October 21, 2014
Written by: Sophie Gaze
Dive Immersion Senior Divemaster
I am floating horizontally off the east coast of Florida in 600 feet of water. My face is submerged, looking down into the blue abyss, and my eyes are trying to focus on the nothingness in front of me. My left hand is pointed vertically straight down to the ocean floor that is so far below me. My right thumb and forefinger are positioned on my nose in preparation to equalize. I am taking deep breaths in and out of my snorkel, trying to lower my heart rate and enter a level of relaxation that seems impossible to achieve in this moment of uncertainty. I breathe in deep from my snorkel, filling my whole chest cavity with one last precious breath of air and simultaneously blow through my nose to equalize my ears. I am about to attempt a breath hold dive to 66 feet. A depth that typically seems so achievable when I am SCUBA diving now seems like alien territory…
As an introductory freediver, I cannot imagine going to the depths that the various disciplines of world record holders have reached. 66 feet was enough for me that day, but after my level one-freediver course it’s safe to say I became addicted to the feeling. I am now driven to push my limits in the way that so many before me have been captivated by this sport.
Guests and fans of Georgia Aquarium probably do not consider how freediving fits in our every day routine among the dive team. While the majority of our underwater endeavors are carried out on SCUBA or surface supply diving, we do offer a daily swim in Ocean Voyager built by The Home Depot for guests who are not Open Water Certified. During the swim, guests don Georgia Aquarium wetsuits and floatation devices to participate in a snorkel at the surface of the environment, coming within inches of our four enormous whale sharks. All immersion programs at the Aquarium are filmed and a video is produced for sale after the experience. The dive video is easy to shoot as everyone is on SCUBA. To produce a quality video of the swim experience however, our dive staff performs multiple breath hold dives to get the best angles.
As if freediving didn’t have enough challenges out in the open ocean, imagine trying to freedive and shoot a video while dodging a 25-foot long fish – all at the same time! To say we have a lot going on would be an understatement, so the importance to reach that delicate state of peaceful awareness is imperative. The deepest point in our exhibit is 30 feet, but that doesn’t mean a breath hold dive to the bottom is any easier. Therefore, we make an effort to practice freediving weekly to maintain a foundation of proper breathing techniques and appropriate weighting for this nature of diving. We also perform extrication drills every fifteen days that cover potential freediving accidents in the scope of the training.
We have noticed one curious development when we are freediving: the animals are so more comfortable around us on a breath hold dive. The sandbar sharks, which are particularly curious, will approach us, at times cruising within inches of our masks! Freediving is termed as such for this very reason. Once you are able to perform a breath hold dive, the sense of liberation is therapeutic. There is no greater feeling that submerging to a comfortable depth, remaining neutral in the water, and reveling in the peacefulness of the underwater world.