Audrey of BlueAddiction, always graceful in apnea. (Red Sea, Egypt, October 2016)
Audrey of BlueAddiction, always graceful in apnea. (Red Sea, Egypt, October 2016)

Freediving means freedom underwater

  France: French Riviera - July 2014

Dear English-speaking readers, this page is an automatic translation of an article originally written in French. I apologise for any strange sentences and funny mistakes that may have resulted. If you read French, click on the French flag below to access the original, correct text: 

This year, I discovered freediving. In Indonesia, then in the Mediterranean. In English, we say "free divingI love it!

Hold one's breath

Life is full of surprises. I, the scuba diver who loves to make bubbles, have learned to do something unbelievable: to do without a regulator and not to breathe underwater! Yes, this year, I started freediving!

In English, we call it free diving : free diving. I like the expression, it's the freedom (and not the lack of air, like in French with the word , apnea) which is put forward. No more need for an air bottle on your back!

The principle is to do as the marine mammals. The only reserve of air that you take on board, is the one you store in your lungs... 😀

Bubbles game in a Polynesian lagoon, in 2012 ... Not easy to play the sirens, even at 10 cm deep!
Bubble game in a Polynesian lagoon, in 2012... Not easy to play the sirens, even at 10 cm deep!
Much more classy: Rémy Dubern en route to 91m at the 2013 World Championships in Kalamata, Greece. Photo: © Daan Verhoeven.
Much classier: Rémy Dubern on his way to 91 m at the 2013 World Championships in Kalamata, Greece. (Photo: © Daan Verhoeven)

At the beginning, I didn't think I was capable of apnea, with my smoking past. I also doubted that I had the necessary physical resistance, given my lack of regular sports activity. And even though I love water, I'm not good at swimming - swimming laps has never been my thing. Anyway. I was convinced that snorkeling was not for me.

However, I can now go down to a depth of about ten meters (update 2018 : about 20 meters, now)There are few things I have accomplished this year that I am so proud of. I still can't believe it.

Indonesia, May 2014

Gapang Beach, Pulau Weh. Banda Aceh, Indonesia, May 2014.
Gapang beach in Pulau Weh, so peaceful. Indonesia, May 2014.

It all started in Indonesia, in May 2014. I returned to Pulau Weh, a small island in the province of Banda Aceh, on the western tip of Sumatra. There I met up with a friend, Remy Dubern, whom I had met during a previous stay in Pulau Weh, four years earlier, in 2010. He was a bottle diving instructor at the time.

At Nice Abyss Contest 2014, Rémy Dubern in freefall, en route to 64 m. (Photo: © Bill Rhamey)
At the Nice Abyss Contest 2014, Rémy Dubern in freefall, en route to 64 m. (Photo: © Bill Rhamey)

We kept in touch on Facebook. In the meantime, he started freediving. And as he's the kind of guy who doesn't do things by halves when he's passionate about something, he pushed the experience very far... Up to the competition, up to the gold medal, at the FFESSM French championship of 2013, with a descent in fins to -80 meters!

Freediving is now his life. In addition to competition, he became a trainer and now teaches free diving to beginners as well as to more experienced divers (see his website Blue Addiction). With his partner Audrey, he regularly organizes workshops in France and abroad.

So I took advantage of Rémy's presence in Pulau Weh, to learn freediving with him, at Lumba Lumba dive shop on Gapang Beach, between two days of bubbles diving...

He is a great teacher, benevolent and very educational, who really gives you confidence and knows how to communicate his passion. I might not have dared to try freediving if he hadn't been able to talk to me about it as he did... A real motivator!

For the practical exercises, the first step takes place in the dry. After a few simple yoga postures to relax the body and breathing exercises to learn to fill the rib cage, we lie down on deckchairs, we relax as much as possible and we all try to hold our breath as long as possible...

It seemed unimaginable to me, but after a few tries, I managed to keep it up for 2 1/2 minutes!

