Those that already enjoy snorkeling may be interested in exploring free diving to become more comfortable in the water. Unlike snorkeling, free diving involves diving down from the surface of the water and holding your breath at depth. It allows you explore different parts of the ocean, and can be an extremely advantageous skill for ocean conservationists. For example, if you are comfortable free diving, you could dive down and retrieve marine debris found on the seafloor or entangling sea life.
Freediving (v.): the practice of diving relying on breath holding until resurfacing rather than an underwater breathing apparatus.
Keeping warm: You might notice that freedivers have different equipment than snorkelers. Water is colder at depth, so wearing a wetsuit can keep divers warmer for the entire time they are in the water. The neoprene wetsuit industry has a long way to go before becoming entirely ecofriendly- neoprene is made almost entirely from oil. I do my best by buying secondhand from local dive shops, or investing in brand new high-quality suits that will last me decades.
The good news is there are many brands exploring recycled materials and sustainability in their rash guard products! My current favourite is my Hermosa surf suit from Seea, based on Maui. They have an entire line made from 80% recycled polyester and nylon and 20% spandex. Seea strongly supports women equality in surfing and is constantly looking for ways to better their business for the planet. Learn more about Seea's sustainability practices here.
Masks & Snorkels: Freediving masks are less bulky and more streamlined, but there's no reason to go buy one if you're just starting out. Keep in mind, there are free diving competitions where divers will go hundreds of feet down and hold their breath for over 5 minutes! Investing in a worthwhile mask is something to work up to. I have many: a pink Cressi mask I purchased secondhand, a classic bulky old school oval mask, a Picasso Infima blue free dive mask, and a few other generic masks for visitors!
You might see some divers without a snorkel, because keeping a snorkel in your mouth underwater allows essential air to slip out. I recommend wearing one at the surface and removing it as you dive, but always forget to do it myself (see below). Choose a snorkel based on what is most comfortable for you!
Weight belts: Dive weights are useful because they offset the buoyancy of wetsuits. You can waste a lot of energy trying to dive down if the neoprene is working against you. Even in just a swim suit though, your lungs are full of air that help you float. Dive weights allow you to sink effortlessly. Make sure you don't overweigh yourself though- you can waste energy swimming upward too! I typically wear 3 pounds without any neoprene.
Dive weights are made from lead and can be expensive. That's why I was so excited to highlight Aloha Lead, a dive weight business based on the North Shore of Oahu. Aloha Lead is a small business that supports sustainability by collecting marine debris and discarded fishing line from our oceans to build his products. The monofilament fishing lines he removes would otherwise entangle coral reefs and choke them during their growth process. Monofilament entanglement and has been linked to coral morality for decades (Yoshikawa & Asoh 2004). Alex melts down the lead from discarded fishing weights to create slot weights for spearfishermen, freedivers, and SCUBA divers. Learn more about the clean up efforts, melting process, and weight styles by following his Instagram.
Fins: There are many different types of fins that can be used for snorkeling, SCUBA diving, or freediving. Carbon fiber fins are the best for freediving because they are long, lightweight, and thin. The length and thinness allows the fins to glide through the water without resistance, making it easier on the diver to conserve energy and oxygen. While carbon fiber is not recyclable, freediving fins can last decades if taken care of properly. I bought my pure carbon fiber freediving fins from Leaderfins two years ago, and I will never go back. They are pure magic. There are ongoing efforts looking into recycling carbon fiber materials, which will progress freediving businesses to another level of sustainability.
Freediving in the ocean can be exhilarating and calming. As you become more comfortable in deep and open water, I challenge you to explore swim-throughs, small caves, sit on the seafloor, and observe sea life at depth- like fish and sea turtles. Cardio exercise will allow you to extend your breath hold and stay underwater for longer.
I also challenge you to purchase sustainable equipment that prioritizes the planet and conserves our oceans. When that option isn't available, purchase products that are intentionally made and will last you years. Buying second hand is a great option for those on a budget who don't want to contribute to landfills. Remember, it's all about research. Use the internet and your resources to find businesses that align with your values.
In the mean time, use your voice, social media, and dollar to tell business what you want out of them. I want carbon fiber fins made from recycled materials. I want zero waste packaging on dive gear. I want neoprene manufacturing to shift away from oil. What do you want?
Yoshikawa, T. Asoh, K. 2004. Entanglement of monofilament fishing line and coral death. Biological Conservation 117(5): 557-560.