South Florida is becoming a freediving hub, thanks in part to renowned Czech diver Martin Stepanek, who founded Freediving Instructors International in Fort Lauderdale. His partner Niki Roderick– also an accomplished free diver– teaches courses too.
Last year, Stepanek set a world recorded by diving 400 feet beneath the ocean’s surface on a single breath. He had no tanks, no artificial aids– just a mono fin. You can see a video of Martin competing here.
Free divers rely on what’s known as the mammalian diving reflex to go deep. Underwater, where the pressure is higher than at the water’s surface, blood travels away from our limbs and concentrates in our brain and core, protecting vital organs.
Free divers also train themselves to conserve oxygen by slowing everything down. Some use yoga techniques. On certain kinds of dives, under the ocean’s pressure, Stepanek’s heart rate has dropped below 10 beats per minute.
Stepanek says reaching the right frame of mind during a dive is a bit like driving down the freeway and missing your exit. The diver is completely relaxed, almost on automatic pilot.
He insists virtually anyone can learn to dive to 100 feet in just a few days if they learn the proper breathing techniques and safety procedures.
Free diving can be dangerous– a Miami man recently died while spearfishing in the Keys– so seeking instruction and buddying up are key.
The music in this piece is Yann Tiersen’s “Comptine D’un Autre Ete, L’apres-Midi.”