Freediving Skills

Last Modified 2001-May-17

Common and Horse Sense

Rule #1
Stay within your abilities and your comfort zone.

Rule #2
Know your limitations.

Rule #3
No matter how far you drove to go diving, if it's too rough for YOU to go diving, DO NOT go diving. (see Rules #1 & #2) During the opening weekends of ab season in April, there are always many rescues. (You have to wonder, would those people have gone diving if the rescue agencies could charge them large fees for their rescue? >> You have the right to remain stupid.)

Rule #4
Never let equipment over rule common sense.

Breath Holding

  • Relax
  • Become fluid in the water
  • Go with the flow (use the surge and/or current to conserve energy). If the surge isn't moving the direction you want to go; grab the bottom or some kelp and wait for the surge to change direction. In current, swim up current on the surface, dive down and allow the current to carry you along.
  • When you reach the bottom, relax again by looking at something tiny and going "rag doll" for a second before moving
  • Streamline all your gear

Do NOT hyperventilate to extend your breath holding ability.

Shallow Water Blackout has no warning signs. What hyperventilation does is lower the Carbon dioxide level in your blood (a high CO2 level is your body's trigger to breath, Not a low Oxygen level); at depth, the partial pressure of O2 in your blood is higher than at the surface (Dalton's Law of Partial Pressures and a higher ambient pressure), which means your body thinks it has more O2 than it really does, AND on the way up (usually 10 to 15 feet [3.0 to 4.6m] from the surface) the partial pressure of O2 falls below what your body needs to function and POOF you black out. (and then drown; because, unlike marine mammals our breathing reflex is automatic.)

One up (watching for the other to come up), one down.

Always weight yourself a few pounds [1kg] light on the surface when free diving. (If you do get shallow water blackout, hopefully you'll float to the surface.)

To check your buoyancy:

  • Hang vertically in the water with your toes pointed straight toward the bottom. (You should have a flotation device within reach.)
  • Look straight ahead.
  • Relax, Breath normally.
    • The level water should go from the top to the bottom of your mask's glass on each inhalation;
    • If you exhale completely, you should barely start to sink.
  • NOW take two pounds [1kg] off you weight belt.
    (Ideally, you should start to float up at 15ft [4.5m].)


  • Reverse your fin straps (see illustration)
  • Tape all loose straps flat back on themselves after you have fine tuned their fit and position (especially true with your mask and snorkel)
  • Wear a small knife on the inside lower half of your leg or across the back of your weight belt
  • Use a low volume mask (the lowest volume one that fits your face; a black silicone skirt will eliminate the glare from the sun when you're laying on the surface between dives)
  • Use a standard snorkel (elliptical barrels don't flutter as much as round ones when moving through the water; No purges: they can fail and you cannot use the displacement clear effectively)
  • Use a rubber weight belt with one pound (0.5kg) cylinder weights and a high quality stainless steel buckle (the rubber when pretensioned by pulling it tight putting it on will self compensate for your wetsuit compressing; keeping the belt snug throughout your depth range)
  • Wear a wetsuit that FITS you like a second skin (not binding or tight; custom tailored to you body; you should be able to breath easily and have good mobility in your arms and legs)
  • If possible, get a 1/4" (6.5mm) skin II suit made out of Rubatex G231. Skin II is the old style: no nylon, slick rubber on both sides; it's very flexible, offers great thermal protection in and out of the water; but, is somewhat delicate especially if you hook your fingers when pulling it on or off; always use the pads of your fingers to pull a fold of material. (use talc or water and hair conditioner in a 10 to 1 mixture to put on a skin-in suit)

Surface Dives

Remember to equalize the pressure in your ears and mask when descending. If you feel any pain, you are either not equalizing enough, equalizing correctly, or you are too stuffed up to dive. (If you cannot equalize, get out of the water; you can do serious damage to your inner ear [Can you say permanent hearing loss?])


  • For your ears:
    • pinch your nose and gently blow (the Valsalva maneuver). You should hear your ears crack.

      "I also have a left eustachian tube that refuses to open most times. The problem with Valsalva is, I overstress my right ear to open the left. The oval window, which conducts auditory impulses from the middle ear to the inner ear and its sensory nerves, is very easy to injure under these circumstances. I was left with ringing in my right ear that's only now starting to diminish, weeks after a dive. In short, be very careful with your ears."
      --Wyman E Miles

    • rock your jaw back and forth
    • stretch your neck muscles, like you are yawning without opening your mouth.
  • For your mask:
    • blow a little air through your nose every time you equalize your ears

One-leg jack knife

Illustration: One-leg Jack Knife
  • Forward motion
  • Bend 90° at the waist
  • Gently flip one leg straight up (keep your knee straight and your toes pointed straight up)
    • If done correctly, you should feel like you are falling towards the bottom
    • If you find yourself going down at a 45° angle, you're bending and lifting your leg at the same time; remember: three steps (see above)


Same steps as one-leg jack knife, except BOTH legs are flipped up.
(not as efficient or as balanced as the one-leg jack knife.)

