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Freediving in the Philippines

Why Philippines is a must go for freediving?

Located in the coral triangle, the Philippines offer some of the best diving in the world. Thanks to it’s amazing biodiversity and ideal water conditions, it has been a major scuba diving destination for more than 3 decades now. Today the calm and clear waters of this paradisiac archipelago are drawing the attention of freedivers worldwide.

Can you ask for more?

Freediving in the Philippines you will find yourself in 30°C waters and 30m visibility with a postcard picture background. The country is now home to a growing community of freedivers. You will find several centers and people training throughout the country. More international competitions and events are taking place. If you are looking for the next freediving hotspot in Asia, you have found it.

El Nido and Bacuit Bay offers a great settings above and under the water

What about freediving in El Nido?

During your stay indulge in the island lifestyle. El Nido seems to have found the perfect balance between nature and comfort. Conserving its fisherman’s village charm it now offers all the commodities you would need to make the most of your stay. Surrounded with a pristine environment, El Nido offers a wide range of accommodations, restaurants and activities. The slow life pace and quiet surroundings are an invitation to lay down in a hammock recovering from your diving watching the timeless sunset.

We welcome freedivers of all levels. Whether you are a complete beginner or a seasoned apneist we have something for you, find all the details about our freediving courses and special training opportunities.

Healthy food lovers: take advantage of the abundance of fresh sea food and delicious tropical fruits found yearly on the local market. If ever you want more action, there is always an opportunity for exploration weather on land or in the water. Hiking, mountain biking, kayaking…

Take a look at our blog on life in El Nido to find all the details.

The Mammalian Diving Reflex

How can people possibly hold their breath for so long or dive that deep?

The human body has a set of physiological reactions that helps it deal with breath hold diving. These adaptations where inherited through evolution and can be found shared by all mammals. Of course this includes dolphins, whales, seals… The same mechanism we see in marine mammals can be observed in humans. This is truly the magic behind free diving. All those changes combine to optimize your O2 consumption and can extend your breath hold abilities. With relaxation and training we can take advantage of these changes making free diving easier and more enjoyable.

Bradycardia and freediving

The first thing we can notice is bradycardia, the slowing down of the heart rate. It can be drastic, down to 30bpm in trained free divers. This will help conserving O2. As the heart pumps less blood the arterial pressure drops as well. To counteract this effect vasoconstriction of the blood vessels in the arms and legs takes place. Squeezing the blood out of the extremities and channelize it in the core where it is the most needed. In the heart, the vital organs and the brain of course. Any time you are holding your breath, your body will take the steps needed to protect you and these changes can start to be seen. Just having the face immersed in cold water will trigger the mammalian diving reflex.

Dealing with the pressure at depth

As pressure increases the next phase of the mammalian diving reflex comes into play. In the past physicians had predicted that people would get crushed by the surrounding pressure if they were to dive deeper than 50m. Freedivers proved them wrong and it is now understood that thanks to the blood shift. This newly available volume of blood is going to be concentrated in the lung area. Blood fills in the void left by the reduced air volume effectively protecting the lungs from collapsing as blood is not compressible. The spleen effect will also assist the free diver. This organ will be squeezed and release it’s stores of blood and red blood cells in to the circulation. This phenomenon occurs on deeper dives, further enhancing the availability of oxygen and it’s delivery to the body tissues.

Everyone is a natural born freediver

It’s only up to you to tap in this potential and experience one of the best feeling of relaxation as you make one with the environment. Just let go of your apprehensions and trust your body, it knows what to do. Learning the proper freediving techniques you too can dive deeper, longer and enjoy the rewards of being able to become a dolphin even if it’s just for a few minutes. We make it happen here in El Nido, Philippines most amazing freediving destination.

 

 

The Bajau people

• The Bajau, people of the sea

They live of the fishing they make from their hand crafted houseboats called lepa. Their boat is also where they live with their family, and how they travel from island to island. Others chose to live on stilt houses in coastal areas but maintain a close connection with the sea. Often the only connection between houses and even the whole village to the main land is by boat and they continue to live off the sea by subsistence fishing and the gathering of luxury sea products like trepang for export.

• Kids from a young age spend most of their time in the water playing and swimming

Later they will take on freediving and fishing as their main activity. Generations of this lifestyle have lead to remarkable adaptation. Along with a strong mammalian diving reflex, their eyes have adapted to enhance their underwater vision. It is easy to understand as they have the greatest daily apnea diving time reported in humans: greater than 5 hours per day submerged. The average Sama Dilaut – which is how the Bajau call themselves – can dive to 30m with little to no equipment, thanks to this life long training and genetic predispositions. It is also nice to know that the Philippines freediving national record for depth belongs to a Bajau young men with a dive of 80m.

