Dahab, Egypt – When the countdown started, Khaled Elgammal took one ultimate, deep breath earlier than descending with none respiratory tools into the ocean. One minute and 29 seconds later, nonetheless holding his breath, the Egyptian athlete had free-fallen to 102 metres (335 ft) – a nationwide report.
However for it to depend, he needed to attain the floor once more. He turned on the backside of the road and started his ascent – specializing in deep rest and the sentiments of the encircling water. In all, he had held his breath for 2 minutes and 50 seconds.
Elgammal is Egypt’s deepest freediver, and his exceptional achievement set a brand new nationwide report on the Sharm el-Sheikh competitors in October 2023.
“After I got here to the floor, it was bliss. It felt superb,” Elgammal recollects.
Freedivers like Elgammal rely solely on the flexibility to carry their breath whereas diving underwater. By coaching, these divers grasp rest to decelerate their coronary heart fee, permitting them to remain beneath the floor with out respiratory tools for minutes at a time. Very deep dives just like the one he did lately often require divers to carry their breath for round three minutes at a time.
The apply of freediving may be traced again to conventional fishing in communities like Asia’s Bajau people, the place coastal teams have used freediving to hunt underwater for 200 years. As a sport, freediving is now present process report progress, attracting individuals trying to join with the ocean and higher perceive their physique’s talents.
As for Elgammal, he says he was captivated by the distinctive sensations of diving with a single breath.
“I all the time say that scuba diving is all the pieces in gradual movement; you’re shifting gradual, respiratory gradual, and the sound of the bubbles is hypnotising, so all the pieces is in gradual movement. Freediving is such as you’ve paused… and are the one factor shifting down there. So that you give your self the possibility to sink inside.”
The game is now rising in recognition world wide. In response to AIDA Worldwide rankings, 2,889 freedivers registered to compete in competitions in 2023, greater than twice the quantity a decade earlier.
The freediving organisation instructed Al Jazeera that round 20,000 individuals have turn out to be licensed freedivers lately. Scuba Faculties Worldwide (SSI) has equally seen a gradual 10 p.c annual rise within the variety of individuals incomes their first freediving certification.
Many of those certifications are awarded in Dahab, a bohemian enclave on Egypt’s Purple Sea shoreline which has turn out to be house to quite a few freediving colleges and elite instructors. Dahab featured a shoreline of palm bushes and conventional Bedouin properties just some a long time in the past. Whereas nonetheless thought-about a small city immediately, it boasts a thriving beachfront of Egyptian and worldwide eating places and attracts a rising crowd from Cairo, Europe and Asia. A handful of luxurious inns have emerged however Dahab nonetheless maintains an genuine appeal – with herds of goats freely roaming the streets.
It’s additionally one of many world’s best-known freediving hotspots attributable to its year-round water situations and proximity to Egypt’s Blue Gap. Simply 20 minutes away by automotive, the Blue Gap is a well-known reef-lined sinkhole accessible from the shore.
Right here, divers can descend to round 90 metres (295 ft) – virtually the peak of the Statue of Liberty.
A heightened state of self-awareness
However what has contributed to the rise of freediving?
The game is linked to a number of psychological and therapeutic advantages. A 2013 examine by teachers at Atilim College in Turkey, discovered that freedivers are likely to exhibit decrease stress and nervousness ranges than non-freedivers.
Carlos Diezel, the supervisor of Dahab Freedivers, a college that trains divers, defined that a lot of that is all the way down to “breathwork”.
“The truth that we have now to concentrate to our breath, our thoughts and rest once we go down teaches us consciousness,” he says. “I consider that a part of the issue, statistically talking, for psychological well being points is expounded to the approach to life in trendy society, that’s main individuals to neglect or block any sort of self-awareness.”
This heightened state of self-awareness is one thing that devoted freedivers like Elgammal attempt for. “I’m all the time conscious now of what I’m feeling, what I’m sensing,” he says. “Freediving helped me to attach with myself.”
Freediving’s reference to nature and immersion in water may contribute to its psychological well being advantages. Diezel says the most typical causes individuals join freediving programs are a fascination with the ocean and studying extra about themselves.
