Quick: What’s the scariest thing that can happen while you’re underwater? If you answered “running out of breath before you surface,” you’d share the same anxiety as pretty much every other swimmer out there.
And yet, there’s a group of people who thrive on the idea of not using any breathing devices for extended underwater diving. Freediving China is a school that teaches and promotes freediving, a form of diving that “relies on a diver’s ability to hold his or her breath until resurfacing.” The sport is also known as apnea, a Greek word that means “without breathing.” (Sound familiar? Perhaps you’ve heard of sleep apnea.)
“’Isn’t it dangerous?’ is the question people often ask – and the answer is ‘no,’” says instructor Julian Lopez. Freediving is like any sport, he continues. That means being careful, respecting your limits, and following the golden rule of diving: never do it alone. Pool sessions are closely supervised and carry the same risks associated with any other water activity. In open water, the risks are obviously higher and related to the effect of low oxygen levels on the body.
According to Freediving China’s website, participants don’t need to be professional swimmers, only in decent shape. The real value lies in “unlearning” the way we normally breathe when swimming, resulting in better control of breath and other physical reflexes. Contrary to popular belief, freediving isn’t an adrenaline-filled sport. “When diving or swimming, we are always taught that [hyperventilating]improves our diving time and capabilities,” says Lopez. “This is wrong and can’t be further from the truth.”
Because Freediving China partners with other scuba schools, its classes are located all over the city. Locations include Wudaokou, Gongti, and the Olympic area, but the bulk of the school’s activities are concentrated in Xizhimen because of the area’s superior facilities.
If you’re interested in taking the plunge, the introduction course costs RMB 1,200 and lasts one day. Though Freediving China only teaches adults aged 18 and up as a rule, the organization also accepts teens who are 16 or 17 – provided they have guardian or parental consent. The course covers the basics, such as breathing, equalization, and safety. A 25 percent discount is available for groups of four people or more. The school also offers personal freediving training for RMB 300 per hour; there’s also a package price of RMB 2,500 for 10 hours. Courses are available in English, Spanish, or Chinese, with the option to arrange translators for other languages.
To find out more about Freediving China, visit their website.
Photo courtesy of Freediving China