• A way of life threatened?

Sadly today their unique culture is threatened by cultural assimilation and modernization. In the Philippines, the boat-dwelling Sama-Bajau are still subjected to strong cultural prejudice. This discrimination and the continuing violence in ARMM have driven many of them to emigrate. Their livelihood is also at risk. Because of restrictions imposed on their nomadic culture by modern nation states, they are losing their traditional fishing grounds and have little means of competing with better-equipped land-based and commercial fishermen. Since they cannot earn enough to feed their families, some refuge groups of Sama-Bajau in the Philippines are forced to resort to begging, particularly diving for coins thrown by tourists from ferries.

discover freediving course day el nido

Freediving and sailing: a unique association

Freediving and sailing: a beautiful combination of two silent water sports!

• Freediving is an ancient sport, likely starting with sponge diving during the time of Plato in Ancient Greece.  And there is evidence (the mammalian dive reflex) that humans have evolutionary roots as aquatic mammals.  Today freediving is practiced as an extreme sport, or with freedive spearfishing, and freediving photography.

• Sailing is naturally the support of choice for a full freediving immersion in Philippines’ most beautiful islands. Reunite with nature and the elements and set the mood for your practice by combining the two activities. You will enjoy having all the comfort of a large, modern sailboat offering its support at all time, making the dive sessions easy and secure.

Freediving and sailing: a great way to discover El Nido’s secret places

Whether you want to discover the most secluded islands in Palawan or just get away from the crowd and noise for a day, you have found a comfortable, peaceful and unique way to do it. You will be gliding silently through the limestone cliffs and anchoring in untouched lagoons.

Deepen your experience and embark for a timeless and boundless journey. Live your El Nido experience to the fullest and take our fast and comfortable sail boat out for a day of bliss.

Freediving and sailing: An Australian magazine wrote a piece about us!

Have a look to this article written by Ashleigh Mills about a 2-day freediving and sailing trip in El Nido: the Australia Times. Check it page 36!

Welcome spearos

I come from a spearfishing background myself and understand the needs and specificity of a spearfishing oriented training. We welcome beginners as well as seasoned spearfishers. Together we will asses your personal strengths and goals, and thanks to our efficient and varied training methods, you can expect dramatic improvement in all areas. I can tell you that getting closer to bigger and more abundant fish, thanks to good technique is highly rewarding. Join us for a course or just a day, your fish stringer will thank you. You will also be safer freediving thanks to vital safety techniques. Set new limits and extend your comfort zone. Better relaxation will make the whole experience more enjoyable. So take advantage of being here and sharpen your skills in one of Philippines best freediving location.

El Nido has unlimited exploration possibilities. With countless islands and rocks offering all possible environments you will soon have your own favorite. The proximity of all this variety means that with quick boat ride or even swimming around the corner you will find new conditions, scenery and sea life. Have a look at some of our favorite dive sites.

freedivers apnea

Mermaids: make a myth come true!

Do you believe in mermaids?

All of us have heard stories about mermaids. You may even already encountered one before. In biology the “Sirenia” is an order of aquatic mammals that includes the dugong and manatee. This comes from a legend about their discovery, involving lonely sailors mistaking them for sirena, so you may confused a mermaid with one of those gracious creature.

With more than 7000 islands, Philippines is an archipelago. Surrounded by waters housing a high diversity of marine life, it is obvious that people believe in mermaids and siyokoy (male sirena).

It is also that the mermaids has a an enchanting voice. They may attract and hypnotize fishermen or sailors. By distracting them from their work, mermaids force them to walk off the deck or cause shipwrecks. Some old folk traditions claim that the Sirena carry its victims under the sea and offer them to their water God. Other stories claim that the Sirena squeezes the life out of drowning men while trying to rescue them.

Myth or reality, you can make this dream come true and learn how you can use your natural abilities underwater. It is safe and easy. Everyone can do it!  Have a look at our freediving courses we offer here in El Nido. We accept complete beginners up to Advanced freedivers.

How does it feel to be a mermaid? Watch a dream-like short film named “Whale Fantasia“!

Alan Watts has created this beautiful short film entirely with GoPro camera. It shows 3 sirens dancing together with 3 humpback whales like in a dream. Renowned for their great and innovative, underwater video stylings, Performance Freediving International recently teamed up with GoPro to create this wonferful short film named“Whale Fantasia“. Narrated by the late Alan Watts, Whale Fantasia mesmerizes with stunning images and footage, all captured by HD Hero cameras.