Kelp (or Vertical Drop)

  • Hang vertically at the surface with your toes pointed at the bottom
  • Clear a hole in the kelp, by pushing it away with your hand and turning about 90°
  • Give one strong scissors kick to get as much of your upper body out of the water
  • Point your toes directly at the bottom and sink; once underwater you can use your arms to push yourself further under.
  • Then, tuck and pivot so your head is pointing toward the bottom.

Since you will be diving in kelp, when surfacing from a dive remember to:

  • look for a hole in the kelp canopy
  • hold you hands together above your head to split the kelp streamers, making a hole in the canopy

Displacement clearing your snorkel

When assending to the surface:

  • Look up (this points the bottom of your snorkel toward the bottom)
  • Hold one (or both) hand(s) out in front of you
  • As your hand breaks the surface, gently exhale into your snorkel and then roll out on the surface; your snorkel should be dry. (the water flowing by the end of your snorkel create a slight vacuum and the expanding air you just blew into your snorkel fills that vacuum, forcing the water out of your snorkel.) Note: you should practice this in the pool before trying it in open water. The first few times take a tenitive first breath or you might get a mouth full of water.



This is the same kick as used in the freestyle swim stroke, only more exaggerated and slowed down. Remember, keep your knees fairly stiff, toes pointed back, and kick from the hip. Can be used on the surface or underwater


This kick turns your whole body into an undulating wave; just like the kick used in the butterfly swim stroke. Generally considered a power or speed kick. But, can be very efficient when done slowly and smoothly underwater. It also works well in shallow water or over kelp.

Side Flutter

Used on the surface only. Turn on you side, extend the arm that's in the water to point where you are going, elongate your body as much as possible, and use a short quick flutter stroke.

Reverse Flutter

Used on the surface only. This is the flutter stroke, the only difference is you are in a reclining position. Remember, tuck you chin into you chest to keep your snorkel from becoming an economy sized straw.

Surf Entries/Exits

Whenever you are on the wave face of the beach on the North Coast of California, ALWAYS face the water and watch the waves. (The North Coast is famous for Sleeper/Rogue waves. Meaning there could be 3 to 4 foot [0.9 to 1.2m] breakers on the beach and then suddenly a 10 to 15 foot [3.7 to 4.6m] wave sweeps the beach clean.)

Before entering the water:

  • Check the WWW weather pages before you leave home

    North Pacific WAM

    T000 - T012 - T024 - T036 - T048 - T060 - T072 - T084 - T096 - T108 - T120 - T132 - T144 - All Images

  • Listen to the NOAA weather report for the area you are going to dive
    • 162.1MHz, 162.4MHz, and 162.55MHz?
  • Call the dive information line for the area
    • Salt Point Recorded Conditions (707) 847-3222
    • Ocean Cove Store (707) 847-3422
    • Dave at Timber Cove (707) 847-3278
    • Mendocino Coast (707) 964-3793, (707) 961-1143
  • Sit on the beach for a minimum of 25 minutes watching the wave sets.
    • Are the waves getting bigger or smaller?
    • Can you handle the large waves in a set?
    • Is the lull in the set long enough to get through? (going out OR coming in)

When entering the water:

  • On DRY sand put on all your gear (fins on, weight belt snug, mask on your face, snorkel in your mouth)
  • Watch for the lull in the set. (If the waves have picked up and you don't know if you can make it through the surf line >> DO NOT go in the water. )

    TIP: Use a rip current to get through the surf line, you don't have to kick much and the rip tends to knock the waves down.

  • Hold your float up and out of the water
  • Side step quickly into the water until you are about thigh deep
  • Turn to face the waves
  • Hold your float down in front of you
  • Lay on it and GO! GO! GO! (don't stop until you are on the other side of the surf line.)
TIP: If a wave is going to break on top of you, push the nose of your float down into the face of the wave, tuck your head and torso tight to the float, hold on tight, and KICK. (This is called "ducking a wave.") If done correctly, you will pop up on the backside of the wave; but, be prepared for another breaker.


  • Stop on the outside edge of the surf line
  • Watch and wait for a lull in the set
  • Swim quickly through the surf line
  • Crawl/Walk until you are on DRY sand.

Try to stay on the backside of breaking waves. (Otherwise, you'll know what it feels like to be clothes in a washing machine.)

ALWAYS have an alternate exit(s).

© 2000 All rights reserved.
Last Modified 2001-May-17