We’re connected to water from the moment of conception. Whilst in the womb our earliest characteristics are fishlike. As infants, our bodies are 75% water and when submerged, a baby can swim without instruction and hold their breath comfortably for a couple of seconds. We lose this ability when we learn how to walk. But why can we manage to swim even before we learn how to crawl?
Were we really born to be in the water? To swim? To dive? Have we not pushed ourselves as adults- enough to discover our bodies’ capabilities?
Being in the water always came natural to me. I suppose the love affair started at age 5. My father threw me in the pool and just like that I was sold.
I remember an old Instructor saying, “Swimming. Fifty percent getting over the fear and the other half you’ll get by with the technicalities”. He was right. What gripped people and held them back was the fear of the unknown.
When we moved back to the Philippines, I liked it so much that being submerged in water pretty much ruled over my life. From Grade school right into University I was a swimmer. Weekend meets were normal, waking up every day at 4 a.m. to practice, the year round tan and constantly reeking of chlorine were just one of the few perks.
With over 7,000 islands to choose from, the Philippines is THE place to live if you love the water. You’re doing your country a disservice if you don’t know how to swim, because it has so much to offer. Imagine all the snorkelling you’re missing! There are those who love to wade and frolic in the sand but feeling the water in your face, and being able to see what is beyond the surface is life changing. The deep hues are relaxing, soothing. Blue stimulates a positive emotional response. Other than killing a bad hang over, water too can rejuvenate a tired mind.
The swimming pool was always there for me, but over many summers – when school was out, my parents would make sure we’d go to the beach. I’d take things less seriously. There wasn’t an urge to be as technical as compared to competitive swimming. I let go and just dive in to relish the water. Snorkelling was my main form of relaxation, I could watch for hours how the exotic fishes swim in and out of coral reefs, and hold my breath in case I wanted a closer look.
In my early teens my father would have a bag of coins (ranging from a peso to one centavo) he’d throw a handful into the sea for kicks. Then we’d jump off the boat and see how many we could bring back up to the surface. He said it would make me a better swimmer. In hindsight, he was right. The challenge was going solely with a mask and one breath. How long can you remain under water without feeling like your head would burst? I was screwed when the coins fell into a deeper part of the reef, but the challenge was part of the fun. At the time it was mainly shallow diving between 10-15 feet. As the rest of the family ate and drank on the beach, I stayed with the boatmen all day. I learned and explored with the locals, how they would descend. But mainly to see how far I could push myself. We couldn’t afford to take Scuba Diving lessons then, so it was a way to practice until the day I could. Years later I realized it was not remotely close to diving with a tank.
Free diving relies on a diver’s ability to go under water under just one breath, without any breathing apparatus. This was practiced in ancient cultures to gather food from the ocean, to reclaim sunken treasures from maritime trade and to source valuable sponges and pearls. The Ama Divers of Japan collected pearls this way well over 2,000 years ago and still practice this art form. Some Amas continue well into their 80s. Divers were also used during the war to make barricades across the ocean floor to help sink enemy ships. Even in those days divers could stay under water for over 5 minutes and reach great depths. Now humans can manage over 12! The early Greeks created their own discipline where they used Skandalopetra (weights) to help in their descent. Now, free-diving has become an extreme sport. It is dangerous, one can black out and die if not done properly. But it seems to appeal to a great number of people across the world- whether it be recreational, for work or as a sport. Austrian diver Herbert Nitsch currently holds the world record for competitive apnea. Through years of training “The deepest man on earth” has reached depths of over 800 feet on a single breath. The first breathing machines were patented in the early 18th century, and the scuba gear that we know today was invented in the early 1940s. Despite this, why is it some people still choose to free dive?
I’ve travelled to various islands around the Philippines – from nearby places like Batangas and Puerto Galera, and down to the South of Palawan to visit ship wrecks and coral reefs abundant in marine life. Palawan is a place where the Tagbanuas still spearfish the same way their ancestors did thousands of years ago. I’ve had the privilege to swim amongst the gentle giants, the Whale Sharks of Donsol.
Free-diving is not only for the sea, there are breathtaking scenes below springs and lakes. Recreational free-diving is associated with the average snorkeler to the professional free diver. There are no dramas with your equipment when you free dive. No bulky scuba gear or hefty tank rates, – just inexpensive mask and fins. With this you have full control of your body, in a sense – you can decide when you descend- where you want, when you want. For instance, you’re snorkeling with your friends and you notice something interesting, you have the option to remain on the water floating, or dive down to get a closer look. You hear nothing but your own heart beat. Your blood pressure lowers and your lungs contract as you reach a greater depth, your body begins to relax. Ironically the ocean is the largest living mass on the planet, and here we are abusing what is both on top and below. But come to think- it probably is one of the most quiet places on earth- and as you go down, you manage to escape. All the distractions of life are left on the surface.
It truly is a liberating experience to be able to view any body of water in its purest form. A life changing experience.
Try it once in your life. To hear that deafening silence is well worth it, like you’ve reached the other side.
Maybe we were really born to dive? How far we go, or how long we can hold our breath at the end of the day is immaterial. Free diving is open to all, regardless of age, race or gender. All one needs is some courage.
Now, take one deep breath. Hold it- and drown willingly.