Pulau Weh, Sumatra, Indonesia. Freediving lesson with Rémy Dubern. May 2014.
Rémy explains the basic principles of apnea, during the "dry" training.
Pulau Weh, Sumatra, Indonesia. Freediving lesson with Rémy Dubern. May 2014.
Here we go! Everyone holds their breath, trying to relax as much as possible!

Well, in the water, it's a different matter. There are other tricks to master: the ears to balance, the palmage to optimize, the stress to manage... We are several apnea apprentices to follow the course and we all manage, throughout the day, to overcome our blockages, to make impressive progress, each one at its level.

Pulau Weh, Sumatra, Indonesia. Freediving lesson with Rémy Dubern. May 2014.
Remy is about to get into the water with the buoy for the freediving lessons.
Pulau Weh, Sumatra, Indonesia. Freediving lesson with Rémy Dubern. May 2014.
Hello, freediving apprentices!

As I didn't bring my camera underwater for the sessions in the sea, I put below some screenshots of the videos made with the GoPro by Remy with Rimen and Mathieu, a couple of travelers who became friends and who discovered snorkeling like me during their stay in Pulau Weh.

Pulau Weh, Sumatra, Indonesia. Freediving lesson with Rémy Dubern. May 2014.

I liked this initiation in Indonesia so much that I decided to do it again: even before the end of my stay in Pulau Weh, I signed up for one of the three-day Blue Addiction workshops that Rémy had planned to organize in Hyères, in the South of France, this summer.

Update 2021. Remy made a video for the magazine Dive! in which he explains the breathing techniques, useful for both freediving and scuba diving. I give it to you below:

Hyères, July 2014

Returning from my trip to MexicoAt the end of July, I took the road again for a last week of vacations on the French Riviera, in Hyères, to participate in the Blue Addiction freediving course. This trip on the Var coast was a first for me: I didn't know the area at all, which is however a bit the cradle of diving in France...

I discovered the islands of Port-Cros and Porquerolles during our sea trips, under a radiant sun! Beautiful! Of course, it's not Indonesia, and the water is definitely cooler, but the Mediterranean remains "exotic" for the Breton that I am...

From Pualu Weh to Hyères, I discovered another way of diving. And above all, I discovered that I was perfectly capable of it. At my (modest) level of course...

I like the parallel with running that Rémy makes during his training sessions: everyone is able to jog, to run for pleasure, at his own pace, no need to be a marathon runner. For freediving, it's the same: you don't need to be an athlete like in the Big BlueIt can be practised as a leisure activity, in complete safety, and is accessible to any normally constituted person.

Stage of apnea Blue Addiction with Rémy Dubern, in Hyères. July 2014.

Between my introduction to freediving in Indonesia and this course in the Mediterranean, I gained confidence. I learned little tricks that are not very complicated, that allow you to hold your breath longer.

What is really incredible is the spectacular progress that everyone makes, between the very first immersion and the following apneas... I also learned the importance of physical relaxation and mental "letting go" (which are useful not only in apnea, but also in everyday life).

The base of Blue Addiction during summer internships. (Photo: © Blue Addiction)
The Blue Addiction base during the summer courses (Photo: © Blue Addiction)
Apnea training in Hyères (Var) with Blue Addiction. July 2014.
A trainee refines his technique under the benevolent eye of a safety apneist. (Photo: © Blue Addiction)
A trainee refines his technique under the benevolent eye of a safety apneist. (Photo: © Blue Addiction)

From snorkeling to freediving

Well, I am only a beginner at the moment and I still have a lot of room for improvement! Unlike others, I'm not looking for depth or performance, but rather for pleasure and ease...

The idea is to be able to see fish and corals up close, when I go snorkeling (fins-mask-tuba). And then, maybe, one day, to be able to approach (and photograph, and film) dolphins, sharks, manta rays and other friendly creatures, without scaring them with a plume of noisy bubbles!

In particular, I remember my snorkeling session with the dolphins of Sataya, Egypt, and the whale shark trip to Mexico If I had taken a few freediving courses before, I would have been much more comfortable making my images...

Dolphins. Sataya, Egypt. December 2011.

