Jerwin Cuason / Freediving / 10 Min Read
Photos by Sofia Padilla
In the last few years, we have seen an increase in the population of Pinoy freedivers, as we should - with the thousands of islands and beaches that we have. And if you're like most, you have heard about courses being offered and intro classes being held. I wish to provide a comprehensive non-biased fact sheet of what's available out there and what to look out for.
#1: Weather and Location
Since freediving is an activity done mostly outdoors, the weather plays a big part and can affect your experience. The time of the year or "season" is crucial. Here in the Philippines, we have Habagat (June - Oct) and Amihan (Nov - Mar). Water conditions (waves, current, temperature, etc.) in the different dive sites are affected by these weather systems. Be sure to do your research and ask your chosen instructor.
Tip: Optimal conditions are experienced everywhere during the summer months (March, April, May)
#2 Intro or Certificate
For clarity's sake, let's try to define Intro and Certificate.
- 'Intro to Freediving', 'Basics of Freediving', 'Fundamentals of Freediving': These are classes/lessons targeted towards beginners and those with no freediving experience/background, there's no formal syllabus, and it is not affiliated with any Freediving Certification Agency.
- Freediving Certification Course: These are courses offered by Freediving Certification Agencies (AIDA, RAID, SSI, Molchanovs, PADI, Apnea Total, PFI, etc.), they follow a standard syllabus and is conducted based on established standards of the Certificating Agency.
How to tell each other apart?
- It is an Intro class if:
- the class does not state the Freediving Certification Agency
- the class does not specify any Certification Level
A lot of controversy has been hounding the "certified vs non-certified" divers of late. In my opinion, it depends on one's intent. If your aim is to try whether freediving is for you [bagay ba sa akin? / gusto ko ma-experience], then take up an Intro Course, this will get you a feel for what freediving is and what to expect. On the other hand, if you want to progress as a freediver, I would recommend that you take up a Certification course as this will provide you with knowledge, practice and instruction from a certified instructor with an established syllabus.
#3: Agency or "no Agency"
The many different Freediving Certification Agencies vary in their course structures and focus, but all will have standardized safety aspects of freediving. So any chosen agency will provide quality education as they will have to comply with a set of standards established by the agency. Completion requirements also vary per agency, see here (Skills and Completion Requirements) for a comprehensive list of requirements of the different freediving agencies in the Philippines.
A school/outfit/center providing "Intro to freediving" or "Basic freediving" classes/lessons will vary as these will be dependent on the skills and knowledge of the instructor/coach/teacher, they don't have to comply with any standards and classes can be customized based on the current abilities of the student and the capabilities of the instructor/teacher.
- see here for Freediving Groups/Instructors in the Philippines
Why a Standard?
Standards reduce risk, as Certification Agencies follow proven practices, the responsibility for the standards of safety falls on the Certificating Agency and not on the instructor. So long as the instructor follows the syllabus, the risks would have been mitigated. Without a standard, an instructor will have to shoulder the burden of proving that his/her actions are prudent. This is very important in cases where the knowledge, actions and credibility of an instructor is put into question.
#4: Experience of your instructor
The experience of your instructor is very critical. This is the difference between someone who can provide valuable tips and tricks and someone who would be at a loss when you encounter technical issues like Equalization (most of the time), finning, duck dive and freefall techniques. A seasoned instructor will be able to provide a lot of troubleshooting ideas due to the vast experience gained from the number of students he's/she's encountered.
note: "A great athlete does not necessarily equate to a good instructor". While a great athlete might perform very well, it does not mean that the athlete is good with imparting valuable lessons to students. However, if you are a seasoned diver looking for a mentor, a great athlete might be able to provide guidance on how to train to optimize your gains. Ask around for recommendations, and do your research.
#5 Equipment rentals
Does the school provide equipment for rent? This is important as most beginners wouldn't know which gear to buy. Most will settle for the best looking, or the cheapest. A freediving school with a lot of 'equipment for rent' will afford you the chance to test before you buy. As each diver is individually unique, what works for one might not work for another, it is best to try out gear before buying. Make sure to try from different brands and designs.
Masks that don't fit and fins that are too stiff are some of the top reasons why so much gear is being sold on second-hand markets online apart from the "RFS: upgrade".
#6 Post Course Training
Freediving is a sport, and as such, training is indispensable. Your freediving career should not end after you finish a course. This is often overlooked as the realization during a course is that freediving requires a lot of work and training. Schools that provide you a venue to train is crucial to help you grow as a freediver. It will also provide you with new freediving buddies and safeties to train with.
As most technical issues (EQ, finning, duck dive, freefall, relaxation, etc.) are resolved with "time in the water*", this means consistent training. Training fees should be considered if you want your freediving career to be sustainable. Not only do you need to commit time, financial expenses should also be reasonable.
#7 Interaction or Introspection
Skindiving (fun dive) or freediving (line dive). I enjoy both activity, and the main difference for me is whether I want to interact with marine animals (skindive) or if I want to be introspective (freedive). Skin diving is mostly done in shallow waters (relative to the diver's capability) where interaction with marine creatures is the main activity, while freediving is typically done in the "blue" with a line where chances of interaction is slim and not the main focus.
One crucial difference for me is in equalization, skindiving does not require that one be able to equalize "head down", while freediving on a line will almost always require head down equalization.
#8 Sport or Recreation
Freediving is both. And as with most sports, freediving demands consistent training and practice. One does not simply acquire the theoretical knowledge and not practice, it also means that you either "use it or you lose it". Being good at the sport will translate to more enjoyable recreational fun dives as you would be able to go deeper, longer and be more confident in the water.
#9 Hidden Fees
Taking a freediving course means there are some logistical issues to deal with. And this could include: Resort Fees, Transportation, Food and equipment rentals. Make sure you have taken these into consideration.
#10 Buzz words and catch phrases
Marketing strategies and compliance tactics are being used everywhere to influence people. It pays to be aware of these tactics when choosing a freediving school, principles of persuasion including instant gratification, scarcity and rapport building are being leveraged to influence people into taking a course of action.
As a conclusion, freediving is a skill and a sport, and it takes time to develop and be good at. If what you're after is a taste or a glimpse of what freediving is like, take an Intro course and decide whether you want to pursue it or not.
This article is constantly being updated here.
Disclaimer: These are my own opinions and might not reflect the views or opinions of the local freediving center I work with.
- time in the water: muscle memory (engrams), brain-pattern recognition**, adaptation to depth, hypofrontality**, etc.
- *The Rise of Superman: Steven Kotler, loc 1326
Jerwin Cuason is currently an Aida Instructor since March 2022 for a local freediving center. He enjoys rock climbing as well.