Freediving is right on the edge of blowing up, and it is hard not to notice the unfaltering parallel to surfing. Big wave chargers such as Ian Walsh and Maya Gabeira are learning more about breathing techniques to better their chances of survival. Because let’s face it, suffocation is scary – and it’s not just suffocation that freedivers face. At the depths they are reaching, the body reacts to the pressures around it. It goes without saying that freedivers and surfers both have a profound connection and understanding of the ocean.
When asked why freediving instead of scuba diving, Kirk Krack, founder of Performance Freediving explained, “It’s the freedom. Similar to the reasons most surfers prefer paddling to tow-ins. Scuba diving is like being in a SUV with air conditioning and music,” he said. “Freediving is like grabbing your backpack and hiking through the forest. You have to be adaptive and understand your surroundings.” Like surfers, they seem to thrive in uncomfortable situations.
Freedivers venture into places where humans are not meant to venture: cold, dark, and free of usable oxygen is not a place most people want to be. Some may wonder where the appeal is there, but then again, they probably feel the same way about big wave surfing. Motivation is fueled by the desire to push yourself. A major component of free diving is being able to stay calm under extreme circumstances. During Kirk Krack’s Performance Freediving class, he teaches surfers how to remain calm. Unlike freedivers, when surfers wipe out, they are unable to take in the air they need. Being relaxed is essential to survival, as an increased heart rate is only going to waste oxygen.
Some of the most experienced divers manage depths over 100 meters. To accomplish this, they must understand the physics behind it. Every thirty-three feet is like adding one more pressure of atmosphere. At sixty-six feet their lungs are about one third the size. Breathing is a survival instinct, but over time, your body can be trained to suppress that urge. A normal person has a lung volume of about six liters, but some competitive freedivers have a lung volume of ten liters. At around 115 meters, their lungs are about the size of two apples. At this extreme depth, divers compare the feeling to being drunk, but still under control. Extreme freedivers don’t wear masks, because if they dive deep enough, the pressure between their head and their mask may suck out their eyeballs. While surfers do not have to worry about getting their eyeballs sucked out, they do have to worry about staying calm and using oxygen in the most efficient manner. Big wave surfers can benefit from freediving classes because understanding the way the body works is essential to surviving a substantial wipe out. “Freediving has unlimited benefits to the surfing industry,” Francesca Koe, editor-in-chief of Deeper Blue explained. “When a surfer wipes out, there is no use in fighting the wave. You just have to sit there and let the ocean do what it wants with you. While you can’t control what the ocean does, you can control how your body reacts. You can’t give in to the panic response.”
Recently, surfing has been going back to its basics. Paddling out and handling unexpected situations are an aspect of being a good surfer. Freediving is similar in that it relies more on one’s body and less on equipment. Breathing techniques and anatomy are often underestimated in the surfing world, but surfers are starting to realize that in order to succeed in the surfing business, they must also know how to wipeout.
“Surfers, like freedivers, feel more comfortable in the ocean anyway,” says Krack. “That’s why they gravitate towards the sport in the first place. The ocean is our home environment. It’s where we belong. We just have to understand that we’re at its mercy.”