You can watch this video on youtube “Whale Fantasia”

guillaume nery philippines

Guillaume Nery’s freediving clinics

We have had the chance to have world champion freediver Guillaume Nery as our host for one week last month.

He was in the phillippines offering freediving clinics in partnership with Palawan Divers and Freediving Planet. This was the opportunity for every passionate freediver from the beginner to the competitor to meet and learn from this freediving legend.

The first thing you notice when meeting Guillaume is how friendly and easy to approach he is. On the « greeting » evening Guillaume shared with us some of his videos. It was a diverse panel which included artistic movies as well as some more technical analysis of freediving. Starting with the now classic « freefall », we got to know more of his work, dove with him on his 125m cwt and even had a glimpse of his latest project which should be released soon. The freedivers participating to the clinic got to know each other and Guillaume, discussing the various videos and exchanging general ideas about freediving. We then talked about the program for the next few days and each divers interests and goals. After a nice dinner at Cadlao restaurant and a good nigh of sleep, everyone was looking forward to get in the water.

Day one, we get on the boat, the weather is perfect and the setting amazing. We are all speechless from the sumptuous scenery we pass through as the boat takes us to the dive spot. Upon arrival, Guillaume presents us his personal breathing and preparation techniques that we practice all together. Finally its time to get a taste of the local waters. Entering the quiet, crystal clear and warm water is an experience itself. Conditions are perfect and we are all decided to take full advantage of it. The first session is more of a refresher giving the divers the time to get back in the water and into freediving mode. After lunch and the mandatory nap we get ready for the second session. Now that Guillaume knows the divers in the water, he tailors a program for each diver and helps us improving our strong points while not forgetting to work on our weaknesses. We head back to El Nido town with the sun setting in our back and plenty of things to discuss in the debriefing held at Palawan Divers. A well deserved dinner together is a nice way to unwind as we chat and joke about the day.

Waking up and having breakfast on the beach is a perfect way to start the day. Before leaving Guillaume explains the points that will be focused on today, namely equalization and undulation. After sharing his stretching routine with us, we start gearing up for our morning session. Putting the accent on proper technique we practice deep equalization and advanced fining. The afternoon will be the continuation of this preparation. Getting everyone ready for tomorrow’s performance. The importance of tactics as indissociable from techniques is also brought forward. Back at the dive shop we debrief today’s dives using video analysis to pinpoint possible areas of improvement. The depth announcement for tomorrow’s performance is done as well. As Guillaume predicted everyone is happy to go home and rest in preparation for the next day.

After 3 days of training and now equipped with the techniques of the record man, everyone was in the mood to do their « perfect dive ». Following the announcement made the day before, each participant starts warming up and preparing their own dive to their target depth. All went great and taking turns each diver comes back from their performance, breaking the surface with a big smile. From what freedivers say, there are very few things that feel as good as getting to a newer depth, doing a smooth and easy dive. You also get a great sense of self accomplishment from it. The afternoon is spent enjoying the results of the time spent diving with Guillaume and refining details, working on the form. Dives look good and feel easier than they did a few days ago. And it is obvious that everyone is pleased with his progress. The usual dinner is taken a bit earlier today as everyone wants to be ready for tomorrow’s sunrise dive.

4:30am the boat is leaving while its still dark and the bio-luminescence of the water reflects the myriad of stars covering El Nido’s sky. We arrive at the dive spot right on time as the first lights of the day bring colors to the sky. The silence and solace you experience at dawn in the still waters of El Nido is unreal. But as soon as you look down you realize why we all woke up this early. Countless fish are already on the move. The incredible rocks and coral formations rivals the beauty of the sculpted limestone cliffs on the other side of the mirror. Now you can really mesure the benefits of this week of training with one of the very best freedivers in the world. Freedivers seemed to belong there as any other marine life would, moving with the same ease and agility. The fish themselves are the ones coming to welcome us. Time stopped for a while as to make this aquatic ballet last a little longer. It’s only almost 2 hours later that we gathered back on the boat with our heads filled with unforgettable images of this magic morning in El Nido. We had breakfast on the boat and it was time to say good bye to each other and to El Nido as this unique freediving experience was coming to an end. We hope to see you all next year. Guillaume said that he will be back with us and maybe even do a freediving movie here in Philippines most remote island, Palawan.

