When searching online for the differences between skin diving and freediving, you will be met with a lot of conflicting information. As the term skin diving is rarely used nowadays, many people lump the two activities under one broad definition. This is a mistake because although they are similar, skin diving and freediving have some key differences.
From the amount of time spent underwater to the preparation and training, there are many ways that skin diving and freediving contrast. Often, these differences can impact whether a diver finds one activity more fun than the other.
So, to break it down, we have compiled this handy guide to discover the differences between skin diving and freediving and find out which of these activities is more fun for you – skin diving vs freediving!
Before we can understand the differences between skin diving and freediving, let’s discover what these two activities are. Firstly, skin diving is where divers dip below the water’s surface for a short period. Skin divers do not use any breathing apparatus while submerged but may use a snorkel to catch their breath at the surface.
Skin diving and snorkeling often go hand in hand, as many snorkelers will pop their head below the water to better look at what lies beneath. Skin diving is a great way to explore the ocean with minimal training and equipment.
Unlike skin diving, freediving is an activity that requires more preparation and training. It involves divers deliberately submerging themselves in deeper parts of the ocean, using just a single breath. Like skin diving, freedivers do not use any breathing apparatus.
Freedivers immerse themselves for extended periods, meaning they must use specialized breathing techniques. Freediving is a serious activity and can be dangerous if not done properly.
To understand the differences between skin diving and freediving, it will first help to have an understanding of what they both have in common.
Both skin diving and freediving require the diver to submerge themselves without the aid of any breathing apparatus. Divers must hold their breath while submerged and rely on their lungs to cope with underwater pressure.
As skin diving does not necessarily require any prior training, the length of time a skin diver can hold their breath may be limited. Freedivers undergo rigorous training to extend their apnea, or time underwater without breathing, to the greatest extent possible. But regardless of how long a diver dives, neither activity requires any external breathing apparatus.
Both skin diving and freediving are activities that allow for exploration and recreation. Skin divers explore underwater to discover all kinds of amazing aquatic life. Often divers skin dive to catch a glimpse of beautiful corals and other underwater formations.
Freedivers usually venture deeper in search of the thrill and challenge of the unknown. Whatever their purpose is for going underwater, both activities can be enjoyable experiences. It just depends on the diver’s preference and comfort levels.
Both skin diving and freediving require strength and skill to be completed safely. Whether you are going to skin dive or freedive, you must have the good physical strength to swim underwater. Not only this, but you will also need to have confidence and remain relaxed while submerged.
Without either of these skills, you will struggle to enjoy yourself. When considering skin diving vs freediving, you must ensure that you are up to the challenge – regardless of which you choose.
Whether you are skin diving or freediving, it is essential to always have a buddy with you. If something were to happen underwater, your buddy could help get you back up safely.
Buddies are also not just for underwater help. When you return to the surface, even after a quick skin dive, there is a chance that you could suffer from shallow water blackout. Having someone there to make sure you are okay is essential.
While freediving is considered the more dangerous of the two activities, skin diving, and freediving come with risks. These can range from drowning to decompression sickness, so you must be aware of them before embarking on either activity. One common but very real danger of both skin diving and freediving is shallow water blackouts.
Shallow water blackouts occur when divers hold their breath for too long, and their oxygen levels become dangerously low. This can cause them to become unconscious and drown – even in shallow water. Understanding the risks associated with these activities is vital before attempting either.
Finally, both skin diving and freediving require knowledge of equalization. Equalization is how divers adjust the pressure in their middle ears as they descend and ascend to avoid discomfort or pain. This skill should ideally be mastered before attempting either activity.
As freedivers dive deeper, they must be able to equalize the pressure in their ears and sinuses properly. Skin divers may not need to use this skill as much, but it is good to be aware of it. This is especially true if you ever plan on diving deeper than a few feet below the surface.
You probably now understand why many people confuse the two when you look at the similarities. However, some key distinctions need to be pointed out for you to understand the differences between skin diving and freediving.
When querying skin diving vs freediving, one of the most notable differences is they require different preparations. As many skin divers are snorkelers who simply dip below the surface, they usually don’t need to prepare too much. Of course, holding your breath underwater for any amount of time should not be taken lightly. But, there is usually less emphasis on heavy breathing exercises when skin diving.
On the other hand, freediving requires much more preparation as it involves swimming deep into the sea. This means specialized gear (such as low-volume masks), safety protocols, and training are required to ensure the activity is carried out safely. Freedivers will also often undergo heavy breathing exercises in order to prepare their bodies for the dive. See here for our guide on the best breathing exercises and techniques for freedivers.
Another critical difference between skin diving and freediving is the breathing techniques used. Skin divers usually take a few deep breaths before submerging themselves and then resurface when they need to breathe. Freedivers, however, undergo a process called breath-hold training, which allows them to stay submerged for extended periods – sometimes up to 10 minutes.
