“From birth, man carries the weight of gravity on his shoulders. He is bolted to earth. But man has only to sink beneath the surface and he is free.”– Jacques Cousteau
Below the surface of the water lies a world of unknown territory and untouched beauty. This is a world for the curious, the thrill seekers and those wanting to learn more about British Columbia’s magnificent, yet fragile ecosystems. Freediving is a natural and serene way to explore the depths of the underwater environment with no equipment and minimal impact.
Freediving, also called apnea, a Greek word meaning ‘without breathing,’ has a rich history and has been an important livelihood in many cultures for thousands of years. Before becoming a sport and recreational activity, freediving was used for gathering food and other resources required for survival. Today, the increased popularity of freediving appears to match current trends as people seek new and innovative ways to connect with the natural world around them.
Freediving is not simply about how deep or long you can go on a single breath. Before diving below the surface, the practice of relaxing the muscles and becoming highly aware of your breath, as it becomes less automatic and more self-regulated, is paramount. Freedivers must have the right attitude and pay attention to the limits of their body and mind, knowing the risks. Freediving is as fascinating as it is demanding, requiring education and experience.
When people consider freediving, they tend to think of tropical, warm water environments. However, B.C.’s cold temperate waters are amongst the richest and most diverse on the planet, with over 25,000 kilometers of Pacific coastline. It is no wonder that B.C. is a renowned diving destination. Canada’s West Coast gives those pursuing underwater adventure more than enough reasons to take the plunge, with scenic ocean free-dives and fresh-water exploration.
The Great Bear Sea is one of the most productive cold-water regions on the planet. With a carpet of life and striking colour, this is a freediver’s paradise. Crabs, sea urchins, starfish, anemones, fish, elegant coral and giant sponges are just some of the life you will observe when peering in on the world below. B.C.’s magnificent kelp forests shelter a greater variety and higher diversity of plants and animals than almost any other ocean community. This is an ecosystem flourishing with life, an undersea garden where all species are competing for prime real estate.
B.C.’s uncharted alpine region offers an otherworldly diving experience, accessible only by helicopter. The pristine, glacier-fed water is a unique frontier. Slipping into the crystal-clear water, extending more than 30 meters below, a sense of unknown washes over you. The silence is overwhelming and time slows down. Alpine lakes provide a barren landscape of chiseled-cliffs and crevices, formed by glaciers thousands of years ago. The turquoise water may look tropical at first, but the snow-capped mountains surrounding the lake quickly remind you of the cold, alpine setting.
At its essence, freediving is the act of being underwater and in your element, as you descend into the reflective spaces of another realm. Today, there is a heightened awareness of the fragile state of the planet, and with that an increased curiosity to explore the world above and below the surface.
Words: Caitlin Hedley
Photos: Jeremy Koreski