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Freediving ...what a drag!

Errol Putigna || Freediving Instructor with FII (Freediving Instructors International) || Freediving courses with Freediving Instructors International || www.freedivinginstructors.comJune 19. 2012

Freediving ... what a drag!

by Errol Putigna

I’ve been reading a lot about elite Olympic swim athletes such as Michael Phelps and Dara Torres. Even at their elite levels,their coaches are constantly focusing on technique and their movement through the water. Well, we as freedivers also move through the water and need to be concerned about being efficient and creating less drag. Drag is the freediver’s enemy. It makes us work harder resulting in more oxygen consumption and ultimately, shorter dive times.

We as freedivers/spearfishermen often worry about bottom time and breath-hold capacity. We are constantly working on CO2/O2 tables and increasing our ability to hold our breath. Perhaps we need to address an even more important issue that is often overlookedand will without a doubt increase our bottom times and breath-hold ability…. efficiency in the water!

IStreamlining for Spearfishing || Freediving Training with FII (Freediving Instructors International www.freedivinginstructors.comn my  time as a freediver, I have been lucky enough to train with some of the world’s elite freedivers, Martin Stepanek and Niki Roderick (now NikiStepanek), and they have taught me to work efficiently in the water with just a few simple but extremely important techniques. They may not have the longest breath-holds but most certainly are machines of efficiency in their respective freediving disciplines due to their impeccable techniques. This results in faster dive times, working less during the dive and ultimately burning less O2. This also will apply to spearfisherman; faster decent time to the bottom, less energy expended and more bottom time (and hopefully more fish!)

I was listening to an elite swim coach and he said, “Drag always trumps power”. It’s about balance of power for the stroke or kick with the amount of drag it will create. So, more power will not necessarily make you swim faster, it most likely will create more drag and make for a more difficult swim therefore burning more oxygen.

We ultimately want to be hydrodynamic, streamlined. Some simple tips that will help us achieve this are shoulder flexibility, head position (which will also help us equalize better) and proper kicking with long blade fins.

Shoulder flexibility is HUGE!!! It will put your arms in the most hydrodynamic position and allow your head to be positioned properly (neutral head position, not looking at the bottom of the ocean), basically your biceps touching your ears. This will allow you to cut through the water like a knife… again, exerting less energy and using less O2. When I spearfish, I have one arm extended over my head holding my speargun/polespear and the other hand over my nose to equalize with my elbow tucked into my chest. This provides me a very hydrodynamic body position for spearfishing.

Your kicking is your engine. It is what will give you the propulsion necessary. With long blade fins, the fin only works when the blade is bent. It’s not about doing a fast kick. The faster you kick the more drag you will create (remember, drag is not good). It’s about doing a nice wide kick, originating from the hip, with the right amount of power to keep the blade bent.

In freediving, besides the ability to equalize,there has to be a happy marriage between three things to make you an efficient freediver; Comfort/relaxation, your technique and your breath hold. If one is weaker than the other, the stronger one will have to compensate for the lack in the other one. Example, if you have insufficient technique (most likely will also make the dive less comfortable) than you’ll have to have a better breath-hold to make up for the lack in technique. If you have a better technique you can afford to not have as long of a breath hold. Both breath hold and technique will ultimately have to balance with comfort and relaxation… the mental game of freediving.


 Of course, there are other factors that will help your freediving such as equalization, having a good freediving gear, diet and physical conditioning but the efficiency in the water can be corrected easily and give you immediate results.

I hope with this little bit of advice it will motivate you to focus more on your technique which in turn will give you a better overall dive…….and make freediving less of a “drag”!

Safe diving! Errol

Freediving & Water



Freediving & Water

By Brandon Gross - FII Instructor, Deep Freedive, San Diego


As freedivers, we are passionate about water. It frees our bodies from the weight of gravity and our minds from everything else. It also holds us captive when we are not diving, making us yearn for the next time we can be immersed. Equally important to the water we dive in is the water that we ingest to keep ourselves hydrated. Unfortunately, our need for hydration is often overlooked.

Martin Stepanek freedive

Some interesting figures:

  • The Earth is covered by about 71% water.
  • When we are born we are comprised of about 70% water.
  • Our muscles and brain have about 75% water content.
  • Our blood is about 83% water.
  • Our lungs have about 86% water content.

(It is interesting that our bodily water content is so close to the percentage of what covers the Earth. Perhaps we are even more closely bound than we think.)

