When Kate Middleton first opened her freediving school on a tiny island in Indonesia, about 90 per cent of the course attendees were men. No longer. Eight years later, 25 per cent are women and the number is growing.
“Freediving offers beauty, gracefulness and harmony – all qualities women are naturally attracted to,” the 27-year-old Canadian New Zealander says. “It also makes you feel badass and sexy.”
Once known only for its competitive side – where athletes dive as deep as they can and hold their breath for minutes at a time – freediving has become more mainstream. Freediving schools like Middleton’s are popping up in sun-spoiled locations around the world, from Bali to the Bahamas, from Egypt to Mexico.
Freediving, says Middleton, is breath-hold diving, which can be anything from shallow snorkelling, to diving down anywhere from one to 20 m below the surface through to the record-breaking depths and freediving competition success she has enjoyed. Middleton is an 11-time New Zealand record holder and this year she won a silver medal at the AIDA Individual Depth World Championships.
She began her exploration of the underwater world as a scuba diver, eventually becoming an instructor. But ultimately it didn’t satisfy her longing for a close connection with the ocean. While traveling the world, she visited Gili Trawangan, a tiny two by three kilometre island 35 km east of Bali. She expected to stay a few weeks, but fell in love with the tropical setting, the exotic culture, freediving – and her business partner and boyfriend, fellow freediver and 13-time British record holder Mike Board. Eight years later they’re still there, running their retreat center, an organic café and a yoga and freediving school.
Like many freedivers, yoga is part of Middleton’s daily life. She says the two activities have more in common than people realize. Both change lives and even more so when paired.
“Freediving can be as healing and transformational as yoga and meditation,” she says. “Both are tools that teach us to observe and return to the simplicity of the here and now, the fact there’s just one breath in this moment and you can always come back to it when you’re stressed. It’s amazing to witness how they both completely transform people’s lives.”
Japanese freediver and model Tomoka Fukuda’s life was transformed when she moved to Japan’s southern-most island and tried freediving. Prior to moving there from Hokkaido, she worked as model and talent manager. She’s the first to admit it: her life was a little bit crazy – lots of parties, a hectic lifestyle and stress.
“I wanted everything to be perfect,” she says. “I was a perfectionist. That was why I had so much stress.”
Then she found freediving. She describes why she loves it. “Harmony,” she says, “between my body, my mind and the ocean. When I dive in the ocean, I am diving into myself. I can see inside myself clearly. When I have a good dive, I feel that I am a small part of this world where everything is connected.”
Like Middleton, Fukuda practises yoga and meditation regularly. Many freedivers do because yoga helps the body to stay flexible and strong and meditation keeps the mind relaxed.
“My body has to move gracefully, fluidly, like a fish, when I dive to ensure efficiency of movement,” she says. “Yoga supports this.”
Fukuda has made rapid progress since she first began freediving eight years ago. During the 2012 Suunto Vertical Blue freediving competition in Dean’s Blue Hole, she dived to 80 m, realizing a long held goal. Just recently she dived to 90 m and aims to reach 100 m in 2016. She can hold her breath for nearly seven minutes.
For both Fukuda and Middleton, however, elite competition is only one aspect of freediving. Both have had some of their most amazing underwater experiences in as little as 10 or 20 m of water while just playing around. Diving with dolphins and hearing them talk to one another, gliding with whale sharks and mantas, exploring coral reefs and experiencing a euphoric inner joy are all unforgettable experiences they have had.
‘Everyone thinks they can’t hold their breath, but even with only a little bit of training you can learn to hold your breath for two to three minutes,’ Fukuda says. ‘Actually two minutes is easy.’
Middleton agrees, but says numbers aren’t everything. “What I always recommend in the beginning is to drop any expectations of how long you should hold your breath or how deep you can go and instead go by what feels good, “ she says. “You want to feel connected, to feel harmony and grace, and they’re not defined by how deep you can go or how long you can hold your breath.”
Both freedivers also use Suunto diving watches to help them track how long they’ve been underwater, the depth they’ve reached and how long they’ve been on the surface so they know when it’s safe to dive again.
Aside from the sense of gracefulness and harmony, Middleton says there’s another reason why she enjoys freediving.
“There’s a sensuality to freediving,” she says. “It feels incredibly sensual to move through the water, to flow with it gracefully. And you feel badass because you go beyond what you initially believe is possible so you realize how amazing and strong you really are.”
The Women's Outdoor News, aka The WON, features news, reviews and stories about women who are shooting, hunting, fishing and actively engaging in outdoor adventure. This publication is for women, by women. View all posts by The WON
This site is protected by wp-copyrightpro.com