I recently paid my first visit to the Red Sea and discovered my new favourite thing: freediving.
The idea of learning to freedive first came to me years ago when I was floating on my back in a saltwater swimming pool by a beach in Madagascar, gazing at the sky and imagining what it would be like to swim with the whales as they migrate up and down the Mozambique Channel.
Sure, I can snorkel and scuba dive, but freediving – the sport, art, or way of thinking maybe (?) of venturing down into the blue with nothing but a breath of air – that seemed such a simple, pure, graceful way of being in the oceans. I had to give it a try.
But it was an idea that was shelved – along with various other schemes, plots, and dreams that I may one day come back to – until I saw this video on youtube. Then I realised it was time for me to freedive. (Be warned. This is so awesome it may make you want to get into the big blue too).
Not that I truly want to chuck myself into a deep, black hole – but you get the idea).
So I went to Dahab, a chilled spot on the Gulf of Aqaba that’s swiftly becoming a free diving mecca. With warm, clear seas, and the seabed falling away as you swim just a few metres off shore, it’s the perfect place to learn.
For 2 and a half days I trained for my AIDA ** certificate with free dive instructor Brian Crossland from Blue Ocean Freedivers.
Brian was a fantastic instructor. Calm and patient. Clear and reassuring. All the things I needed to encourage me to head down into the blue. And he’s setting up an exciting free dive school in Dahab, complete with purpose-built 30 metre training pool… probably the only one in the world!
Brian took us through the basics, taught us techniques of how to prepare for a free dive, how to relax, and how to avoid doing anything stupid or dangerous. Before my trip to Dahab, many friends and family thought I was crazy, risking my life underwater holding my breath – seems free diving has a pretty ropey reputation, which it really doesn’t deserve, especially now the good folks at AIDA are working hard on training and safety.
And after some initial nerves, I quickly discovered that when I wasn’t trying too hard (I’m clearly not cut out for competitive free diving, which is fine by me) I could do things I never imagined possible after just a few hours training. Like, for example, holding my breath for nearly 3 minutes and swimming down to 20 metres.
Brian also let me play with a piece of kit I’ve been dying to get my hands on: a monofin. Seriously cool.
So I got my first glimpses at what it feels like to be a dolphin… or a mermaid perhaps. Here’s a video Brian shot of me scooting happily down to 15 metres…
So, free diving. I’m hooked. Absolutely.
I’ll still scuba dive (I did a great dive in Dahab just off the main drag and saw a seahorse – yeah). But free diving has undoubtedly opened a whole new window on the underwater world. Snorkeling will never be the same again.
And here I sit, in ocean-free Cambridge as autumn closes in around me and I’m dreaming of a monofin, clear, warm blue waters, and just me and a breath of air (and maybe some migrating whales).