One of the greatest differences between scuba diving and freediving is the equipment. Required scuba diving equipment includes a mask, fins, regulators, and buoyancy compensator and a tank. Freediving requires no equipment whatsoever. A diver’s lungs are all the equipment he needs to freedive (and maybe a speedo for the sake of decency). Although there is no mandatory equipment for freediving, freedivers may choose to use a few pieces of gear for comfort or when practicing a specific freediving discipline. Here is a list of standard freediving gear, as well as important features to look for when selecting each item.
1. Freediving Masks Freedivers who choose to use a mask must be sure that the mask fits properly. Freediving masks should have the following features: • Low volume: for easier equalization of the mask upon descent • Flexible: the mask skirt (the part that seals to the diver’s face) should be very flexible so that it is comfortable when compressed • Clear lenses: to allow your buddy to see your eyes • Enclosed nose: to prevent mask squeeze
2. Bi-fins (Freediving Fins) Bi-fins are single-foot fins that are created specifically for freediving, although some scuba divers also use them. Bi-fins should have the following features: • Long blades: fins designed for freediving are longer and more powerful than typical scuba diving fins • Full-foot: full-foot fins allow the freediver to feel the fin movements and give him more effective propulsion than open-heeled fins (full-foot vs open-heeled fins) • Advanced materials: Freediving fin manufacturers have developed innovative materials for better underwater propulsion, such as fiberglass and carbon fibre. These materials are not used in scuba diving fins, but they are perfect for freedivers who must balance finning effort and propulsion.
3. Monofins (Freediving Fins) Monofins are only used in freediving. A monofin is a single, wide fin that fits over both of the freediver’s feet.
• Propulsion: Monofins provide excellent propulsion. Most records in constant weight and dynamic freediving are achieved with monofins. • Kicking technique: Freediving with monofins requires a different technique than freediving with bi-fins, and it takes time to learn. It is recommended to take a course before using monofins. • Materials: Monofins are usually made of fiberglass or carbon fibre. • Less maneuverable: The drawback of monofins is that they are not as maneuverable as bi-fins. Monofins do not work well for scuba diving, snorkeling, or buddying another freediver. 4. Freediving Wetsuits Experienced freedivers prefer to use wetsuits designed specifically for freediving. Desirable traits in a freediving wetsuit include: • Close fitting: Freedivers usually prefer custom fit wetsuits for a close fit. • Two-piece: Most freediving wetsuits have an integrated hood and a two-piece suit including a “long john” or high trousers and separate jacket. • No zipper: to minimize water circulation • Material: Freedivers prefer open cell neoprene for warmth and mobility, but it is more fragile than the standard closed-cell neoprene used in scuba diving wetsuits! To don a freediving wetsuit without damaging it, it is best to make it wet (without soap) before putting it on!
5. Weight System Another difference between scuba diving and freediving equipment is the weight system. • Position: The weight belt is worn on hips rather than waist to facilitate deep breathing. • Material: A good freediving belt is made of rubber so it stays on hips when water pressure compresses the wetsuit during descent. • Weight size: Freedivers prefer small, hydrodynamic weights to minimize water resistance. • Quick release: To allow the freediver to drop his weights in an emergency. Safety is also part of your freediving equipment!
6. Freediving Snorkels Snorkels may not seem important to scuba divers, but for freedivers they are an important piece of gear. Freedivers spend a great deal of time breathing through snorkels while preparing to dive or watching their buddies. Freediving snorkels should have the following attributes:
• Mouthpiece fit: The mouthpiece should be comfortable and fit the diver’s mouth well. • Rigid: The snorkel should be rigid. • Purge valve optional: The advantage of choosing a snorkel with no purge valve is that water is less likely to enter the snorkel from the valve during deep breathing. • Float: Freedivers sometimes attach a small float to the snorkel to avoid loosing it on the surface. Tip: Remember to remove the snorkel from your mouth during the dive to be able to inhale when you reached the surface breathing in water!
7. Buoy and Line Freedivers who dive independently from a shop or service provider will need a buoy. A buoy is necessary beacuse it allows the diver to rest before and after the dive. The buoy is also used to secure the freediving line. Important features of a freediving buoy and line are:
• Floats high in the water: to allow the freediver to rest with his head well above the surface • Has handles: to facilitate resting and towing. • Is flat: for comfortable, effortless resting. • Strong attachment point: To support the line and any weights attached to it. • Thick line: The line attached to the buoy should be thick, so it is easy to hold and will stay in place with only a small amount of weight attached to the bottom. Safety first! The use of a buoy is mandatory for ocean practice due to boat traffic. For safety reasons, it is recommended to use the help of a freediving school to organize freediving sessions, especially in new or unfamiliar locations. The Take-Home Message About Freediving Equipment Freediving equipment often differs from scuba diving and snorkeling equipment in its design and materials. Some freediving gear works well for other water sports, such as freediving masks and bi-fins. Other freediving equipment, such as monofins, works only for freediving. Remember, that no equipment is mandatory for freediving, but some gear may be needed for specific freediving disciplines or for diver comfort. Ask us in Omega Divers if you need more information about.