Helen Scales

helen coming up for air

My new favourite thing

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).

Guillaume Nery base jumping at Dean's Blue Hole, filmed on breath hold by Julie Gautier

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…

heading into the blue and back.AVI

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).

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