Photograph of Enzo Mallorca and Jacques Mayol
Freediving is as ancient as humanity itself.
History shows that humans have been freediving for food for about 8,000 years. Freediving is sometimes called Apnea, a Greek work for “without breathing,” and has been an important livelihood in some cultures.
The Bajan people, also known as the “Sea Gypsies of Malaysia,” fish underwater for up to five minutes at a time. The island of Jeju, situated 53 miles to the south of the mainland of Korea, is home to the Haenyeo. The Haenyo were featured during the opening ceremony broadcast of the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang Korea. The Ama are the pearl diving mermaids of Japan, part of an age-old fishing tradition practiced by small coastal villages. And off the island of Kalymnos Greece, the practice of collecting sponges from deep in the sea quickly became referred to as “sea sponge diving” and was practiced as an Olympic sport by the ancient Greeks.
Today, as a sport, freediving is not about raising adrenaline levels and racing hearts, but instead relies on the ability to relax completely – mentally and physically. A relaxed body consumes far less oxygen than a tense body, which would not be able to equalize the pressure that comes with depth. The greatest obstacle that freedivers face is fighting the urge to breathe. People think that this desire is derived from a lack of oxygen, when in fact it’s the levels of carbon dioxide rising. As you hold your breath, you still have high levels of oxygen in the lungs, blood, and tissues but no way of releasing carbon dioxide that keeps building up. Accepting and acknowledging the feeling of this buildup is the key to success in freediving. If you are interested, there is more information on the CMAS site about freediving.
It was not until the 1970’s that formal competition was developed by CMAS. Italian Enzo Maiorca, first freediver through the 100-meter barrier, and Frenchman Jacques Mayol (who dove to 105-meters) vied with each other for the world record. Their intense rivalry inspired Director Luc Besson to make his 1988 film “Le Grand Bleu” (The Big Blue) which in turn has inspired the current generation of freedivers. 2018 marks the 30th Anniversary of The Big Blue film where the dive scenes took place on the island of Amorgos, Greece and Sicily. If you watch the film, as you see below, you will notice that CMAS was officially placed in the film sanctioning the competitions.
As a freediver, you are part of a time-honored tradition and connected to the underwater environment in a way that only a small percentage of the world’s population will ever experience.