My Freediving History

Tue 25 October 2016 by Tom Lightfoot

Freediving means different things to different people. The common denominator for all is that it involves going underwater while holding one's breath. Beyond that it can mean advanced snorkelling, breath-hold spearfishing, or trying for depth records.

The Early Days

As for myself, you could say that I have been practicing freediving for almost forty years, although I never thought of it that way. I just thought of it as snorkelling or skin diving, even though from the very beginning I would make regular trips down to ten feet or so. The first time I realized that the term 'freediving' could actually apply to me was in March of '96 when I was swimming with the whale sharks off of the Ningaloo reef in Western Australia. After I came up from a cruise with a shark at around 30 feet, the divemaster/guide said, "Wow, you're a great freediver!" The comment surprised me because I never thought of myself as one but I guess I was a freediver.

In January of '98 I was between jobs so I went to the Cayman Islands to visit some friends and do some scuba diving. While down there I took a course on freediving from a Canadian guy named Dan Hodgins at DiveTech. After the course I was able to go past 60 feet and even stay there comfortably for a few seconds. I was hooked.

The Competitive Years

Two years later, Dan's partner in crime, Kirk Krack moved from Cayman to Vancouver and decided to start something up here. Kirk trained American freedive stars Brett LeMaster and Tanya Streeter in their world record dives. That March, I attended a talk and video show Kirk was putting on at BC Dive Adventures. Shortly afterwards I got deeply involved. We spent the summer freediving and I became competitive.

After a few months of competitive training, my best depth more than doubled to well past what I ever did on scuba. In 2000 I competed in national trials and qualified as the alternate to the Canadian Men's Team competing at the AIDA World Cup at Nice, France in October. I have since competed for Team Canada as an actual competitor at the World Freediving Championships in Ibiza Spain in 2001 and at the Pacific Cup of Freediving in Kona, Hawaii in 2002.

I have also held three national freediving records:

Dynamic Apnea with Fins100 mSeptember 10, 2000
Dynamic Apnea wihout Fins75 mApril 15, 2001
Constant Ballast without Fins43 mMay 3, 2003

Since that time, all Canadian Men's records have been obliterated by a guy named William Winram, who ironically used to kick my butt in competitive swimming in Victoria in the early 1980's.

Time as an Instructor

Back in 2001, Kirk made an arrangement with SFU's Kinesiology department. Performance Freediving would teach a group of people a 12-week course in freediving and SFU would provide facilities and do testing on the students/subjects both before and after the course. The objective was to measure the physiological effects of freedive training. Kirk asked me to help instruct because he was on the road quite a lot with his regular courses in the USA.

The SFU Program as we called it went for a total of eight years. I started out mostly assisting with Kirk and Mandy but gradually taught more and more of the program by myself.

In all that time, however, I never became a full-on Performance Freediving instructor. This was in PFI's early days before its formalized instructor program and insurance. So far I've resisted the temptation to actually take the instructor course and become an offical, insured instructor. The highly structured teaching plans can take the joy out of freediving.

Present Day

Over the past few years I've gone pretty much back to my roots as a recreational freediver. I don't dive as deep as I did in my competitive days but certainly deeper than before. Most of my diving now is with a camera in hand and with the Vancouver Apneist Club.