Diving into open water with next to no equipment sounds crazy, right? Many of us understand scuba diving and can quite easily visualize someone swimming around with an oxygen tank on their back. But, some people may not be aware of their additional choices when exploring underwater.
Skin diving and freediving are two similar but distinct activities. While the terms are often used interchangeably, skin diving and freediving are not the same. Each comes with different safety concerns, equipment requirements, and skill sets.
In this article, we will answer some common questions, such as what is skin diving? And what is a freediver? Then by the end, you will clearly understand each activity and may even discover which diving style is right for you.
Aside from learning to scuba dive, which usually requires training and qualifications, skin diving is one of the simplest ways to explore the underwater world. This is because skin diving requires no specific gear or instruction.
The term ‘skin diving’ is somewhat outdated nowadays, but it is still helpful to know the basics. Skin divers will enter a body of water, usually wearing nothing more than a mask and sometimes a snorkel, allowing them to observe the beauty within the water. They may use the snorkel to help them breathe more efficiently while swimming on the surface, but once they dive below, they must hold their breath.
Yes, this activity requires the diver to hold their breath while they are underwater. Skin diving does not involve any underwater breathing apparatus, like oxygen tanks. The depth a skin diver can reach is limited by their lung capacity and how long they can hold their breath. Most skin divers stay relatively close to the surface and do not go deeper than a few meters.
The average duration for a skin diving session is around 30 seconds, depending on the diver – which is more than enough time to explore the shallows and get a taste of what’s below the surface.
Now you know the answer to ‘what is skin diving’ – what is a skin diver? A skin diver is simply someone who practices the act of skin diving! Almost anyone can skin dive, from complete beginners to experienced freedivers who use skin diving to relax and explore shallower reefs and areas.
Many tourists who visit tropical destinations like Oahu or Kauai will have the opportunity to go skin diving, even if they have never dived before. Some resorts and tour operators offer diving equipment rentals, which can include snorkels.
When people partake in snorkeling, it is not uncommon for them to dip below the surface to get a better look at the fish and coral. In this case, they are technically skin diving – even if they do not know it!
While a snorkel and mask are all a skin diver usually needs, they can opt to use more equipment to help them skin dive safely and efficiently. For example, a wet suit will keep a skin diver warm, while fins and a mask will allow them to move through the water more efficiently.
Are you now wondering what the appeal of skin diving is? After all, diving into the ocean without oxygen isn’t for everyone! But, compared to other alternatives (such as freediving), skin diving is much more accessible and normally doesn’t involve specialized training or preparations.
Here are some reasons people may want to skin dive:
One of the most popular reasons for skin diving is to take underwater photos. Skin diving allows photographers to get close to marine life and capture natural behavior you can’t see from the surface. Skin divers only go under the water for a very short while; they stay submerged just long enough to take some photos, then return to the surface to catch their breath.
Another popular reason for skin diving is to simply relax. The underwater environment can be very peaceful and calming, making it the best place to unwind and forget about the stresses of daily life. When we enter any body of water, we can feel weightless and calm. Skin diving allows us to feel this way without needing additional certifications or worrying about acquiring scuba diving gear.
Spearfishing and skin diving often come hand in hand. Most spearfishing happens from the surface, but skin divers may enter the water to hone in on fish before they spear them. This also gives you a chance to collect fish hiding in small crevices or holes, as spearfishers can enter these areas without holding their breath for a long time. You can also use skin diving to hunt for lobster and other seafood.
Spearfishing has been a popular way to catch fish for centuries and is still practiced worldwide, both for subsistence and recreation.
Like skin divers who take photos, many just want to see what is happening underwater. This could be anything from observing fish and other marine life to checking out a shipwreck or looking for lost objects.
Skin diving is the perfect way to get a close-up view of what is happening underwater – without going too deep. Most skin divers are snorkelers who want a closer look at what’s happening below the surface. They can quickly look around by diving down for a few moments before returning to catch their breath.
Some people use skin diving as a way to overcome their fears. If you’re scared of the ocean or of being underwater, skin diving can help you slowly conquer those fears. As you only go under the water for a few seconds at a time, skin diving is a brilliant way to ease into diving and get comfortable with being underwater – which may also make diving appear more safe and open up a whole new world.
We have mentioned how snorkeling and skin diving are similar – but what makes them different? Snorkeling is when you float on the water’s surface, with your face in the water, using a mask to see and snorkel to breathe. With snorkeling, you are limited to the surface of the water but can breathe without having to come up for air – thanks to the snorkel.
Skin diving is when you swim underwater for a short period. Skin divers do not use any breathing apparatus while diving. Instead, they hold their breath and swim to the depth they want to reach before swimming back up to the surface.
Some snorkelers may see something that piques their interest and will take a quick skin dive down to get a better view. Similarly, skin divers may want to take a break from holding their breath and will float on the surface, sometimes with a snorkel, to catch their breath.
