You’ve heard of diving, snorkeling and other water activities, but rarely has anyone heard of free-diving. It’s a form of diving underwater without the aid of any breathing apparatus, managing to hold one’s breath for a long period of time. It’s a technique used by spear fishers and many years ago by pearl divers such as in the Saudi East Coast, Qatar, Bahrain and the UAE. It’s an extreme sport that not many can achieve without proper training and a couple of bucket loads of strength and guts.
Yarob Bashraheel, a young diving enthusiast, fisherman and the youngest free-diving trainer in Saudi Arabia discovered his passion after an endless love for the sea grew more with his age. This 23-year-old free-diver turned trainer went into the world of this sport knowing fully well the difficulty and rarity but with his strong will and appreciation of one of nature’s finest. Starting his journey into the diving world as early as when he was 14, his devotion has gotten him to progress into the diving world. Here is his story:
You clearly have a love for the sea and the wonders that lie beneath. What got you to start free diving opposed to diving with the aid of an oxygen tank, let’s say? What made you want to do what you do?
First of all, let’s define free-diving. It’s what we can say in the past was a living job to get the goods from the sea without any equipment (tanks, O2-technology). But with new science and technology, it became a sport, a method of hunting, fun and finding peacefulness, a way to find yourself and explore your body more. It’s a new lifestyle. So I started scuba diving using equipment in 2005 with my brothers and became addicted to the sea but at the same time I got bored from the heavy equipment, being slowed down by them and the cost of it. Scuba diving had a lot of negative things and limits (such as narcosis).
I then started to snorkel, swimming for many kilometers at a time on the surface and diving down to 10 meters hunting and having fun.
After some time, I started going down deeper and deeper, down to 30 meters and more, and that is unusual for a normal person. I soon discovered that there is such a thing called free-diving and that there are people who are able to dive deeper than that. Some free-divers pass 200 meters in a single breath and there are competitions, so it turned out to be an official sport. Naturally I rushed and took free-diving courses and I passed very easily, thanks to God, and soon I become the youngest free-dive instructor as well as the second free-dive instructor in Saudi Arabia.
Explain to us what is free-diving and how does one get to reach the level where they are able to free-dive safely?
Free-diving is a sport where you hold your breath and dive as deep as possible and come back up safe. So anyone can free-dive and that’s why there are courses for it. There are levels to reaching an instructor level; it starts with basic training and then move up to the third level and move on to a master level to become an official free-diver. If a diver wants to continue on and become an instructor, they must go through more training until reaching the “instructor” level. It’s like diving, but more intense. We always recommend that divers be over 16 for safety reasons, anyone younger can just take the basic courses.
As an instructor, you train your students to perfect holding their breaths for a long time. How do you get them to do so without the fear of drowning?
First of all we go through the theory sessions where I teach them to understand the urge to breath and the body process in breath control. Then I give them the technique for holding their breath, the feeling and remove the fear in them. We then head to the pool and apply what they learned with all the safety steps at hand and last but not the least turn to the sea and test their progress as an ending to their course training.
Does it require a lot of time to reach the level of confidence to free dive?
It depends highly on environment and the experience of the person and the instructor, but mostly it takes the full course around 3 days and it’s enough for the instructor to build up all the skills that a free-diver needs.
Is free-diving for everyone? Or must there be certain criteria to be able to free-dive?
Males and females above the age of 16 can become free-divers but they must have some experience in the sea for them to reach that level. The way the training works is extensive, starting off with fitness training, elongating the body as well as expanding lung capacity, the most important would be training the mind and preparing it to the shock of not having to use a breathing apparatus. The technical training involves getting used to the pressure underwater, which is important in order for the diver to keep calm as he or she descends. They are all connected and complete each other to achieve the right state of mind and be able to discipline the lung to achieve its’ fullest capacity in holding breathe.
If the diver suffers from specific health issues such as heart problems, it is better to stay away from the sport. But all in all it’s safe, even for those who are overweight or smokers, they are still able to achieve success but with caution.
What gives you that rush and excitement?
It’s another world down there. Under the water I find peace in the silence that surrounds me, no gravity, I feel like I’m flying and I get to understand who I am under the water. It’s a different world from the world above.
Diving is a form of therapy for many, is it the same for you? Where is your favorite place to be?
My favorite place to be is in the crystal blue clear waters. We search for the areas with clear blue confined water that is rich with living creatures.
The Red Sea is known to have diverse marine life, but do you ever encounter some of the dangers out there, such as sharks, stinging jellyfish, puffer fish? Have you ever had problems down in the water?
Danger is everywhere, but the only problems that can encounter divers are the wind, high waves and strong underwater currents, bad visibility and the worst of all is fear. Fish and marine animals are peaceful, even sharks and stingrays. As long as a diver doesn’t go near their personal space, home or hole and disturb them, they are fine. If disturbed, they’ll defend themselves naturally.
My biggest fear would be from myself, I fear that I would get over-confident and harm myself in the process and exceed my limits.
Will there be competitions that you’ll participate in the upcoming months?
Yes, as a matter of fact, the most recent was on April 11 for divers with the longest breathe in Saudi Arabia, which I organized and it has gained a lot of attention among divers, audience members as well as the media. The next competition that I will be participating in is taking place in Egypt in May. I hope to become the first Saudi diver to hold his breath underwater for the longest time. Another will be taking place in August, which again I am organizing, and it’s at the Arab League level, the biggest event of the region for our sport. I’ve begun my training in preparation by running, meditating, yoga, swimming and stretching which helps my agility. It’s hard work but I hope I can win it because of my commitment to this sport which I love.
You’re a deep sea diver, a spear fisherman, an underwater photographer and a free-diver ... which of the list is considered your favorite hobby?
Being in the water is what I love and seek.
A note to readers: Diving, free-diving and water sports generally are not to be taken lightly, these sports are very serious and one must take all precautionary measures to stay safe.