Freediving: A Journey to the Deeper Blue

Johnn M

Playing under the Enchanted River. Photo by Martin Zapanta

There’s just so much more we can do underwater than what we already know. The Philippines has one of the largest sea tribe in Asia who are born and live by the ocean. The Bajau Tribe (locally known as Badjao), a Moro indigenous ethnic group has been living around and in between the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei. With their kind of lifestyle depending mostly on the sea as fishermen, deep sea divers and nomadic explorers, they have been known as one of the best freedivers in the world who can plunge down to 20 meters and stay there for several of minutes on a single breath as they go looking for fish as their means of livelihood.

The lifestyle of our sea gypsies have attracted foreigners engaging to freediving, a sport-like activity closely related to that of the Badjaos, to come to the country and train widely. Foreign travelers and freedivers prefer the Philippine seas because of its depth and distance around the islands giving them a calm water, less current and waves while they go as deep as they can. Some have even been living in the country to teach and share their knowledge not only to foreigners but to locals as well who are now getting to appreciate more the beauty of living in a tropical country like ours.

Dive Ta Bai!

Freediving in the Enchanted River. Photo by Martin Zapanta

Freediving in the Enchanted River.
Photo by Martin Zapanta

Johnn Mendoza, who leads a Cebu-based community of freedivers called “Dive Ta Bai”, has noted that there are already over a hundred local freedivers around Cebu. He got his Level 1 SSI certificate at the Freedive HQ in Lapu-Lapu City, Cebu and can go as deep as 25 meters. Johnn describes himself as someone who was normally tensed trying to keep things under his control but through the breathing techniques and mind-clearing practices, he learned the art of acceptance and letting go whenever he has to. That despite his busy work schedule, he goes underwater weekly with friends and travelers who come to Cebu for a fun dive with the sardines in Moalboal with its long stretch of reefs and resident turtles or around Marigondon, Lapu-Lapu which is just a few minutes drive from the city.


Johnn as he ascends the Enchanted River in Surigao del Sur.

Though freediving is also not something you do anytime just because your friends do it or would make you look cool taking underwater photos of yourself, it surely needs proper training and knowledge. Veronica Chiongbian, LIV resident DJ and a mother, hasn’t got her certification but did not want to be reckless on her first try. She has asked proper guidance from her cousin-in-law, a certified freediver, to dive and train her the basics. Veronica believes that freediving needs patience, commitment and the desire needs to come straight from herself or anyone who wants to learn.

For most people who haven’t heard of freediving, they would think it’s diving for free like there’s no monetary payment to do so. This may be true in some ways because once you’ve learned the basic techniques, you can practically freedive anywhere deep or simply while snorkeling with friends and going underwater for as long as you can.

But yes, freediving can mean freedom and being one with nature underwater. These are the two things you would most likely hear from most freedivers. When asked why, Veronica answered, “Freediving are one short dives but each experience is intense. It is just you, the ocean and the diverse life around you. You have to be attuned with the surroundings. This type of discipline pushes you to your limits, making you more acquainted with your body. The goal is to stay underwater and possibly deeper and longer after each dive. The interaction you get with the life underwater is just surreal. Scuba diving gives you the opportunity to look around while freediving gives you the chance to look within.” And yes, both activities have its purposes that you need to understand whichever you are comfortable to serve.

Freediving with her partner and fellow disc-jockey, Carlow Montecillo is one the many activities that they share together as a couple.

Freediving with her partner and fellow disc-jockey, Carlow Montecillo is one the many activities that they share together as a couple. Photo by Lloyd Bass

Freediving, a spiritual journey

In psychedelic motion with the sardines

In psychedelic motion with the sardines

Nicolas Foubert, a 25-year old French freediver who has traveled across Africa, Asia, Mexico and Guatamela is already a certified AIDA 4 freediver. In his first visit in the Philippines last year, he went to Moalboal, Cebu and completed his Level 1 training. From the first time he tried it, he knew this will be something that has to be a part of his life. One of the things he learned is the importance of concentration, similar to meditation that whatever the sensations or emotions are, he accepts them just how they are and not how he wants them to be. As Nico shared, “While freediving, you can feel this urge to breathe but then this is just your brain playing with you. If you separate what your body can do from what your brain tells you, you’ll be surprised how good can you be.”

