survive underwater without oxygen for longer than on dry land, because:

  • it decreases our heartbeat (experienced freedivers even below 10 beats/minute), thus slowing the body’s consumption of oxygen

  • it shrinks blood vessels in our legs and arms, which redirects blood to the vital organs (this blood, among other things, fills up the area around our lungs to protect them from squeezing due to higher pressure at greater depths)

  • it releases an additional supply of oxygen from the spleen

 

The diving reflex is triggered when our airways are submerged in water. It is more pronounced in aquatic mammals (seals, otters, dolphins, whales, etc.), and slightly less in humans (infants up to 6 months reflexively hold their breath to protect their airways).

SNORKEL AND MASK

A snorkel is used for calmly breathing underwater before a dive. The mask increases visibility and allows us to equalize pressure around the eyes. This can’t be achieved with regular swimming goggles.

 

WETSUIT AND WEIGHTS (around the waist, neck, back or legs)

The wetsuit is indispensable for diving in colder water or when being in the water for a longer time. It should be comfortable and flexible, particularly around the chest. The weights are used to balance the buoyancy of the wetsuit.

 

BIFINS OR MONOFIN

Mainly we dive and swim with one fin on each leg, while monofin is most frequently used in competitive freediving. It is more effective and faster, but less agile and therefore less practical for recreational diving.

 

As with all sports, freediving can lead to fatal injuries. Therefore, to achieve maximum security, all safety protocols need to be uncompromisingly followed at all times. In the entire 67 years of competitive freediving, only one fatal accident ever occurred. Here is a list of the most common mistakes in recreational apnea:
 
FREEDIVING WITHOUT (QUALIFIED) ACCOMPANIMENT
In most accidents, freedivers were diving by themselves, or their partner incorrectly reacted when they were in need of help. 
 
INCORRECT EQUALIZATION
Incorrectly equalizing pressure in the ears and mask during a dive can cause permanent damage to the eardrums or eyes. 
 
HYPERVENTILATION 
Some people intentionally breathe quickly and deeply before they dive, which disrupts the balance of O2 and CO2 in the lungs. While this enables longer dives and time underwater, it can lead to unconsciousness. 
 
EXAGGERATION 
Responsible freediving means that both body and mind are capable of withstanding strains above and below the surface without consequences.

 

There are different freediving disciplines, and they require different equipment. Most freedivers use only a mask, wetsuit and fins.

 

DEPTH (sea)

CONSTANT WEIGHT APNEA (CWT)

The most common and favorite discipline of most freedivers. You descend and ascend by the rope with fins or monofin.

 

CONSTANT WEIGHT APNEA WITHOUT FINS (CNF)

The purest and most demanding freediving discipline, where the only props are your body and your swimming technique.

 

FREE IMMERSION APNEA (FIM)

You descend and ascend by pulling the rope. You drag yourself down until you begin to freefall and you pull yourself up the entire way back.

 

VARIABLE WEIGHT APNEA (VWT)

A competitive discipline, where you descend with an underwater sled and ascend by pulling the rope, swimming, or with fins.

 

NO-LIMITS APNEA (NLT)

The most extreme competitive discipline, made famous by the movie "The Big Blue". You descend and ascend by a method of your preference. Typically, you quickly descend to the desired depth with an underwater sled. There you inflate a balloon that lifts you and the sled to the surface. Because your body is idle most of the dive, you can reach greater depths. Due to recent high-profile accidents, this discipline is no longer competed in.

 

SKANDALOPETRA

An ancient discipline in which you dive with a stone attached to a rope. It requires teamwork: when you reach the desired depth, you are pulled back up to the surface.

 

DISTANCE (25 m or 50 m swimming pool)

DYNAMIC APNEA WITH FINS (DYN)

You swim along the bottom of the pool with fins or a monofin.

 

DYNAMIC APNEA WITHOUT FINS (DNF)

You swim along the bottom of the pool without propulsion devices.

 

TIME (swimming pool)

STATIC APNEA (STA)

You lay on the surface with your airways submerged in water and hold your breath for as long as possible.

 

DEPTH

CONSTANT WEIGHT APNEA (CWT)
M -130 m Alexey Molchanov (RUS) 2018 (NEW)
F -107 m Alessia Zecchini (ITA) 2018 (NEW)
M -110 m Samo Jeranko (SLO) 2018 (NEW)
F -105 m Alenka Artnik (SLO) 2018 (NEW)
CONSTANT WEIGHT APNEA WITHOUT FINS (CNF)
M -102 m William Trubridge (NZL) 2016  
F -73 m Alessia Zecchini (ITA) 2018 (NEW)
M -77 m Samo Jeranko (SLO) 2015  
F -54 m Alenka Artnik 2017  
FREE IMMERSION APNEA (FIM)
M -125 m Alexey Molchanov (RUS) 2018 (NEW)
F -97 m Sayuri Kinoshita (JPN) 2018 (NEW)
M -106 m Samo Jeranko (SLO) 2018 (NEW)
F -75 m Alenka Artnik (SLO) 2016  
VARIABLE WEIGHT APNEA (VWT)
M -146 m Stavros Kastrinakis (GRE) 2015  
F -130 m Nanja van den Broek (NED) 2015  
M -106 m Jure Daić (SLO) 2014  
F / / /  
NO-LIMITS APNEA (NLT)
M -214 m Herbert Nitsch (AUT) 2007  
F -160 m Tanya Streeter (USA) 2002  
M -101 m Jure Daić (SLO) 2009  
F / / /  
SKANDALOPETRA
M -112 m Andreas Güldner (GER) 2014  
F -77,5 m Jenna Apokotos (GRE) 2017  
M -94 m Jure Daić (SLO) 2014  
F / / /  

DISTANCE

DYNAMIC APNEA WITH FINS (DYN)
M 300 m Mateusz Malina (POL) 2016  
    Giorgos Panagiotakis (GRE) 2016  
F 250 m Alessia Zecchini (ITA) 2016  
M 250 m Andrej Ropret (SLO) 2016  
F 200 m Vita Kremser (SLO) 2018 (NEW)
DYNAMIC APNEA WITHOUT FINS (DNF)
M 244 m Mateusz Malina (POL) 2016  
F 200 m Magdalena Solich (POL) 2018 (NEW)
M 175 m Samo Jeranko (SLO) 2013  
F 125 m Alenka Artnik (SLO) 2013  

TIME

STATIC APNEA (STA)
M 11:35 min Stéphane Mifsud (FRA) 2009  
F 9:02 min Natalia Molchanova (RUS) 2013  
M 8:52 min Andrej Ropret (SLO) 2017  
F 5:35 min Alenka Artnik (SLO) 2017