If you like to hold your breath underwater, freediving could be for you. It’s an extreme sport where athletes challenge themselves to dive as deep as they can without any supplemental oxygen or dive tanks. Basically, it’s scuba diving sans any equipment. While it may seem simple to do, it does take training and technique. Taking a course with an expert is a good way to get introduced to the sport. The Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) offers classes for beginners that will teach you the basic principles of freediving, and then you’ll learn how to hold your breath with the goal of helping you reach 90 seconds. From there, instructors recommend you get in touch with your local dive center to figure out where to go.
To get an insider’s perspective, we tapped Perrin James, free diver turned spear fisherman turned videographer who travels around the world to find interesting sea creatures. You can check out his work online and on his Instagram which is filled with deep blue pictures from his latest off-the-grid location. The majority of his work is in conservation, commercial, documentary TV or documentary-style movies.
Here are James’s recommendations for the gear you’ll need to get started — and what’s worked for him for years.
Moana Carbon Fiber Hybrid Blades
James uses carbon fiber hybrids made by his friend Brad at Head Hunter Spearfishing. “Out of all the gear we use in the water, your fins are what’s going to make the biggest difference when pushing deeper depths or going the distance.” James has about five different pairs for all different types of dives. Longer, stiffer blades are best when pushing depths while softer, shorter fins are ideal for dives where you might cover more ground like the Caribbean, and they put less pressure on your knees and ankles when swimming miles.
Wetsuit for Freediving
Speargun Covi-Tek 3.5mm 2 PC Wetsuit
No matter where James travels, he’s pulling on a 3.5mm wetsuit.”Even in warmer climates, your body loses so much heat that if you’re not properly insulated, your dive times and breathe holds will become increasingly more difficult as the day goes on because of loss of body heat,” James says. He wears this camo Riffe suit or a Patagonia surf suit. While many companies claim that the patterns on the wetsuits will help you get closer to the fish, James disagrees. “Personally I wouldn’t buy into any of that. It’s all about the way you move underwater.”
Mask and Snorkel for Freediving
Your mask is the most important piece of equipment, James says. “Lower volume equals less air necessary to equalize and release the pressure that builds up against your mask and then your face. So essentially you’re breathing out of your nose into your mask when dropping atmospheres.” James has been using the same Aqualung Micro for the past 10 years. “The best mask is the one that fits your face the best,” James says. Pro tip: put toothpaste on the inside for a few days to burn out the inside film that causes these masks to fog up.
Costa Del Mar Pescador
“Polarized glasses are one of the best things you can own when you’re on the water constantly,” James says. His choice is the Pescador from Costa, which is made from recycled fishing nets.
1DX Mark II
“I’ve got a handful of cameras but my favorite one for underwater use is either my 1D X Mark II setup in a Nauticam housing or Red Gemini in the same kind of dive housing,” James says. While his tools depend on the water conditions and where he’s shooting, he’s partial to that setup. As of late, he’s also been shooting with 11-24 Canon L rectilinear lens paired with a 1D X setup for macro. “It’s been really fun shooting a scene ultra wide while shooting tiny objects for cutaways,” James says. As for his drone of choice, James reaches for the Inspire 2 with the Zenmuse X7 raw camera. “The little setup constantly blows my mind on quality and speed,” James says, but that’s not without some issues. “I’ve had DJI batteries catch on fire while charging.”
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