Breath Hold Diving: Part 1

By Dr Rob Schneider

Hamlet was not renowned for his diving skills, but the famous words from the play allow for easy moulding into the subject of breath-hold diving. In this multi-part series, we will explore the activity of breath-hold diving in greater depth and peruse several avenues emanating from there. This first part will be concerned with a historical overview, definition and an imperfect differentiation of the various kinds of breath-hold diving.

Historical Overview
In living knowledge, humans have always been drawn to the sea; in awe of its beauty and majesty, yet fearful of its ferocious power and destructive ability. The treasures yielded from its depths have inspired many to venture in, brave the myriad hazards and possibly harvest a rich reward. This deep urge to explore and reap the bounty of the oceans is probably what drove early humans to start entering the water and naturally from there try to access the underwater environment. In so doing, breath-hold diving was born.

No one can say for sure when or where breath-hold diving first started, but speculation abounds nevertheless. Evidence exists that suggests that since the dawn of recorded history breath-hold diving has taken place.

For several thousand years humans have been holding their breaths and submerging themselves underwater. The main purposes thereof would be gathering food and collecting materials. One could assume, based on human nature, that a sort of competitive and recreational type of breath-hold diving also existed amongst these early divers.

Several examples of breath-hold diving exist in historical records and some groups are still currently active. Greek sponge divers have been known for hundreds of years to look for the ever-dwindling sponges in the waters of the Mediterranean Sea. During Greek and Roman periods, breath-hold divers were used at various times to carry out military and salvage operations. For about 2000 years, the Ama divers of Japan and their equivalent in Korea have been breath-hold diving for shells and seaweeds. The interesting thing is that it is the women who do the diving, with the males serving as tenders, because it appears as if the women tolerate the cold water better. Another suggestion is the persistent “folklore” that diving reduces the virility of males. Whatever the reason may be, the style of diving has remained relatively unchanged over the centuries, with the addition of masks, fins and wetsuits being the only real changes affected in recent times.

Another example of an industry involving breath-hold diving which has persisted into modern times is the pearl divers of the Tuamotu Archipelago. Marco Polo observed pearl diving on the Coromandel Coast during travels to India and Sri Lanka. The Spaniards regularly exploited Native American Divers for pearling, salvage and smuggling, notably those from Margarita Island, their high value on the slave market indicating the demand for divers.
Humans are not designed to exist in the subaquatic environment, with the obvious limitation of breathing being the single biggest stumbling block. However, humans do possess a thinking ability and a creative nature that allow this obstacle to be overcome. Initially, and for several thousand years, humans relied on the simple technique of just holding their breath underwater to enable them to explore this alien environment. In a nutshell, that is exactly what breath-hold diving is.

Definition
Breath-hold diving is really any form of submersion underwater (or potentially any other liquid) whilst holding one’s breath. Based on this definition, putting one’s head under the water while in the bath would qualify. Let us allow common sense to prevail and consider breath-hold diving to be submersion underwater whilst holding one’s breath and engaging in a purposeful activity.
Differentiation
Breath-hold diving started out of necessity and desire, but in recent years the recreational aspects have become more important. Sports have originated
from breath-hold diving techniques in combination with other sporting
methods.
Many methods can be employed to categorise the different forms of breath-hold diving, but let’s stick to the simpler ways. Broadly speaking, one can form two groups of breath-hold divers: commercial and recreational, rather analogous to what is considered in compressed gas diving.
Commercial breath-hold diving is where breath-hold diving is used as a vehicle to take workers to their place of industry, in order for them to accomplish whatever tasks necessary. An example of this would be pearl diving, which still takes place to this day. Modern commercial diving – with specialised equipment and compressed gases – has largely eclipsed this form of breath-hold diving.
Recreational breath-hold diving can be further subdivided into pure recreational and sport breath-hold diving. Purely recreational would really be where breath-hold diving techniques are used to enjoy the sub-aquatic environment and derive relaxation from it. Free-diving and snorkelling with downward excursions would be examples of this. Sport breath-hold diving encompasses various types of sport that either primarily focus on the breath-hold diving or incorporate the techniques to create a new activity. Examples include competitive free-diving, spearfishing, synchronised swimming, and underwater hockey and rugby.
A third possibility to keep in mind is the reluctant or unwitting breath-
hold diver. In this scenario, one would find someone who suddenly becomes a breath-hold diver because of unforeseen or unexpected circumstances. An example would be a scuba diver who suddenly runs out of air.
In the following parts of this series of articles, we will further explore the fascinating realm of breath-hold diving. Stay tuned!
References
  • Brubakk Alf O. & Neumann Tom S. Bennett and Elliot’s Physiology and medicine of diving. 5th edition.
  • Edmonds C., Lowry C., Pennefather J. & Walker R. Diving and subaquatic medicine. 4th edition.
  • www.britishfreediving.org
  • www.freediving.co.za
  • www.freedive.net
  • www.skin-dive.com
  • www.deeperblue.com

