Freediving history & records

What Is Freediving?

Freediving is a modern competitive sport that finds its roots in antiquity and even prehistory. Man has used and developed the techniques of breath-hold diving for the gathering of food, for military application and for salvage. At the time of Alexander the Great, there was then a long established industry producing a much coveted, purple dye from the murex shell that was harvested by divers from the city of Tyre.

From about 300N of the equator to 300S, are found the main communities of breath-hold divers. The Ama divers of Japan and Korea, ladies who dive almost naked in water of only
18OC/64OF, harvesting edible sea-weed, and pearls.In this same geographical band we find the Moro’s of the Philippines, the Polynesian divers, the Indian pearl divers of the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Islands, the pearl divers of the Gulf of Arabia, and the Greek sponge divers of Kalimnos and Simi.

Usually, the average man in the street, when asked, will probably say that he can hold his breath for between 45 seconds to a minute and a half. However, after a short period of instruction in correct breathing, warm-up procedures and simple mental techniques, he will probably be able do in excess of two minutes, in a couple of days, and after three or four weeks practicing three times a week, he will probably manage four minutes. At this point, looking back, it seems incredible. What seemed to be in the realm of the superhuman, was just achieved and if this was possible, what isn’t?”

We all have the ability to master man’s greatest imperative- the breath. We can do without food for weeks, without water for days, but without air only for a few minutes.
At this point we are all pioneers on the path of ‘voluntary’ control of autonomic functions and regardless of who has trodden the path before, each and every one of us has an incredible potential for self-discovery.

‘Homo Aquaticus’!

Most SCUBA divers, snorkelers, improperly trained freedivers, and to a lesser degree, surfers or kayakers and other extreme sports enthusiasts, have very little idea of the real dangers of their sport or how to safely develop their skills. They are in fact, unwittingly playing Russian Roulette, when even the most rudimentary experienced freedive instruction; a sound knowledge of the safety rules and a basic understanding of methodical systematic development, would make their sport and progress much safer and much more enjoyable.
Freedive training offers a vastly improved sense of well being not only in the water, but in oneself, which is why it crosses over so well into any area where exposure to extreme elements might occur; such as in mountaineering or rock climbing, as it is mentally challenging and provides a perfect environment for the ultimate interaction with that medium.

At the same time as it is physically intense it demands total mental awareness. This makes the freediver similar in essence to the Yogi with his ‘doors of perception’, ‘dirhana’, ‘dhyana’ and ‘pratyahara’ – flexible for amplitude and fluidity of movement, concentrated, focussed, and with the ability for a degree of ‘sensory withdrawal’, i.e. to be the observer.

For those of us aware enough during the dive, to feel the extreme shift of consciousness into the ‘now’; the exact moment to equalize, the exact moment to alter rhythm, to fill one’s cheeks with air, to go into the glide; we might briefly have touched on the ‘Zen’ of freediving, where we exist in the moment in response to sensations within ourselves and where we, in fact, dive inside ourselves.


A modern sport, freediving began in about 1947, as a competition between Italian spear fishermen. Today there are 5 major disciplines in the sport. As of April 2007, the records, most of which have been ratified by A.I.D.A. stand at what is quoted below for each separate discipline.

The deepest, is ‘No Limits’, where the diver is pulled down by a weighted “sled” whose speed of descent he controls and his return to the surface is assisted by an inflatable air bag. The sled travels up and down a heavily weighted cable suspended from a boat.

This is the next deepest discipline and is where the diver descends with the aid of a sled along a cable, but in this case the weight of the sled is limited to 30 kg or 1/3 of the weight of the diver. He must ascend by his own unassisted efforts by either pulling on the line or finning up. 

This is one of the most accessible to freedivers, as well as being one of the most athletic and physically demanding of all the disciplines. The diver equipped with a mask (or nose clip, both optional), wet suit, weight belt and monofin/ fins, swims down along a line, he is not allowed to assist himself by pulling on the line, either on descent or ascent, he must return to the surface with the same weights with which he submerged.

The freeediver swims down along a guide rope and returns to the surface with the same weight with which he left the surface. He is not allowed to assist himself by pulling on the line, either down or up. The only equipment permitted is a suit, weightbelt (if necessary), mask or fluid goggles and nose-clip. The swim style used to date has been breast-stroke.

This was a discipline originally very popular in Cuba and South America, where freediving equipment was hard to obtain. The diver equipped with wet suit (optional), mask or nose clip (optional), weight belt (optional), but without fins, pulls himself down along a weighted line towards the bottom and returns to the surface the same way. If he wears a weight belt he must return to the surface without dropping it. 

This is a non-depth discipline where a diver holds his breath (usually lying in a pool) with the face submerged, for the maximum possible time.

‘DYNMIC APNEA’ with fins and without fins

This is the maximum distance achieved horizontally in a swimming pool on a single breath.

For current A.I.D.A World Records, click on the link: