Recently on the sunrise livestream I had the pleasure of interviewing Bella who runs Immersia freediving to find out more about freediving and how a girl from the UK who was afraid of the water and couldn’t swim very well ended up running a free diving school in Bondi Beach.
Where did you passion for freediving start?
When you get in the ocean there is deep water, there is currents, there is waves, its cold, it’s amazing where your mind goes if you’re not comfortable with being in the water, especially in a country like Australia, you’re thinking sharks, jelly fish, and all the things that want to hurt me.
A friend of mine had just been on an incredible trip to Tonga, and showed me all these amazing pictures of her swimming with whales, and for me it was wow, how are you doing that? How are you diving? So she dragged me out to get comfortable with snorkeling and that was where it all started.
For me its was about being able to dive down into the water, and being able to see that dark patch under the water underneath you, and being able to dive towards it to see what it is, or to be caught in a current, and have these long powerful fins so you can swim your way out of it, and that was the beginning of some thing completely new and life changing for me.
How was Immersia Freediving Born?
I always knew i was in the wrong career, and moving to Sydney was the catalyst for a brand new lifestyle, hobby and passion, and over the last four years freediving has made a huge difference, not only to how i spend my life outside of work, but the way that i think, the way that i relax, the way that I plan, and calm myself.
About a year and a half ago i made to the decision to really invest some time in freediving and take this passion, hobby, and share it more broadly with people like myself, and six months later Immersia was born. It initially started up as blog about how to get involved in freediving for people who might be interested in it.
But what I discovered is there are so many people that want to be in the water, so many people that want to find a way of accessing that place but don’t have the tools, or who are afraid of scuba, or don’t see themselves as surfers.
People started asking me would you show me how, would you take me out, could we go diving together, what gear should i buy, what’s the secret, how do i do this?
Furthermore what i experienced as a student was invaluable as there was nobody in the community that was vulnerable, nobody who had struggled like me learning to be a freediver.
Every freediving instructor i’d ever met had grown up in the ocean and had consequently been freediving for twenty years plus so it seemed so inaccessible, but i figurued, if i could offer something to students so they could see themselves in me, and they could see a path to success doing this amazing hobby, i could be the one to offer that, and i’m so happy that i did.
How did you conquer your fears learning to freedive?
When i first started tasking free diving coursed back in 2017 typically, i would be the only female, and as a woman I found that quite intimidating. I was not a natural free diver by any meansand i struggled with equalisation, i struggled with breath hold, i struggled with fear, and always felt like the silly one in the class.
What I realised was that freediving is one of those sports that is not about strength and power, it’s about reckoning with yourself quietly and mentally, it’s about persistence, keeping your hand on your nose and keeping equalising.
It’s about watching the videos, it’s about talking to as many people as you can, and now that i teach, i see women and men come to the course, the burliest body builders and the tiniest women, and I can’t look across the group and say that guy will do really well, it’s not that simple it has nothing to do with physical strength and once i realised freediving was not about who was going to push harder and it was actually about who’s going to confront themselves, who’s going to dive into their mental state and listen to their bodies.
As soon as i realised that was the way to get ahead, i found it far easier, and i found it that a great source of motivation moving forwards.
I also have drawn a lot of inspiration from other female free divers. Not only do we have Instagram to thank for the growth in the popularity of females who freedive, but there are literally hundreds of local female freedivers, some of whom i’ve taught, and it is a beautiful close-knit community of which i am proud to be part of.
Why freedive Bondi?
Bondi itself has got the most beautiful atmosphere, and when I came here this morning the local coffee shop already had a line outside it of people whom had already come out of the water, its full of people who really love and appreciate the natural environment so i just love being in Bondi in terms of being connected to the water and connected to the beach.
Freediving is a special treat in Bondi, i think a lot of people picture Bondi as the beach they see on Bondi Rescue, and no one has any idea about the landscape that exists beneath those waves.
We are so lucky we have huge caves, beautiful swim throughs, amazing marine life. Just the other weekend i was teaching a course and we were diving just off the north end and we had some students swimming up and down the line we had dropped down and all of a sudden, a seal appeared and start swimming all around us. It was a moment i will never forget.
I’m a big animal lover so every time we have an interaction it’s a very special experience for me. We’re very lucky in Bondi in that, we have small sharks, we have little turtles that will show up once in a while, and huge stingrays, these big slow and majestic bull rays, as well as whales, and once you start scuba diving or freediving that redefines your travel bucket list.
What’s the difference between snorkeling and freediving?
Freediving is any type of holding your breath in water, so when you’re talking about freediving in the recreational sense, the type of freediving that you see at Bondi were talking about advanced snorkeling. So were snorkeling around seeing what’s beneath us, and we’re diving down to explore under the surface but everything is on a breath hold, so we don’t have a scuba tank, we don’t have a bottle of air or anything, we just are holding our breath and checking out the underwater world.
I love snorkeling but freediving is a different activity in the sense that not only are you diving down to explore what’s underneath you but its a new world and new landscape, it’s also a bit of a meditation when you hold your breath, you slow everything down, you dip under the surface, you’re not this big noisy scuba machine, you are natural, quiet, simple, the fish are interested in you, the creatures are interested in you, you are in this moment of quiet, quiet exploration, and it’s only a moment, and you are back to the surface, it’s all very slow and calming, a beautiful type of activity.
So how does freediving work?
There are two things that free divers have to overcome in order to get down and enjoy the world underneath the waves.
One of them is breath hold, how long can we hold our breath and how relaxed can we get our body to extend that breath hold, and the other is adapting to pressure or allowing out bodies to cope with depth.
So as a freediver you are always training both things. Holding your breath involves not just learning to extend your breath hold, but learning to relax the body, slow the heart rate, slow the metabolic rate, slow the mind.
Holding your breath for a long time is actually very easy, so rather than torturing yourself through a long breath hold, it’s about making the breath hold feel really, really good.
And then on the depth and pressure side were trying to adapt our sinuses, our ears and the rest of our bodies to coping with the pressure that comes from being underwater.
Finally, what’s involved for someone to start freediving?
There are some really popular misconceptions about freediving, th first of which is you don’t not need to be an athlete .or a really strong swimmer. I’m a terrible swimmer and still am which is why I put the fins on as they help me get through the water. Also, you don’t need to have done a scuba diving course, or need to be super confident in the water.
One thing i advise everybody who is thinking about free diving to do is get a mask and snorkel and spend some time breathing with your face down in the water because breathing through a snorkel takes some time getting used to and that’s something you can easily do with your friends.
Once you’re ready to start diving down i wouldn’t waste any more time, you need to take a course and the reason you need to take a course is because a freediving course is where you learn the fundamentals that will keep you and your buddies safe.
And whilst freediving is potentially really scary for a lot of people it’s also incredibly safe if you practice it within the boundaries of the rules so my advice to people who are really scared of the water is come along do a one-day course and you might just surprise yourself by finding out what you are capable of.
We take things really slowly at the pace of each individual student and we don’t ask anybody to do anything they are uncomfortable with.
Watch the full livestream interview on our Facebook page here
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