Take a deep breath and dive into the increasingly popular sport
Time Out Dubai staff
Freediving, the extreme sport with a side of zen, is growing in popularity across the globe.
As far as extreme sports go, freediving might not be quite what you’d expect. There’s no supersonic speeds, dizzying heights or highly specialised gear required. Instead, it’s all about calming your mind, focusing on your breath and watching out for your buddy. And yet, while it may not be extreme in the conventional sense, it’s certainly a sport that requires you to exert yourself to the fullest, pushing your body way beyond its comfort zone, in both the physical and mental sense.
Freediving UAE is the only company in the country that offers professional accreditation in the sport. Running monthly courses certified by the International Association for the Development of Apnea (AIDA) in both Dubai and Abu Dhabi, they also offer weekend diving trips where you can enter the big blue along with a bunch of other free-spirited divers.
According to Alex Boulting, co-founder and owner of Freediving UAE, the sport ‘appeals to people who want to passively explore the underwater world and enjoy the suspended silence of the sea where they can better connect with themselves and the underwater environment.’
Keen to try this new way of connecting with ourselves while exploring the deep blue, we signed up to an AIDA level 2 course in Abu Dhabi.
The course consists of three sessions, the first is entirely classroom based and requires a certain amount of brain power. While it’s true that the sport offers you the chance to be at one with the sea, aside from this dream-like idea, there is a serious side to it. Going without oxygen for extended periods of time, the fundamental skill required in free diving, can have serious side effects. For this reason, the four-hour theory session explains in detail the physiology of the sport and goes into details about the mechanics, safety rules and recovery procedures required. Taking us back to our high school biology days, with a little bit of mathematics thrown in, we certainly wouldn’t say it was a walk in the park. And afterwards, there’s an exam (regulated by AIDA) that you have to pass before you can continue on.
Session two takes place in a swimming pool, at either Hamdan Sports Complex in Abu Dhabi or Jebel Ali Golf Resort and Spa for those trying the sport in Dubai. This is where students put their newly acquired knowledge into practice, demonstrating the techniques for proper breath holding, effective maneuverability in the water and, most importantly, their aptitude for being a competent buddy. The sport strictly dictates that freedivers must never dive alone so every diver must also be clued up enough to spot warning signs in others and physically strong enough to rescue someone from a dangerous situation.
It’s amazing to see the progress from our first effort at breath holding, a pathetic 20 second attempt, to being able to remain submerged for just under two minutes. Considering the world record, held by Tom Sietas, currently stands at 22 mins, 22 secs, it’s clear we’ve still got a long way to go, but the improvement is a definite motivation booster.
The third session takes place in the open water and this is where the real fun begins. With adrenalin pumping through your body and the ocean lapping against the dive boat, it takes an incredible amount of focus and determination to actively slow your heart rate and calm your mind. Remembering all of the techniques isn’t easy and it will likely take you a few dives before you feel you have a handle on what you are doing. But, for the exhilarating experience of diving unencumbered, it really is worth the effort. The feeling of being at one with the ocean is something that is practically impossible to put into words, so you’ll just have to try it for yourself.
Freediving UAE are based in Abu Dhabi but also run courses in Dubai. They offer everything from AIDA level 1, aimed at complete beginners wanting to try the sport recreationally, to the advanced AIDA level 4 for experienced freedivers. Courses cost Dhs1,850, inclusive of a Dhs500 deposit when booking, and are usually conducted over a five-day time frame. www.freedivinguae.com, firstname.lastname@example.org (050 613 0486).