You can snorkel without skin diving and vice versa. It depends on how confident you are at holding your breath and how deep you want to go. But what about freediving, and how does it compare to skin diving?
While there are some similarities between skin diving and freediving, of the two, freediving is undoubtedly the more advanced. The aim of freediving is to stay underwater as long as possible, working with just a single breath of air. This means freedivers must be comfortable staying submerged for extended periods and have excellent breath-holding abilities (see here our guide on freediving breathing exercises and techniques).
Freediving is a highly complex sport, and a lot of the preparation is for both mental and physical reasons. It’s essential to be in tune with your body and know your limits. Some people liken freediving to meditation; it requires focus, relaxation, and concentration.
Freediving has a very competitive aspect to it, with some freedivers constantly pushing themselves to see how long they can go without needing to breathe. Not only this, but freediving also involves swimming to deeper depths without the safety net of scuba gear. Without proper training and preparation, freediving can be very dangerous.
So, what is a freediver? A freediver swims underwater without using scuba gear or any other breathing apparatus. This means they rely solely on their breath-holding abilities to stay underwater for as long as possible. People who freedive have to work hard to increase their lung capacity, breath hold time, and overall calmness underwater.
Freedivers often wear specialized freediving wetsuits to help them to move quickly through the water and stay warm. They may also use long fins to aid in swimming faster and diving deeper. Freedivers often use goggles for better visibility and rarely use snorkels.
Freedivers must also practice many breathing techniques to prolong their time underwater. One exercise freedivers must use is recovery breathing – a method that helps them quickly recover from a breath hold. If freedivers do not learn these breath-holding techniques, they can fall victim to shallow water blackouts – which can be fatal.
When understanding what it takes to be a freediver, you must know it goes deeper than just holding your breath and going for a swim. Free diving is about mastering your body and mind and controlling your breathing – so you can safely explore the depths around you. Another thing freedivers must do is improve their body’s ability to withstand carbon dioxide build-up.
Depending on the diver’s fitness levels and training, some free divers have a breath hold time of as long as 10 minutes. By doing this, freedivers can reach deeper depths and explore underwater in a way that skin divers and snorkelers can only dream of.
Now we understand what freediving is; you may wonder why someone would want to freedive. To many people, it does seem like a pretty dangerous activity. So, what is it that entices people to take the plunge?
Let’s look at why some people may freedive:
For some, freediving is simply a challenge. They want to see how long they can hold their breath and how deep they can dive. It’s an activity that requires a lot of focus, training, and discipline – which can be very rewarding for some people.
Starting with a meager breath-hold time and significantly increasing it, and then being able to freedive to depths of around 40m, is an immense personal achievement for many freedivers.
For others, freediving is a way to connect with nature. When you freedive, you can get up close and personal with marine life in a way you can’t when using scuba gear. If you have ever scuba-dived before, you’ll know the feeling of being surrounded by fish and other marine life.
It’s a fantastic feeling – and it’s even better when you’re freediving because you’re not limited by air tanks or a noisy breathing apparatus. Freediving allows you to move slowly and quietly through the water, so you can take in your surroundings and appreciate the beauty of the underwater world.
Freediving also allows you to explore deeper depths than skin diving. This is because you’re only limited by how long you can hold your breath. The longer you can control your breath, the longer you can freedive for. When you have properly trained to become a freediver, you can descend deeper and stay down longer – allowing you to see things first-hand that other people never will.
While freediving allows you to experience the underwater in a different way, it can also make you a better scuba diver. This is because freediving requires you to be very comfortable in the water and practice specific techniques like equalization. By training to freedive, you can improve your diving skills and become a more confident and experienced scuba diver.
And lastly, some people freedive to compete with other freedivers. There are many competitive freediving events held worldwide. Within these contests, freedivers compete to see who can dive the deepest or hold their breath for the longest. These competitions can be a lot of fun and a great way to meet other freedivers.
So, what is skin diving? What is freediving? By now, you should have a good grasp of the differences. There certainly is a likeness between skin diving and freediving, with many freedivers also partaking in skin diving – but they are not entirely interchangeable.
Typically, skin diving is simply swimming underwater with no breathing apparatus. In comparison, freediving is a bit more complex. Freediving requires training, discipline, and a much longer breath hold ability. Understanding the differences is vital for anyone considering either of these activities.
Whether you want to go skin diving or see yourself as a competing freediver – remember to always swim with a buddy and take the necessary safety precautions.
While skin diving and freediving are great ways to explore the underwater world, they are definitely not the same. So, now you know why people skin dive and what freediving is; which one is for you?
Skin diving is a good option if you’re looking for a casual activity that you can do without any real training. However, if you want to go deeper, explore more, and really challenge yourself, freediving may be a better choice. No matter what you choose, always make sure you’re happy, confident, and safe!