Birth of a freediver

Living by the sea most of my life, I have always had a special connection with the ocean. The first time I put a mask on and realized that a whole world of beauty and mystery was there to be explored I knew that I had to see more. Freediving was the logical answer. All my equipment could fit in a back pack and in 10min I could be in the water enjoying the freedom of gliding weightlessly through the silence. Just putting your head in the water the rest of the world disappears and it’s only you and the infinity of the ocean. Freediving in the Philippines are a freediver’s dream come true. Perfect conditions year round, beautifull scenaries and friendly locals.

You too can experience the ultimate freedom:

Using comfortable and simple equipment, freediving can be done anytime anywhere. This essential life skill will have you redefine the way you interact with water:

  • It gives you total freedom to move underwater in a natural way.
  • Freediving offers some of the best feelings of relaxation you can possibly experience.
  • Reunite the mind and the body as you become one with the environment.
  • Freediving is an exciting way to rediscover yourself and all around a very pleasurable experience.
El Nido’s beautiful islands offer ideal freediving conditions with their calm and clear water. So take advantage of it!

FREEDIVING IN EL NIDO

What is Freediving?

  • Freediving is diving and exploring under water while holding your breath. It is as ancient an activity as humanity itself.
  • Freediving is for everyone. We offer freediving trips and courses adapted to all levels, from the complete beginner to the seasoned freediver.
  • Scuba divers will also greatly benefit from learning freediving. Achieve easier equalization, reduce your oxygen consumption, increase the efficiency of your movements and improve your overall safety  and confidence as a diver.
  • It also allows you to get much closer to the marine life without disturbing it. When freediving you feel that you belong in this beautiful and peaceful marine world.
  • If it looks good it is because it feels good. The serenity you get out of a diving session itself is a good reason to start Freediving.
  • Once you try it you will struggle to think of how you enjoyed the ocean without this essential life skill.

Visit our FAQ section for more information on Freediving.

 

The Ama pearl divers.

Ama in Japanese literally means ‘woman of the sea’. Traditionally these women have been freediving for close to 2000 years gathering pearls, abalone, seaweed and other shellfish. The word ama is recorded as early as 750 in the oldest Japanese anthology of poetry, the Man’yoshu. Since these days these where women were freediving into cold water wearing nothing more than a loincloth not much has changed as they carry this unique heritage. As women, they were believed to be better suited for the task because of an extra insulating layer of fat on the female body that allowed them to hold their breath longer than the men.

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As technology progressed, the ama communities were faced with decisions – adopt new tools and equipment or retain traditions? They also include questioning how lifestyles could potentially be changed by indiscriminate adoption of technologies all in the name of progress. It was understood that adoption of oxygen tanks could potentially lead to over-harvesting and eventual exhaustion of the marine resources sustaining their community. The sense of belonging that daily interaction in the marine web of life has instilled in the hearts of the ama also influenced their decisions. Today they are still freedive using minimal equipement and working for up to 4 hours a day perpetuating the tradition.

 

Freediving with a whale shark

Yesterday, we met a whale shark near Miniloc Island! And we have been lucky enough to dive with him for 45 minutes with cameras. Whale shark sightings can occur just about anywhere in Bacuit Bay. But this gentle giants are rare animals. So our guests and our team were blessed to encounter him. It’s a good opportunity to speak about this fascinating creature!

Whale Shark from Palawan Divers on Vimeo.

The biggest fish in the world.

The Whale shark is the largest fish in the world, growing up to 12m in length an up to 20 tons. Despite their size, they are totally harmless. They are filter feeders, straining their prey -plankton and small fishes – from the water column. Whale sharks are found in warm waters worldwide including Philippines.

They are rare.

Because Whale sharks live long lives (estimates say 70+ years), mature late not producing offspring until 30+ years of age, and give birth to relatively few offspring during their lifetime, they are especially threatened by human exploitation. Like human fingerprints, whale sharks have a unique pattern of spots which allow individual sharks to be identified. By taking photos and cataloguing them, WWF has identified 458 different whale sharks in the Philippines.

Threats to the whale shark include habitat loss which results in loss of prey species, coastal development resulting in marine pollution, collision with boats, and disturbance or harassment by boats and divers engaged in irresponsible tourism activities.

Do not touch!

If you are lucky enough to encounter one of these gentle giants, it is an experience you will never forget. Meeting a whale shark is high on the wish list, for anyone freediving in the Philippines. So, a little excitement is understandable, but please resist the temptation to touch or ride a whale shark. Passive interaction with all marine life is healthier for the animals and will not alarm them. Just keep watching, and often the curious whale shark will come close to you. Avoid whale shark feeding as well!

Pictures from Joanne Kan Mei Fong. Visit her Facebook page.

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