Freedivers must train to use oxygen more efficiently and take fewer breaths. This training involves:
- Increasing lung capacity
- Learning relaxation techniques
- Maximizing their body’s tolerance to CO2 (the gas that makes us feel like taking a breath)
- Practicing correct breathing exercises, such as pre-dive and recovery breathing
It would help skin divers to understand specific freediving techniques, especially if they intend to go beyond the depths of a shallow dive. But, as most skin divers stay near the surface and are only underwater for a few seconds, it isn’t often required.
One huge difference between skin diving and freediving is the depths they travel to. Skin divers rarely go beyond a depth of 10ft, while freedivers can plunge much deeper depending on their skill level and training.
Many experienced freedivers can reach depths over 100ft – with the world record currently being 702ft! Although most freedivers stick to around 40ft, as this is where they feel most comfortable.
It is important to note that skin divers should not attempt to dive as deep as a freediver. This is because they have not been appropriately trained and prepared for the activity. Skin diving is relatively safe when carried out correctly, but attempting to freedive without the proper preparation can be extremely dangerous.
Skin diving vs freediving differ also in the pressure the diver is exposed to. The deeper a freediver goes, the more pressure they experience. The reason for this is because the weight of the water above them presses down on their body (known as hydrostatic pressure). Skin divers may feel some pressure but not to the extent of a freediver. However, this can be an issue for freedivers – especially those traveling deeper.
Water pressure is measured in pounds per square inch (PSI), and the deeper a freediver goes, the higher the PSI. As a diver swims deeper, every 33 feet they dive adds an additional atmosphere (ATM) of pressure, which is equal to 14.5 PSI at sea level.
The deeper a diver goes, the more effect it has on their body, such as:
- Reduced lung capacity
- Increased chance of barotrauma (injury caused by pressure change, often to the ears, sinuses, and lungs)
- Nitrogen narcosis (a drug-like effect caused by increased nitrogen in the bloodstream)
- Increased chance of decompression sickness
- Decrease in oxygen levels in the blood
Freedivers must be aware of their surroundings and the pressure they are under to stay safe. Experienced freedivers can use specific techniques to cope with some of these issues (for instance, effective equalization techniques to reduce the risk of barotraumas).
The time spent underwater goes hand-in-hand with how deep a diver goes. As skin divers rarely exceed a depth of 10ft, they can usually only stay submerged for around 30 seconds. Freedivers are trained to remain underwater for extended periods. Again, this depends on the depth they travel to, but many experienced freedivers can hold their breath for up to 10 minutes.
Freedivers need to understand and respect their limits when underwater to stay safe and enjoy the experience. Skin divers should also take note of any depth or time limitations they may have, as this can help them stay within their comfort zone.
The equipment used by skin divers and freedivers varies greatly depending on the activity they are participating in. Skin diving is generally suited to snorkeling, so a mask and snorkel are usually all they need. Skin divers may also wear wetsuits, depending on the temperature of the water, but it isn’t really required.
Freediving requires more specialized gear, depending on what discipline the diver is participating in. Generally, freedivers wear fins, a mask, and a wetsuit – with more advanced divers also using weight belts and dive watches.
While both kinds of diving may use masks, freedivers must choose their masks wisely. This is because freedivers experience greater pressure than skin divers, so their masks must be low-volume and comfortable.
Freediving has a highly competitive element that is not found in skin diving. Freediving competitions involve athletes competing to reach the deepest depths or staying underwater for the longest duration.
Freediving competitions can include disciplines such as free immersion (diving down and back up a line) and static apnea (staying underwater for as long as possible). Skin diving is mainly done for recreational purposes, so there is no real competitive element.
One main appeal of skin diving is that it often requires very little or no planning. Skin divers can just pick up their equipment and head to the water. Freediving, on the other hand, involves a lot of preparation and training for deeper dives. Freedivers also need to plan their dive carefully, consider their experience level and fitness, and ensure they know the proper technique for descending and ascending.
When deciding which is the most fun, it helps to understand why people choose each activity. Some reasons people skin dive are to:
- Relax and unwind
- Explore the underwater world
- Take photos
- Get up close to marine life
Whereas freediving is generally pursued by those looking to:
- Go deeper underwater
- Hold their breath longer
- Challenge themselves
- Compete in competitions
- Discover the depths of the ocean
Both activities have advantages and disadvantages, but ultimately it’s up to each individual which they find the most fun! Skin divers often cite the relaxed atmosphere of snorkeling, coupled with the chance to observe marine life up close, as reasons why they choose this over freediving.
On the other hand, freedivers may be motivated by the thrill. Freediving pushes their physical limits and gives opportunity to explore deeper waters – allowing them to discover more fascinating creatures. It really is down to you as a person and what you deem as fun! We are all different, and there is certainly no right or wrong answer.
The differences between skin diving and freediving make or break the fun factor for most people. Whatever your preference, it is essential always to consider safety first when engaging in any underwater activity. Be sure to research what gear you need and practice proper techniques – this will help get the most out of your experience, no matter what type of diving you are doing!