FREE DIVING A New Perspective by Bob Harding

A snorkeler is often looked upon as a second class citizen aquanaut. In reality, snorkeling with repeated breath hold descents (free diving) is an art which precedes scuba diving by hundreds if not thousands of years. Free diving fulfills the same needs or desires as scuba, most importantly, of being in the water.

The earliest contribution to my free diving development was a persistent lack of money. To get a ride to Lake George and snorkel all day cost nothing about what I had at the time - could this be where the term ‘free diving’ came from? One summer day, a rich friend came to a neighborhood pool with scuba. That summer I swam above and behind Charlie, surface diving to meet him. By seasons end, we were scouring the rocks of Harris Bay at depths of 5 to 30’ for bottles and relics.

After this initial burst of scuba diving, those long years when there was no greater love, I started dating seriously. Soon, my already meager finances were consumed to the point that even the cost of a hydro test was out of reach, so my girl and I would canoe around at will.

One trip, we stopped to swim. We traveled lightly: swim suits, snorkeling gear and paddles. My girl felt her suit bottom was on backwards. Meaning to reverse it in the water while hanging onto the canoe, she dropped it and tipped the canoe over. All sorts of rescue boats streaked to help. At this point, I made a crucial free dive and brought up the bikini bottom from 40 feet.

Whatever your beginnings in free diving, you will discover a whole new world for a minimal investment. The basic mask, fins and snorkel cost relatively little to get started. In tight money times, you get a lot more water time for much less expense. You will have to add a wet suit for cold water protection.

For the scuba diver, new shore site access and exploration are enhanced as many places can be checked out in advance by free diving to locate the prime dive site for the day and maximizing tank time.

Divers will be awarded with great workouts enhancing better health and greater dives, A splash of water in the face can be soothing and relaxing. Total body immersion with mask, fins, snorkel and wet suit, before a tank dive, can make a positive difference in an anxious diver. And, a free dive before scuba can make orientation to a new site easier.

With a little practice, the art of free diving can be mastered. In general, the cycle of a free dive begins with a bend at the waist, feet up for the gravity assist, a strong kick, clearing of ears, relaxation to conserve fuel (O2). Then level off, enjoy, kick to return, relax and when the snorkel breaks the surface, blow to clear and breath. A breathing period of double the breath hold is a good rule to use to return the body’s CO2 level to normal.

With more practice, dives can be extended and deepened. Experts say 10’ per year greater depth is a good work out goal. Learn your own comfort limit, then follow bottom contours. Work the water column, breath deep and use all your senses to become a new species of water animal.

When I was determined to extend my own previous depth of 50-60’, I had a dive buddy station himself at 60’ on scuba. His exhaust bubbles gave me orientation, so I went down to see him at 60’. Upon returning home, I told my father in law, an old time diver, of my accomplishment. His response: ‘you’re getting old and your organs are in a state of decay requiring much less oxygen.’ So much for feeling good.

In free diving, there are psychological as well as the physical barriers: descending quickly into the fading light; not being able to see the bottom after what seems to be a long way down; the felling you need to take a long breath.

Another barrier is the solid wall of the thermocline. I have gone down to this colder layer only to be deflected right back up even though I had plenty of air. Now, I stop at the thermocline to evaluate my situation, then go down to a second level.

In free diving, there is a sense of oneness with the water world. We are held weightless in the core ingredient of our physical make up. As with sharks, we probably receive electro chemical data, although we don’t know how to feel or interpret the data.

In an aquatic media, sound is faster and louder, so we need to work harder to focus attention on the clues of the aquatic life in the neighborhood which would otherwise be concealed by the exhaust bubbles of scuba.

So, the next time you head for the lake or ocean, remember diving in its purest form - the art of free diving.

COMPETITION

According to the National Marine Fisheries Service, marine recreational fishing is an increasingly popular outdoor recreational activity. Millions of individuals and families participate annually as a relaxing, healthful source of recreation and as a way of obtaining high quality protein food. A 1985 Gallop Poll found recreational fishing the second most popular outdoor activity in America. Recreational marine fishing includes spearfishing.

Spearfishing is dropping into a school of very large fish with a skill and undersea technique so natural you are completely accepted. It’s knowing the species in such an intimate level that you both think as one. It’s the voice from within saying ‘that hole over there,’ when there are other choices outwardly as good. It’s the satisfaction of an approach so perfect and a shot so accurate that death has no violence. It’s joining the underwater cycle.

Spearfishing is many things to many people. Since spear fishers are only human, they mirror all common feelings and faults; and some bring discredit to the sport. Remember, the individual is over shadowed by the aggregate; and the true American spearfisher is the best in the world because of the knowledge and understanding of the undersea creatures.

Spearfishing gives the participant more satisfaction and enjoyment per fish taken than any other method of fishing.

Yet, spearfishing is an inefficient method of recreational fishing. The catch per diver hour as calculated by the Cal Fish & Game is less than three fish with no noticeable effect on the species.

Spearfishing is hard work, often under adverse conditions: cold, dirty water; open ocean, surge and rips; lakes, murky, cold and filled with stumps and monofiliment line; It’s got to be easier sitting on the shore or in a boat, warm and dry, catching what chooses to take the bait rather than searching the depths on a breath of air.

Competitive spearfishing occurs all over the US. Dive clubs have competitions on their club dives to see who get the biggest fish of the year. Club and Council tournaments are bound strictly by local fish and game laws.

Council/Club meets have size minimums, species and total fish limits.

Edible fish are donated to charity, and trash fish end up as fertilizer or pig feed. The yearly council/club meets create satisfaction for many, wastes nothing and benefits many.