Freediving is still a relatively new sport and unknown in eyes of the broad public. However between the water addicted people it is making a quick breakthrough and one of the biggest groups it appeals to are scuba divers. At this moment there are good few scuba divers working and training as a freediving instructors at our freediving school and I was always curious how they compare the two sports. So I have invited my fellow colleague Hussein Odeba for morning coffee and chat to one of the seafront restaurants to tame my curiosity. Hussein was working in Dahab for years as a scuba instructor, when he made the switch to freediving and now he works as senior freediving instructor at Freedive Dahab.
Me: How would you compare scuba and freediving? Many people are trying to compare it and obviously the main difference they see, is the time spent underwater.
H: Scuba diving and freediving have nothing to do with each other. You cannot compare the two. When you try freediving you realize it is completely different and it has nothing to do with scuba diving.
Me: Why do you think people choose freediving?
H: Many times people choose both, freediving and scuba diving. I would say starting scuba diving is more difficult then to start freediving.People often start with scuba and give up after a short time. Starting freediving is not as difficult. When you learn the right techniques, you are in, and then you just need to train and you will improve. At the beginning in scuba diving you need a lot of patience and time to improve. Scuba diving is very difficult at the beginning, while freediving comes more naturally.
Me: You started at the beginning as a scuba diving instructor, what led you to freediving?
H: I live here in Dahab and worked here as scuba diving instructor and many times went to the Blue Hole (the most famous dive site of Dahab, which is one of the most ideal freediving spots in the world) working as a scuba diving guide. We loved to watch the freedivers at the Blue Hole. We stayed close to the rope and kept watching them, taking photos. To us it looked like they were diving very deep and that the dives were so long, but we couldn’t understand how or why they were doing it and where the fun was. Most scuba divers thought it was crazy and couldn’t see the fun in it. I couldn’t give the proper answer, so the best way to understand was to try it. This was how I started freediving, just to try it so I can give a proper answer to my scuba divers.
Me: So what happened next? How did you become freediving professional?
H: At the time I was very busy with my scuba diving job, so I didn’t have time to do proper training. After the egyptian revolution things got quiet and I had a lot of time off work. The first thing that came to my mind was to continue with freediving. I started to train more and I have progressed very quickly. My breath-hold improved, so did the depth. I enjoyed it a lot and I wanted to progress more. Step by step I got better and better and later I got a chance to make a career out of it. It was great, because from being my hobby it became my job.
Me: How long did it take you to see progress in your performance in freediving, from being a complete beginner?
H: It took me a long time, but mostly because I have been working at the same time as scuba instructor and I was going freediving and training only in my time off, which was hard as I was already exhausted from scuba diving. But I wanted to understand freediving, so I kept going and kept on training. From outside freediving looks very simple and easy, but it is a very complex sport, there are lot of techniques you need to learn and lot of knowledge to acquire to make the steady progress and to be safe. The correct and safest way to do it is with a professional instructor.
Me: Now you work as freediving instructor only, would you go back to work as scuba Instructor, if there is an opportunity?
H: No. As long as I have a chance to work as freediving instructor I don’t want to go back to working as a scuba instructor.
Me: Why not?
H: I found it is more fun teaching freediving as teaching scuba diving. I would teach scuba but not commercially, just to maintain the skill of teaching.
Me: Do you think it is harder to teach scuba diving than teaching freediving?
H: Now when I teach freediving I think it would be easier for me to teach scuba diving than it was before. From freediving you learn a lot about your body and about breathing and this is a problem many people face at the beginning in scuba diving. Doing freediving I learned a lot about breathing and equalisation techniques that would help students to relax and take the stress out during the scuba courses. No one is teaching these things in the scuba instructor courses. Sometimes it was difficult to teach students to scuba dive, because they couldn’t breathe properly using the scuba equipment or had a difficulty equalising. Many times you have students panicking because of this. To take them diving was a hard and difficult job.
Me: What would be your answer now, to someone asking “where is the fun in freediving“?
H: When scuba diving you deal with the equipment, without the equipment you are nothing underwater. In freediving you are dealing with yourself, with your body ability and this you can always improve and train. Starting freediving you will discover new skill within yourself and you can improve this skill. Scuba diving is challenging, so is freediving, but in a very different way. The fun is in you overcoming this challenge and it can be very rewarding.
Me: What about people that do both? Do you think that these two sports benefit each other?
H: I can say that I am a better scuba diver after learning freediving, because I can relax more underwater. I learned how to breathe and how to move underwater better.
Me: How would you describe the experience you get while scuba diving opposed to freediving?
H: The first I enjoy with my eyes…the other I enjoy with my soul. While scuba diving I can stay underwater, look around for the different marine life, fish, corals… When freediving… I enjoy myself. You can still freedive and look around. I prefer to focus on myself, on my relaxation, enjoying the silent movement underwater. When scuba diving you have to focus rather on your equipment, so the dive is longer but not as intense. Freediving is very good way to relax and normally also leads to a healthy lifestyle. I would recommend every scuba diver to try freediving.
Me: Don’t you think freediving is extreme or dangerous thing to do?
H: Many people who do not understand freediving might think so. I have been doing both scuba and freediving professionally and I think the exact opposite. The percentage of accidents in freediving is very small compared to scuba diving. Many people don’t understand the urge to breathe and think that it is something you cannot control; therefore they assume that diving deep on a single breath of air is a very dangerous thing to do. Truth is, in freediving you are always in control and have the liberty of turning and coming back up for air, which you cannot do in scuba diving. There are so many things that can go wrong while scuba diving and most of them are equipment related, if something goes wrong you cannot just simply abort the dive and come back up. Both sports employ the buddy system, where you rely on the other person to help when in trouble. However, the risk is much higher when diving and breathing compressed air, so are the consequences. In freediving it is also much harder to go beyond your limit, but much easier while scuba diving, which is when accidents happen.
Me: What do you plan in future, would you like to compete, perhaps?
H: Now I am busy working as instructor and my goal is to keep improving my knowledge of freediving. Competing is not my plan in the near future, for this I would like to train more for myself. Maybe later, but I would need to focus on my own training first.
Hussein is a person who dedicated his life to teach others to dive and freedive so everyone can enjoy the same feelings and fun he is experiencing. He is amazing an trainer and coach and it is always a lot of fun to spend time training and diving with him.
Written by Pavol Ivanov, one of Freedive International instructors and bloggers.