Article from Alert Diver Autumn 2012

Categories

 2019
 2018
 2016
After anaesthesia Air Quality Air exchange centre Air hose failure Altitude changes Altitude sickness Ama divers Anaerobic Metabolism Annual renewal Apnea Apnoea Arterial gas embolism Arthroscopic surgery Aurel hygiene BCD Badages Bag valve mask Bandaids Barbell back squat Bench press Blood flow Bouyancy compensators Boyle's Law Boyle\'s Law Bradycardia Brain Breast Cancer Breath Hold Diving Breath hold Breath-hold Breathing Gas Breathing Bruising Buoyancy Burnshield CGASA CMAS CO2 Cabin pressure Camera settings Cancer Remission Cancer treatments Cancer Cannabis and diving Cannabis Cape Town Dive Festival Carbon dioxide Cardio health Cardiomyopathy Chamber Safety Charles' Law Charles\' Law Charles\\\' Law Charles\\\\\\\' Law Charles\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\' Law Chemotherapy Cleaning products Coastalexcursion Cold Water Cold care Cold Compressed gas Conservation Contaminants Contaminated air Corals Courtactions Crohns disease Crystal build up Crystallizing hoses Cutaneous decompression DAN Courses DAN Profile DAN Researchers DAN medics DAN report DCI DCS Decompressions sickness DCS DM training DReams Dalton's Law Dalton\'s Law Dalton\\\'s Law Dalton\\\\\\\'s Law Dalton\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\'s Law Deco dives Decompression Illness Decompression Sickness Decompression illsnes Decompression treatment Decompression Diaphragms Diseases Dive Chamber Dive Industry Dive Instruction Dive Instructor Dive Pros Dive Research Dive Training Dive accidents Dive buddies Dive computers Dive gear Dive health Dive medicines Dive medicine Dive safety Dive staff Diveleader training Diveleaders Diver Profile Divers Alert Diving Kids Diving career Diving emergencies Diving guidelines Diving injuries Diving suspended Diving Domestic Donation Dr Rob Schneider Drysuit diving Drysuit valves Drysuits EAPs EAP Ear pressure Ear wax Ears injuries Education Emergency action planning Emergency decompression Emergency plans Emergency underwater Oxygen Recompression Emergency Enviromental Protection Environmental factors Environmental impact Environmental managment Equipment care Evacuation Exercise Extended divetime Extinguisher Extreme treatments Eye injuries FAQ Failures Fatigue Faulty equipment Fire Coral Fire Safety Firefighting First Aid Equipment First Aid Training First Aid kits Fish Fitness Flying Francois Burman Free diving Free flow Freedive Training Freediver Freediving performance Gas Density Gas laws Gas mixes GasPerformance Gases Gastric bypass Gear Servicing Gordon Hiles HELP HIRA Haemorhoid treatment Hazard Description Hazardous Marine life Health practitioner Heart Health Heart Helium High temperatures Hot Humans Hydrate Hydrogen Hydroids Hydrostatic pressure Hyperbaric Chamber Hyperbaric research Hypothermia Immine systems In Water Recompression Indemnity form Indian Ocean Inert gas Infections Instinct Instructors Insurance Integrated Physiology International travel International Irritation Kidneys Kids scubadiver Labour laws Legal advice Legislation Leukemis Liability Risks Liability releases Liability Life expectancy Lifestyle Low blood pressure Low pressure deterioration Low volume masks Lung function Lung injuries Lung MOD