Nico is now back in the Philippines to do surfing and train more for freediving. And because he feels a special connection with the place and its locals, he knows that the Philippines is his home away from home.


Nico enjoying the company of sardines in Moalboal, Cebu

For Otmane Hajji, freediving is a part of their spiritual journey. Otto, as his friends call him, is from Morocco and has traveled across five continents for 7 years and counting. Three years ago, he started to get into freediving and he was impressed by how our bodies can work, an amazing piece of engineering as he sees it. Just recently, he completed his instructor course with pure apnea in Moalboal during his first visit in the country.

Otto with his fellow Pure Apnea Master students Mikey and Flo with their instructor in Moalboal during one of their training in the pool. Photo by Jussi Reovanpera

Otto with his fellow Pure Apnea Master students Mikey and Flo with their instructor in Moalboal during one of their training in the pool.
Photo by Jussi Reovanpera

The first time he hit the 40 meter mark underwater, he described his experience as being in a meditative state and really being in the moment with himself. Beyond freediving, he started digging deeper in himself with one thing leading to another. He does yoga exercises and learns more about how meditation can work together with freediving in his day to day life.

Through the things Otto has learned in freediving, he realized that he’s been moving a lot and might have ignored the things that truly makes him happy and contented. He plans to come back to the Philippines to continue what he has learned in freediving along with his past experiences to live an awakened life and pay it forward, settling down in a new place he can now call home.

Otto during his Pure Apnea Master Course in Moalboal. Photo by Jussi Rovanpera

Otto during his Pure Apnea Master Course in Moalboal.
Photo by Jussi Rovanpera

These are just some of the many life-changing stories about freediving and its divers. It is not always about the depth and time, technique and records but it is a continuous process of getting into the sphere of higher awareness, learning and understanding yourself and your connection with the life around you. Freediving may be the most natural way to explore and free yourself while enjoying the wonders of the ocean life but safety should be the top most priority of each diver: Never freedive alone.

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9 Responses

  1. Dr. Lloyd Bass says:

    Hi Vic! Nice article. Really explains the essence and core dogma of freediving. I go freediving with Carlow and Veronica (the DJs featured in your blog). Carlow is my cousin. I was actually the one who took the photo you posted of them both freediving. That was taken during our island hopping adventure in Mactan last June of this year. Anyway, great blog! Keep ’em coming

    • onlyvic says:

      Hey Lloyd! Are you the one who taught Veronica and Carlow to freedive? V mentioned to me Carlow’s cousin is a freediver. Is that you? Haha :)

      Thanks for dropping by. I hope to freedive with you, V and Carlow soon! :)

      • Dr. Lloyd Bass says:

        Ah no, that would be our freedive master Chic Banlasan, Carlow’s other cousin. He’s the one who taught us the basics of freediving. We go freediving together as a group. You are welcome to freedive with us if you like. :)

        • onlyvic says:

          Oh thats cool, the family that freedives together, stays together haha :)
          Bitaw, soon when our schedule and weather permits. It will be fun to meet Carlow’s cousins, for sure.

  2. I love this post Vic and especially the images and the history behind freediving. It seems I always learn something new from you which I never knew. Your country is so very beautiful…as is your selfless spirit. Hugs and blessings my sister!

    • onlyvic says:

      Hey Wendell! Thanks a lot for the sweet words. The photos were given by the people I have interviewed for this post. And yes they are indeed beautiful that can say so much about our country. It’s such a delight to be liked by you. Much love to your way, my brother!

  3. Oh wow. Must be an awesome experience. Definitely on my bucket list but I guess I need to learn how to swim first.

    • onlyvic says:

      I haven’t even done the real thing but it has already been an awesome experience. haha! And yes, you gotta learn how to swim and everything else will follow when you learn the basics of freediving :)

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