“They grasp this reference to themselves while you maintain your breath and go deep,” he mentioned, including that college students take into account it “a ‘deep’ expertise – sorry for the pun”.
Social media equally performs a job in bringing freediving to the forefront. Many freediving footage allude to a way of freedom, that includes divers amongst marine life and vibrant reefs. The hashtag #freediving has amassed greater than 3.5 million mentions on Instagram to this point. “It’s getting a variety of consideration because it’s fairly photographic. Some movies are simply mesmerising,” Diezel provides.
Inside the present freediving group, the game’s surge in recognition brings added accountability. Thought-about an “excessive sport”, freediving may be dangerous if security protocols aren’t adopted, or divers push themselves past their bodily limits. They’ll expertise oxygen deficiency signs like hypoxia and blackouts, in addition to pressure-related dangers like a ruptured eardrum, an instance of a barotrauma.
Opposite to portrayals resembling Netflix’s The Deepest Breath, divers dropping consciousness – often known as blackouts – are comparatively unusual, significantly in leisure diving at shallower depths.
Freedivers are additionally educated to rescue a fellow diver safely as a part of their earliest coaching, studying to observe every dive, spot indicators of misery and tips on how to react. Beneath the buddy system, which helps to make sure freedivers stay protected, divers by no means dive alone.
Tamsyn Signe is an expert freediver who champions security at any time when she enters the water. She has labored as a security freediver in a number of competitions, and it’s her function to make sure the competing divers make it to the floor safely. Final 12 months, she saved a diver’s life 30 metres (98 ft) underwater in a uncommon instance of a deep rescue.
“As he obtained in entrance of me, the lights went out,” Signe recollects, describing the second the ascending freediver simply stopped shifting after dropping consciousness. At 30 metres under the floor, Signe was additionally holding her breath. Nevertheless, she wasn’t serious about the carbon dioxide constructing in her physique – she had a job to do.
“Every thing actually slowed down,” she says. “I knew I used to be his greatest shot at being okay.” As she’s educated to do, Signe closed his airways along with her fingers and began finning (swimming up with flippers) with him towards the floor – a difficult job with the added weight of one other diver. The competitor regained consciousness after reaching the floor, partly due to Signe’s fast considering and supportive crew. He would later attain out and thank her for saving his life.
Signe says the rescue modified her life too, making her extra observant and ready for surprising dangers, but it surely’s a part of the job. Most freedivers consider that practising security in freediving, resembling by no means diving alone and being educated for rescue, is essential to the game’s survival.
However this isn’t only a tick-box train; security additionally forges shut bonds throughout the group. “Once you undergo an expertise with individuals the place you can doubtlessly die, there’s some type of connection that occurs that’s means deeper and intimate than regular. And people friendships do final a lifetime,” Signe provides.
Tasks past the breath-hold
Alongside valuing security, Zahraa El-Husseiny, a freediving teacher and Egyptian nationwide report holder, believes that defending our oceans can also be an essential accountability which comes with freediving. Many freedivers gather plastic they discover floating within the water; others, like Diezel, stopped consuming seafood after studying concerning the human impression of overfishing.
As Earth’s oceans face growing pressures from air pollution and world warming, those that depend on the ocean will play an important function in future conservation. First drawn to freediving as a result of she was fascinated with marine life, El-Husseiny tries to show others about respecting the ocean by means of her sport.
“We’re very linked to the ocean, and we owe it to this to guard it. We all know how important it’s to maneuver freely underwater, so… we have to defend it,” she says.
For a lot of, freediving presents a path for self-discovery and a deeper connection to the pure world. As a sport, it’s poised for continued progress sooner or later.
Freediving isn’t reserved for a choose few both, and freediving communities are increasing in lots of coastal places. “Everybody can discover ways to maintain their breath,” El-Husseiny provides.
“Everybody can discover ways to benefit from the ocean and the peacefulness of diving. I would really like individuals to know that that is one thing they’ll do, study and progress in”, she says.
Passing on the love of this sport is one thing many freedivers take critically. When Elgammal isn’t coaching for record-breaking dives, he’s working as an teacher and coach. He equally urges these within the sport to “be curious”.
“Calm down, get pleasure from, belief. Take into consideration what you want and attempt to visualise that feeling.”