During my trip to the Maldives in February 2014I didn't know much about freediving yet either. But some of my fellow divers on the fabulous boat Ocean Divine were also excellent apneists (I am late in my publications, I have not yet told this part of the stay).

During our snorkeling breaks, I was a little envious to see them immersing and descending under the surface, without apparent effort...

Me, not very good at holding without breathing underwater, I was content to splash around on the surface with my camera. Admire the graceful position... (Thanks to Jeff for the pictures !)

The beauty of free diving

I am very proud to have obtained, after my initiation in Indonesia, my first star Aida (International Association for the Development of Diving).

Not very proud to have obtained my first star Aida (International Association for the Development of Apnea)!

What is fascinating about apnea is that it mobilizes primitive physiological resources, that we all have in us, without really being aware of it. Our body is now adapted to terrestrial life, but it has kept buried, during evolution, somewhere deep in its cells, the memory of its former aquatic life... The subject fascinates doctors and biologists. I refer you to this page of Rémy's Blue Addiction site, which explains it very well:

→ We can all do apnea

I will continue to scuba dive, of course. But I also want to progress in free diving... You are free from the equipment, you listen more to your body. And above all, it is so much more beautiful!

It's also very funny to meet scuba divers, underwater... They can't believe it when they see snorkelers passing under their noses, without any other equipment than fins, mask and snorkel !

On the left, a 17-year-old trainee freediver is taking advantage of her recent progress to tease the bottle divers ... (Photo: © Blue Addiction)
On the left, a 17 year old trainee freediver takes advantage of his recent progress to go and tease the scuba divers... (Photo: © Blue Addiction)

New experiences with freedivers

I had the opportunity to try freediving again or to meet other freedivers, during new trips:

→ In Red Sea (Egypt) in October 2016

→ In Indonesia in Komodo, in July 2016

An apneist surrounded by anthias swarms over Batu Bolong reef in Komodo. (Indonesia, July 2017)
A snorkeler surrounded by swarms of anthias above the Batu Bolong reef in Komodo (Indonesia, July 2017)
Audrey of BlueAddiction, always graceful in apnea. (Red Sea, Egypt, October 2016)
Audrey of BlueAddiction, always graceful in apnea. (Red Sea, Egypt, October 2016)
Sirens exist, the proof ... (Red Sea, Safaga, Egypt, October 2016)
Sirens exist, the proof ... (Red Sea, Safaga, Egypt, October 2016)

Inspiring videos

Finally, to close this chapter on my discovery of freediving, I really like the inspiration of today's freedivers to share their passion, thanks to videos posted on the internet. They are more and more numerous to put forward the aesthetic dimension of free diving, to offer another approach of the underwater world or of the sensations in diving, which is neither documentary nor reportage nor competition...

The most famous is the apneist Guillaume Néryworld champion in 2011 and holder of the French record at -125 meters. He is the one we see in the movie Free Fall, directed by his partner Julie Gautier, who has been a hit on the internet since 2010.

In April 2014, when his book came out Depths, I had the pleasure of interviewing him for the evening edition digitalOuest-France.

The article is available as a PDF capture at the end of the link below:

Guillaume Néry, a life in freediving

© Guillaume Néry / Julie Gautier
© Guillaume Néry / Julie Gautier

Guillaume Néry and Julie Gautier have directed a new short film (in which Rémy Dubern participated), which I invite you to discover below.

The theme of this film is the hallucinations caused by narcosis, this intoxication of the depths that divers feel when they are able to go very far underwater... The bias is again very aesthetic, but in a more psychedelic and slightly scary vein...

Guillaume Néry also participated in a film in the mexican cenotes. I find there the atmosphere and the play of light which so fascinated me for my own images.

Obviously, snorkeling in this kind of place is reserved for the pros... I put a clip below. It is superb, but also rather worrying.

