Into the Deep: Freediving in Aqaba

Some consider freediving to be too risky. But if taught properly, this seemingly extreme sport can be truly exhilarating.

By Jane Hosking

To most people, the idea of diving deep underwater for lengthy periods of time without scuba gear sounds difficult, if not extremely dangerous. Surely you wouldn’t last much more than a minute before needing to come up for air? But by using freediving breathing techniques it’s actually possible to stay under water without breathing for much longer than you might think.

Venture was invited by the Chi Center to spend a weekend learning how to freedive in Aqaba. The Chi Center, which brought the sport to Jordan two years ago, offers a level-one course that includes a theory class and pool training, followed by a dive.

We arrived in Aqaba late at night, a bit apprehensive about what to expect the next day. Is it even safe to hold your breath under water for such a long time? But the following day we began training in the pool and found ourselves in good hands with Jan Musil, an experienced freediving instructor who travels to Jordan each summer to conduct trainings for the Chi Center.

Freediving in AqabaWe soon learned that freediving is all about learning to be in control of your body and preparing yourself with breathing techniques before going underwater. By learning these techniques, a beginner can realistically start to hold their breath for up to three minutes in a level-one course.

According to Mutaz Mango from the Chi Center, freediving has baffled medical experts and forced them to rethink what the human body can endure. “It was thought that humans could not hold their breath for longer than two to three minutes, or that diving below 30 meters would implode the lungs,” he said. But the world record breath hold now clocks in at a remarkable 11:35 minutes, while the deepest dive record stands at 214 meters. “Mainstream science is slowly learning about what has been called the mammalian diving reflex, where clear physiological changes occur in our bodies upon contact with water,” explained Mango.

While holding your breath for long periods underwater may sound like a risky thing to do, Mango believes that, if done properly, freediving is very safe and has many advantages over scuba diving. For example, the dangers of scuba diving, such as decompression sickness and barometric trauma—which result from ascending too fast after breathing gas that is at a higher pressure than at the surface—don’t occur with freediving. Also, unlike scuba, freediving requires less equipment, which not only makes it a cheaper way to experience the sea, but also allows you to swim faster and more freely.

After our pool training we set off for the Red Sea with our wetsuits, flippers, and snorkel masks to try out what we had learned that morning. Swimming from the shore out into the depths of the sapphire blue waters, it suddenly became apparent that the sea is full of life. We swam amongst schools of fish, watched countless jellyfish float by, and dived down to take a closer look at the rocks and coral below. Feeling lightweight and free, it was almost as if we were flying.

Once we had made our way out into the deeper waters we practiced our newfound skills of freediving by pulling ourselves upside-down towards the seafloor using a rope. With this technique it is possible for a beginner to swim down as far as 15 to 20 meters.

According to Mango, freediving is not only a fun recreational experience but it’s also something that can help with personal development and managing stress, which can be especially useful for business leaders and entrepreneurs. “Freediving is a personal experience that brings a person face to face with oneself, physically, mentally, and emotionally,” he said, adding that learning to stay calm and in control is a vital skill in both freediving and in operating a successful business.

While it certainly may not be the most conventional way to develop business skills or to spend your weekend, freediving is truly a unique experience unlike any other, which leaves you feeling both exhilarated and refreshed.

See below a youtube clip of freediving: