My freediving story
Interviews :: 2006-08-01 12:27:24
I've heard from a few people that the freediving web sites are full of information for expert freedivers, but lacking a bit when it comes to how you get into freediving in the first place. Well, here's a small story about how I got into freediving...
I was sitting on the low stonewall of Dahab’s beach walk, watching the waves of the Red Sea stretching all the way to Saudi Arabia. I was waiting for my freedive buddy to arrive for our first freedive session of the day. But in my mind I was going back 20 years in time, remembering how it all started and how I ended up living here in Dahab – one of the best spots in the world for freediving.
My first freedive
As a child growing up on the west coast of Sweden, I spent most of my summers by the sea. I remember sitting on the shore, gazing round-eyed as my father disappeared beneath the surface, resurfacing some minutes later a bit further away. He was freediving. And my mother was nervously trying to keep watch over him, my brother and me. Some ten years later, my mother would watch both my Dad and I, going deeper and staying longer, making her even more nervous.
I have a clear memory of my first “freedive”. It was on my first trip abroad, in Spain. I was 6 years old and I was in love with the ocean. I couldn’t swim just yet so I spent my time lying on a floating mattress with a mask and snorkel, looking down at the life on the bottom, silently whispering to the fish and making up their answers. One day I saw a red, small plastic car on the sandy bottom – and I simply glided off the mattress into the sea to pick it up. I was so proud when I brought it up from the bottom, yelling at my parents on the beach who had stood up when I went off the mattress. After that I didn’t go on the mattress again, but I did keep doing mini-dives while holding my breath.
My fascination with the sea and marine life grew throughout my youth, and I loved going underneath the surface. I never went in without a mask and snorkel because I didn’t find any purpose in just “bathing” or swimming. I even thought it a bit scary to not see what was down there while I was swimming on the surface. Algae touching my leg could easily turn into an algae-clad monster that would eat me whole if I didn’t pay attention.
Following my dreams
My passion for the sea was shared with many other activities – climbing, kayaking, any kind of outdoor pursuit. Then I started studying and suddenly there was less time for doing what I loved to do. I was trying to do what people call “being responsible” and “growing up”, but I was unhappy. Then I came to a decision. I would drop university and my engineering degree, and instead I would follow my dreams; I would freedive!
I believe there’s a time for everything, and that things will come when they’re supposed to. When there’s something you really want, the world will work with you. This is how it was with freediving. Once I made up my mind, all the pieces of the puzzle fell into place. For sure I had to work and fight, and to make personal sacrifices and give up some things, but in the end all my plans came together beautifully.
Where is the best place to freedive? – Dahab. I’ll go to Dahab and freedive. This sounded like a crazy idea at first, but after a while it sunk into my mind. It would be perfect to stay and work at one of the best freediving spots in the world. I browsed the Internet for dive clubs where I could work and found the seemingly perfect place, “Desert Divers”. Beside scuba diving and desert safaris, they also did freediving, rock climbing and yoga. I sent an email and got an answer back that they needed a freediving and rock-climbing instructor! I was walking on clouds – it was almost too good to be true. Arriving in Dahab for the first time and visiting the club, all my expectations were fulfilled. It was just as friendly and nice as it had looked on the web page. I was so lucky to have found the perfect place!
It took some time to wind down from the stress-related European lifestyle of always doing something or going somewhere. It also took some time to get used to the local people (Egyptian & Bedouin), their cultures and religion. Even now there are times when I wake up or get surprised by the call to prayer from the mosques, and I’m still not used to the big differences between men and women in the culture. But in all they are a friendly bunch of people, and Dahab is as wonderful a place above the surface as beneath.
Freediving in Dahab
The Blue Hole is probably one of the best freediving spots in the world. Only one step out from the jetty, there’s 92m of water underneath you. The hole itself is about 100m across, surrounded by a beautiful reef table. The conditions are almost always excellent as the hole is protected by the reef. The walls slope into an inclined sandy bottom that eventually opens out into the sea. The magic of the Blue Hole though, is the Arch – a deep archway starting at 52m. You can see into this arch from about 45m depth and view big tunas and other fish coming through. About 10 freedivers in the world have made it through the Arch. Inshallah one day I’ll make it onto that list.
You can easily find depths over 30m at any of the sites closest to the town centre (Masbat Bay & Eel Garden) and of course at the Canyon. But the nice thing about freediving in Dahab is that it’s not just about extreme deep diving. The Dahab dive sites offer an abundance of marine life and experiences for beginner freedivers or “Deep Snorkellers”. We teach a lot of people to freedive, and I would say that freediving is where scuba was 40 years ago - just at the beginning of the recreational growth curve.
Freediving and freedom
One last breath and I’m underneath the surface, in another world. In a world of silence, weightlessness and freedom. The warm water surrounds me like a big comforting embrace, caressing me softly as I descend, freefalling into the blue void.
Freediving is about our love of the sea. About the ultimate feeling of freedom. Weightless in a place between what is and what can be, in-between the surface and the bottom, in-between just two breaths of air. Relieved from everything in the world above the surface, there’s only you. Take away even your most life supporting activity, breathing, and there’s only you. Welcome to yourself.
A lot of freedivers were introduced to this sport through Luc Besson’s 80s cult movie, “The Big Blue”, portraying two freedivers attempts to break each other’s records. Many became seduced by the challenging aspects of the sport – the competition and the blue depths. But just as many identified themselves with the enigmatic, in-search-of-freedom outcast Jacques Mayol, who didn’t really fit in the real world. We’ve seen in his eyes what we’ve felt when freediving; I wish I could stay down there. If I could choose, I would choose life underneath the surface.
Text by Annelie Pompe
Photo by Dan Burton
Annelie is the 2005 Swedish Women’s freediving champion. For more information on freediving courses, or on training in Dahab for the Freediving World Championships in Hurghada this December, contact Annelie via firstname.lastname@example.org