The ocean has always called to me. From the time I could stand up in diapers, you could always find me chasing the waves of the shore. Jumping in and out, over and under. Swimming until my fingers pruned and the sun kissed my hair white.
In high school, the ocean fascinated me so much that I contemplated becoming a marine biologist. With endless unexplored life teaming just beyond the ocean’s surface, I wanted to know everything and anything.
Unfortunately for me, after closer inspection, I learned that most marine biologists spend most of their days in labs. Only the lucky ones are usually out in the field, or the water, I should say. I knew I belonged out in the big blue, but wasn’t sure how to make it happen.
It wasn’t until after college that serendipity struck. I was traveling Thailand when I accidentally stumbled across a diving hot spot, a little island called Koh Tao. Scuba diving didn’t quite seem like my kind of gig – something about being strapped to tanks of pressurized air kind of freaks me out – so this freediving thing (click here for more on what that actually is) seemed to be more up my alley.
My last breath of air filled my lungs and down I went, from one world of air to another of water. The first thing I noticed was just how quiet it was. Noise from the surface was gone, leaving me alone with just my thoughts.
And those thoughts were just a smidge scary at first. ‘This doesn’t feel right. I’m upside down underwater. I can’t breath. What if I drown?’ So much of what happens during a dive is actually focusing on what’s happening in your mind. This aspect is something that immediately drew me in: freediving is just as much a mental sport as it is a physical one. We have to be entirely relaxed in order to freedive. Calm your mind, your heart, and your body.
At first, it can be really daunting work. Why would we want to override natural tendencies that are designed to keep us alive? Well, for one, our brain has a way of playing tricks on us in an attempt to keep us safe. Every time we breath in, we breath out carbon dioxide. Our body likes to keep a balance between oxygen and CO2, but when we hold our breath, the CO2 doesn’t go anywhere. Instead, it builds up and makes our brain thinks it needs more oxygen. So first, we have to learn to override those feelings and just keep swimming.
Once you can do that, you enter what I consider to be an incredibly blissful form of meditation. Just imagine: The world around you has melted into perfect quite. Your mind and body are deeply relaxed, allowing you to focus solely on the present moment. Cool water runs across your skin, and the big blue extends for as far as you can see, holding you in a comforting hug.
That’s how I feel when I’m down there; a million miles away, in my own little universe. The only thing that matters is the here and now. I feel and see everything so clearly. You’d be surprised how much we miss or are unaware of, even in our own bodies.
There’s something addictive about freediving. Maybe it’s discovering your mental and physical limits. Maybe it’s feeling like one with the ocean. Maybe you just like to be in the water. We all freedive for different reasons, but there’s one thing that’s for sure: the ocean is a truly magical place. Once you’ve experienced it for yourself, you will be forever drawn back.