Maintenance Mammalian Dive Response Mammalian effect Master scuba diver Maximum operating depth Medical Q Medical questionaire Medical statement Middle ear pressure Mike Bartick Military front press Mixed Gas Mono Fins Mooring lines More pressure Muscle pain Mycobacterium marinum Nautilus Nitrogen build up Nitrox No-decompression Non-rebreather Mask Normal Air Nosebleeds O2 providers O2 servicing OOxygen maintenance Ocean pollution Orbital implants Oronasal mask Oxygen Cylinder Oxygen Units Oxygen deficit Oxygen deicit Oxygen ears Oxygen equipment Oxygen masks Oxygen supply Oxygen therapy Oxygen P J Prinsloo PFI PJP Tech Part 3 Photography Pistons Planning Plastic Pneumothorax Pollution Pool Diving Preparation Prepared diver Press Release Professional rights Provider course Pulmanologist Pulmonary Bleb Purge RAID South Africa RCAP Radio communications Rashes Recompression chamber Recompression Recycle Regulator failure Regulators Regulator Remote areas Renewable Report incidents Rescue training Resume diving Risk Assessments Risk assesments Risk elements Risk management SABS 019 Safety Stop Safety Saturation Diving Save our seas Science Scuba Air Quality Scuba Injury Scuba children Scuba dive Scuba health Scubalearners Sealife Skin Bends Skin outbreak Skin rash Snorkeling Snorkels Sodwana Bay Splits Squeezes Standars Supplemental oxygen Surgeries Surgery Tattoes Technical Diving The Bends The truth Thermal Notions Tides Tips and trick Transplants Travel tips Travel Tweezers Unconsciousness Underwater photographer Underwater pho Vaccines Vagus nerve Valsalva manoeuvers Vape Vaping Vasvagal Syncope Venting Volatile fuels Washout treatments Wastewater Water Weakness Wetsuit fitting White balance Winter Woman in diving Work of Breathing Wound dressings Wreck dive Wreckdiving Youth diver abrasion air-cushioned alert diver altitude anemia antibiotics antiseptics bandages bent-over barbell rows body art breathing air calories burn cardiovascular checklist chemo port child clearances closed circuit scuba currents cuts dead lift decompression algorithms decongestants dehydration dive injuries dive medicing dive ready child dive reflex dive tribe diver rescue diver training dive diving attraction doctors domestic travel dri-suits dry mucous membranes dry suits dry e-cigarettes ear spaces elearning electrolyte imbalance electroytes emergency action plans emergency assessment equalizing exposure injuries eyes fEMAL DIVERS fire rescue flexible tubing frediving gas bubble health hospital humidity immersion pulmonary edema (IPE join DAN knee longevity lower stress marine pathogens medical issues medical procedures medical risk assesment mental challenge minor illness mucous membranes nasal steroids nasal nematocysts newdivers nitrogen bubbles off-gassed operating theatre operations orthopeadic outgas pain perforation phillippines physical challenges pinched nerves plasters polyester-TPU polyether-TPU post dive preserve prevention rebreather mask rebreathers retinal detachment risk areas safety stops saturation scissors scuba equipment scuba single use sinus infections smoking snorkeling. spearfishing stings strength sub-aquatic swimmers ears tattoo care tecnical diver thermal protection training trimix unified standards vision impaired warmers water quality