How to choose a freediving course

The successful course - what does it consist of.
by Sebastian Naslund

I have taken 6 freedive courses and 2 instructor courses, and visited centers like Freedive Dahab, Apnea Total. After 8 years of teaching freediving I have noticed that students that come here (FSE-center at the Swedish west coast) are getting better. Have the course set up improved? Have I as an instructor improved? Has new methods emerged?
Yes off course. Freediving courses worldwide has matured and taken on shape.
This is my list of what you should look for when you select a course. It is not so much looking for an agency, but a dive center and an instructor that can create the circumstances that makes you perform.

1. The location

Your chances of developing as a freediver are higher if the water is warm, the weather sunny, the seas calm, the visibility great. And if there are no scary marine life around.

2. The dive site

A long boatride in a small boat or long swim in choppy seas to an unstable bouy with too little weight at the bottom is not the circumstances under which you will perform. Specially not if the depth is limited and you are drifting and have to swim to stay in place.

3. The equipment

Its called skindiving in parts of the world, but usually it takes a lot of equipment to perform in freediving. Apart from a stable diveline set up, there are many types of gear that are specialized and will make you perform better. Long rigid fins, small volume mask and the freedive suit (more about that below).
Two other things that realy makes a difference:
a) Is there a thick rope good for FIM (12-14mm), are the bottom weights heavy enough for you to pull yourself down (10 kilo)
b) One of the most effecient equipment that helps beginners (and experts) to explore their limits is a VWT set-up. In plain language - a system that can lower you to depth.

4. The suit

You will not develop as a freediver if you can not lie floating relaxing in water without freezing.
Fact: freediving suits are so much better than any other suit (scuba/thriathlon/windsurf e t c).
Can you rent a freediving suit on the course?

5. The Instructor/ Coach / Buddy

Freediving is not an individualist sport. You can not develop alone as a beginner. You need a club or a divebuddy.
When choosing a course, do not bother too much about the location, or what agency/system. The right kind of instructor that fits you can do miracles with you.
Becoming a freedivinginstructor mainly involves a 40 meter dive and the ability to pay for the course. It is not a guarantee of quality to pass an instructor course. Choose an instructor, not an agency.

6. Theory, practice and method

Knowing the theory behind breathholding and how pressure affect your body, will motivate you to sincerly do the exercises that helps you attain time and depth.
Freediving is very complicated, there are many aspects that has to be controlled. It may be a journey of a decennium to explore your limits.
You can not copy a master freediver, you have to pass certain stages to develop. A usuall approach is to conquer new depths by first using VWT, then FIM, then the regular CWT... meaning: first being lowered down and focusing on relaxation and equalisation, then pull yourself down, and finally use fins only.
Freedive training is about having the knowledge of how to shape the body and the mind, learning certain skills, mainly mental skills. You have your own weakest link, freediving is better taught on a mentor-apprentice approach, no standardized system will ever be perfect for you.

7. The Body

Does your beginner course set up suggest to submerge you directly? Not a good idea.
You will not develop if there is stress and tension in your body. It may not be the best method to head for water directly. When arriving at the course you will have to "land" - physically as well as emotionally. Understanding of the basic theory behind breathhold may make you more prone to accept the physical challenges that the instructor suggests. Using yoga/breathing/stretching is the tool to make your body grounded and move your awareness into the body. When that stage is reached - depth and time will come more or less "by itself".

8. The mind

The challenge of any freediving instructor is to make the student actually believe in their own abilities. Fact is most bodies can do over 4 minutes breathholds and 25 meter dives without much struggle (if the instructor is good). The mind has to be convinced of this. Apart from delivering the methods to do it, the coach must also make the student believe and put them in a state of mind that is beneficial. This is why the performances of the course are not so easy to repeat, one has to have a routine/method that creates this state of mind, that is the real practice of freediving, using body and breath to work on the mind.

9. The social

One of the worlds best freedivers says he can not perform without the "feelgoodfactor". A course is a social event, you will have to interact with instructor and dive buddies. Lots of informal and personal information can be delivered on the edges of the course. During meals, hanging around afterwards. If possible choose a course that resembles a retreat, that is where you live and eat together during a full weekend (week?), and that the schedule involves excerises even before breakfast and after dinner.

10. The holistic aproach

No chain is stronger than its weakest link. Everything works together in freediving. I have discovered no less than 17 factors that has to be dealt with to do a successful dive. Working on "the state of mind" of a student takes some "tricks" and methods that are beyond language.
Learning the tricks and techniques of freediving takes a carefully thought out method. If your ears have some "in-water-experience", and there is a effective teaching program that adapts to your needs (weakest links), you may well progress more than one level in a weekend (if you are allowed).

11. The price

Freediving courses are not cheap. They have the same pricelevel as many scuba courses, even though no bottle is needed.
Courses held in the tropical areas are usually in cheap countries where transport, food, offices e t c are much cheaper than in the western world. The diving industry very soon raised the price levels to the level of western world even though their expenses where lower. Why? Because they can, because you want the blue warm water. One can say that they charge for the blue water.
Price is not always related to quality and results. Think carefully what you pay for (se the list above). Who will be your instructor. The fact that the headinstructor may be a worldchampion or famous does not mean that his/her assistant will be as inspiring. And just because someone can dive extremely deep does not mean it will rub of on you . And just because a person passed an instructor course may not mean they are good.
One good question to ask is if there is a maximum depth. There often is, and the reason is said to be safety, but could just aswell be there to force you to pay for two courses instead of one. If you have the skills and knowledge of a certain level you should be allowed to certify at that level. A good instructor will see how deep you can dive in a safe way.

Sebastian Naslund

About the FSE center

The FSE/F.BIZ dive center is situated in Scandinavia where the weather and the sea only gives us on summer average: 18 degrees water temperature, 25 C air temperature, 4 meter visibility, and some jelly fish that burns. Maybe this is why we have had to develop the other points on the list.

The F.BIZ boat has a 10 minute boatride to a site where one can moor up inbetween cliffs and still get 30-80 meter under the keel. The cliff mostly gives some wind protection. From here up to 4 ropes can be lowered with weights enough to hold a diver pulling him/herself down.

The most effective piece of equipment on the F.BIZ boat is the 14 mm VWT dive line. The option to slowly lower a student head-up to depth is extremely effecient. It catapults development.

F.BIZ rents freedivingsuits (and all other apnea equipment).
To make up for the cold sea we have hot water onboard that can be poured into the suits.

In the F.BIZ courses we live together. We hang out around the clock. A course is more like a retreat, working on you on all wake hours.