When given the choice of either SCUBA or Freediving at Koh Haa of Thailand, I jumped at the chance of freediving, as it has been sitting on my bucket list for a long time. Thankfully Natalie was also down with it, so away we go!
All the dive shops at Koh Lanta have 5 stars rating on TripAdvisors, so we went with Blue Planet since they are going out to Koh Haa the day we are available. Koh Haa is known to be one of the best dive spots around Koh Lanta, the only down side being that the boat ride out to the dive site takes around 1.5 hrs. On hindsight we should have done our divings while we were still on Koh Phi Phi.
This will be the first time Natalie and I try freediving. I can dive underwater during snorkeling and although I am SCUBA Open Water certified I have pretty limited experience. Natalie has only learned how to dive underwater during snorkeling two days ago and just stopped wearing a life vest, so this will be an interesting challenge for the both of us.
On this particular trip, there was only one other free diver and our instructor. The other free diver was pretty pro, he has been free diving for awhile and is actively traveling SE Asia, I want his life (and his good look)!
Knowing it was our first time freediving, our instructor Enzo sat us down and gave us a crash course. The key takeaway is to stay relaxed under water. The constriction we feel when we are “out of breath” is actually the buildup of CO2, there is probably still 75% of Oxygen left in our body at that point. Think of the out of breath constriction as the body pushing the remainly oxygen out of the various body cavaties for use. Personally, understanding what my body’s reaction means really helped a lot. In the past as soon as I felt that I just assumed I was out of air and need to ascent asap, now I know better.
I also had a long chat with the underwater cameraman during the trip, besides giving me some great underwater photography tips, he also painted a more realsitic picture of the danger of freediving. He said that sometimes people pass out at the last 5 meters of their ascend, because their lung expanded but all the oxygen was depleted.
Okay, don’t push it too hard, noted.
This was a two dives trip. On our first dive our instructor Enzo set up a float with a 50 feet (15 meters) weighted rope under the float. Our goal is to hold onto the rope and dive down head first, and to go as far as we could. In a single breath.
So we all took turn going multiple times, every one being very supportive. I was having some serious issues equalizing (clearing my ears), as a result I had to swim back up a little before heading down again. The odd thing was that if I go feet first and pull myself down on the rope, equalizing was not an issue at all.
Near the end of the first dive session, I was able to equalize better and was able to go the whole 50 feet down. After a small celebration, Enzo said to go down, hang out and try to look around a bit. So I swam down again, taking care to start equalizing as soon as my head goes under water (I think my issue was I waited until too long between equalizing, so it became too difficult further down). I hit the 50 feet marker, my chest started constricting, it is too late to abort now; praying what they have been telling me about the out of oxygen reflex doesn’t mean I am truly out of air, I tried to stay relax and looked around.
There were fish and sea stars all around, it was quiet, except the constant crackling sound from parrot fishes eating corals and pistol shrimps that seems to be ever present in all the tropical ocean. It was a very surreal moment. So I floated there, 50 feet down with no gear, slowly spun around and just enjoyed the view. After 7 seconds or so I got a little freaked out so I started my control ascent. As I slowly swam up, Enzo was half way down the line to make sure everything was ok, and of course, we had another mini celebration once we got top side.
After about an hour of us three taking turn practicing our freediving, we returned to the boat and headed to the second dive site of the day, which is not too far from the first site. Here we checked out an underwater cave that had a swim through.
The cave’s swim through was awesome, you have to dive through a short tunnel to reach the cave and once inside it is like a different world. We spent quite some time there exploring and taking photos before we dove back outside.
At some point my French freediving buddy met up with the SCUBA divers at the bottom, it was a funny contrast seeing a guy with no gear swimming next to fully equiped SCUBA divers.
After the two dives introductory course, I feel pretty good about freediving. It seems like as long as I could relax and stay in a possitive state of mind, freediving is definitely do-able. Eventually I would like to try spearfishing so learning how to freedive properly will be the first step.
As for Koh Haa, from what I could see it looked to be a great dive spot. Unfortunately we were so focused on practicing freediving techniques, we did not really get to explore the underwater scenery too much. If you are just starting out freediving like me, it probably does not matter where you dive because you would be too busy trying to survive. On hindsight, maybe we should have learned how to freedive somewhere closer to shore and save Koh Haa for SCUBA, where we have more bottom time to appreciate the sea lifes. Either way, it was still a great trip out and snorkeling is going to be so much more fun from this point on!