‘Free’ diving, or ‘skin’ diving, has become increasingly popular in the past years. It allows the average person to experience the underwater world with the ease and freedom that the equipment of scuba diving cannot provide. 

Obviously, however, it is considerably more difficult, but it can ultimately become very rewarding. Simply focusing on one’s self-improvement is enough to continue education and even become a professional free diver.

To clarify, there is not a definite difference between ‘free’ and ‘skin’ diving, aside from the fact many people consider skin diving to be closely related to snorkelling, and free diving being more of a recreational or competitive sport. For the purpose of this blog, I will be using both terms, as I consider skin diving to be categorised between snorkelling and free diving, or perhaps as the basics of free diving.

Personally, I have always been into scuba diving, but from a young age I have always aspired to get into free diving, mainly to challenge myself. I have been researching into free diving for a few years now, however I am definitely not in the position to say I have many years experience in the matter because I have only just begun to put my research to use.

I recently worked on-board the Similan liveaboard MV Hallelujah as a snorkel guide, and I used every opportunity I got to do a bit of practice. I spent 4 days mastering the ‘duck dive’ technique, as well as breathing control methods that allowed me to dive at least twice as long at the end of the 4 days as to when I began. The key method here is to relax.

Recent snorkelling from a Similan Liveaboard
Recent snorkelling from a Similan Liveaboard

Relax When Free Diving

Every aspect of diving from the casual snorkel diver to the professional is governed by the ability to relax and stay calm under even the most trying conditions. There is a strong correlation between a person’s breath holding ability and how relaxed they are. Cultivating a relaxed mind set from the beginning will make a person’s dive career more successful and enjoyable. It is essential when around water, if in heavy surf or even in a swimming pool, to avoid panic. Whether it be running out of air on a deep dive or exiting the water onto jagged rocks, if you panic your chances of survival are greatly reduced.

Mastering the Basics

After adopting a relaxed mental attitude, it is important to feel completely comfortable with wearing a mask and fins, and breathing through a snorkel at the surface. I will talk more about equipment and equipment choices in my next blog. Firstly, you will need to master the basics of free diving (skin diving).  Having made sure your snorkel is attached to your mask strap, don your mask and flippers and begin swimming on the surface without splashing, with your head in the water facing down. We all have the tendency to lift our faces from the water, so this is the first obstacle you will have to overcome.

Discussing breathing techniques with a student
Discussing breathing techniques with a student

Once completely comfortable, take a breath and duck your head below the surface. Your snorkel will fill with water. Bring your head to the surface and without lifting your head from the water, give a strong blow into your snorkel; clearing the snorkel so you can resume normal breathing. This is called the blast method. Another method is displacement, simply lifting your head from the water and eliminating the snorkel.

Leaving the Surface

In free diving, there is only one way to leave the surface with minimum splash and waste of energy – the duck dive. This is accomplished by bending forward at the waist until the top half of your body is at a right angle to your legs. From here, lift both legs together out of the water. Your body should now be in a straight, vertical line. The weight of your legs above the water is sufficient to carry you below the surface. The whole method is carried out in a single, smooth continuous movement, wasting as little energy as possible.

A student performing the duck-dive.
A student performing the duck-dive.

At around 2 meters below the surface, you will start to notice a slight pain in your ears and mask, resulting from the greater pressure outside your body in comparison to the dead air spaces inside your sinuses and also trapped in your mask. To counteract this, we use equalizing methods, which I will begin to explain in the following blog.

Charley Williams