For the fans of this kind of offbeat movies about freediving, I put below the links to two other articles I published recently, with more playful little movies:

The man who runs on the surface of the sea (a video made by Spaniards, where a freediver, filmed upside down and feet level with the surface, gives the illusion of running on water)

© The Ocean Brothers
© The Ocean Brothers

At -40 m in the deepest pool in the world (I put a video of the diver dressed as a mermaid who gave a nice underwater show for the inauguration of the Y-40 diving pit in Italy)

© Y-40 The Deep Joy
© Y-40 The Deep Joy

  France: French Riviera - July 2014

  Indonesia: Pulau Weh [Sumatra] - May 2014

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  1. Ah, I'm glad to see that you also caught the virus! It must be said that we quickly become addicted to freediving and as you say the progression curve is so fast (at the beginning) that we only want to continue and surpass ourselves, again and again.

    I did a lot of sessions this summer while I was training for my instructor level and now, when I think about it, from Paris, I just want to go back! I can't wait for spring.

    1. @Gaspard: Yes, the progress of the beginning is extremely motivating. I'm now thinking about investing in real freediving gear, long fins and a really isothermal suit... I suffered from the cold, in the Mediterranean. Long live the warm seas 😉

    2. Be careful with freediving fins when you start... it is not always useful to start. You really need to start with a very flexible model so as not to slow down your progress (but, if necessary, Rémy will advise you much better than me).

      Well, who knows, maybe we'll end up meeting underwater, with or without a bottle.

    3. @Gaspard: I'm a great beginner, for the moment... I'll wait for a next training course opportunity to get more interested in the right equipment. In the meantime, I'm already learning how to fin properly with ordinary fins! And who knows, yes, maybe we'll end up crossing paths underwater one day soon! 😉

  2. Hats off to you! I can barely manage to do about 30 linear meters at 2 meters below the surface and when our swimming teacher tells me that 50 meters is in my head, I tell him that I have a too small head 😛

  3. Wow! So inspiring! I didn't even know it was possible to take this kind of class! It's much more appealing to me than yoga 😉 Thanks for the discovery!

    1. @ Marie-Julie: Yes, this kind of course is becoming more and more popular. It's exciting and super motivating. I highly recommend the experience, if you ever get the chance!

  4. Thank you Corinne for this timely article, I just signed up for freediving classes this year 🙂 the pool for the moment, which allows you to train before going to the sea. As you say, without looking for performance, it's nice to feel the progress in a few minutes, thanks to good advice. Rémy Dubern's courses look great !

    1. Oh my!!! Me, who already lacks air in an elevator or in a sanitized room where it is impossible to open the windows!!!! 😉 😉

  5. I enjoy snorkeling but I found all this equipment a bit tedious when I was diving. Indeed, I appreciate snorkeling for its freedom and simplicity.
    Just a quick question out of curiosity to the future expert! I remember when I was a kid and had fun doing laps underwater, it worked much better if I hyperventilated first. Is this a "classic" method or is it a potentially dangerous bad idea?

    1. @Laurent: Yes, hyperventilation is dangerous (risk of syncope). It allows to artificially lower the CO2 level, which is not recommended because it is CO2 that triggers the vital signal, in our body, of the need to breathe. If you hyperventilate, you delay this signal and you risk a lot... Google the terms : risk + hyperventilation + apnea. This PDF file explains it quite well:

  6. Corinne: The hyperbaric doctor I met after my diving accident told me that apnea could be a solution for me, since there are no nitrogen bubbles.
    Your training course and the way you describe it, engage me to push my reflection a little further ! Indeed, like many beginners, I can't control anything underwater while freediving! And this is how snorkeling and freediving could become for me a serious alternative to scuba diving! To be continued! 🙄

    1. @Didier: I thought of you, during my apnea trainings... If the doctor agrees, I warmly recommend you the experience! Yes, you should try it, just to see... you'll be surprised of your own abilities, I think. To be continued, then...

  7. I must admit that you make me want to do it with this feedback. I don't know if I would be able to do it, as I have never done any diving before, even if it attracts me strongly. I had done snorkeling on the islands of Okinawa in Japan and I already liked the fact that I could approach sea turtles. I would like to be able to swim freely like that and to try the experience in Ogasawara (Japan) with dolphins ^_^

  8. A great article that really makes you want to take freediving classes!!! Thank you and good continuation Corinne 😉