What does this mean to us as freedivers and how can we use this to our advantage? It means that water is essential for our bodies to function properly. Water lubricates our joints, carries off toxins, and makes our blood more efficient when delivering nutrients and gases. It provides a moist environment for our ears, nose and throat.

If we properly hydrate our brain we will be more focused. The ability to think clearly is an absolute must to our sport, especially from a safety standpoint. If our joints are well lubricated then our shoulders, hips, knees and ankles are going to feel better. If our muscles are properly hydrated we will be less prone to cramps. Drinking enough water thins our mucus making a significant difference in our ability to properly equalize. Dehydration can actually increase our chances of hypoxic incidents like shallow water blackout and loss of motor control.

As freedivers, we are more susceptible to dehydration. Why? When our aquatic adaptations (mammalian dive reflex) kick in, we lose a lot of water through urination. We also cannot feel ourselves perspiring due to our wetsuits and the water that surrounds us. Our deep diaphragmatic breathing also causes us to lose water. All these factors combined make us prime candidates for dehydration. Just 1-2% of our body weight lost in water can make a significant difference in our physical and mental abilities.

Fortunately, it is easy to hydrate and enjoy the multitude of health and performance benefits of being properly hydrated. According to the Mayo Clinic, the average male should drink about 3 liters of water a day and the average female about 2.2 liters per day. It is important to develop a habit of carrying water with you wherever you go. Take sips every now and then and you will be surprised how easy it is to drink enough water to stay hydrated. So get out there and discover all the physical, mental and emotional benefits of our wonderful blue world by enjoying all the benefits that water provides us, inside and out.

Spearfishing and its so called Demons


It’s a sunny afternoon and the boulevard in Taganga is boiling with people as usual on a sunday afternoon, I was walking with a beautiful Brazilian Yogini with whom I’d practice a little Yoga  on the beach. I met her couple days before and we were chatting on our way to the beach across the hills and I was fascinated to hear from her experience, her stories of her travels in India, her receptivity and responsiveness on Yoga … and life. Of course there were basic questions: Where were you born? What do you do? etc, and I have to confess everytime I have the pleasure of meeting a yogi there is this apprehension in me when I answer that question due to their precepts and beliefs which I truly respect and most of them I agree, and the truth is most of them tend to be very open minded and she was no exception, in fact she would teach me to see beyond my vision. Of course I’m talking of that part of the conversation where I go: “I do spearfishing.”

Spearfishing Training

I guess I was expecting some criticism over the issue of karma and compassion but the truth was there was none, she was absolutely open minded about it and didn’t judge me at all, instead she introduced me to a completely new concept: Karmic food. There are certain foods we eat that involve certain levels of Karma, some more than others, now this has nothing to do with religion or anything at all, let’s analyze it for a second, the point is very simple: beef for example involves a forest that was cleared to become pastureland, then take an animal whose life is controlled, never free, generates pollution during their life (methane emissions, fecal matter etc), millions of water gallons needed, then suffer and is part of an endless chain from which we feed, same case for poultry and other meats we eat. With the fish we catch specifically while spearfishing the chain is a lot simpler: it is a free animal, which is in its natural environment, is selected by size and has already mated, it’s part of an abundant species and their suffering is much less.

Spearfishing has been marked in these days as something perverse, cruel and non-sustainable, but nothing is further from reality and I’d like to share some facts and thoughts on the topic:

  • Less than 1% of the world’s fish population are caught annually around the world with spearfishing.
  • The capture rate is much lower compared to net fishing and industrial fishing, even if everyone decides to go hunt it would be much better than industrial fishing vessels sweeping the oceans  24/7, capturing from huge tuna to small sardines, which of course are impossible to catch for us. Of course we talk about stop fishing with nets and do spearfishing only
  • Perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind: We choose what we catch: we choose by size (mature), species (endangered or not), behavior (a couple mating), season, and protected areas.
  • You have any idea how they caught that delicious fish you ate recently on that fancy restaurant? Perhaps with dynamite, perhaps longline who also captures sharks and turtles, perhaps trawls who also kill dolphins and other sea mammals, or methods that devastate the seabed, capturing the small ones or even other species that are not edible…non sustainable methods.
  • Spearfishing together with sustainable fishing methods allow a recovery rate and balance to the fish populations, industrial fishing (products in supermarkets and big cities) doesn’t.
  • We do not fish with dynamite, we do not catch animals that are not going to be consumed, we do not use nets that trap small schools, we did not cut down the forest which indirectly kills the corals…all we do is spear a fish for dinner.
  • We fish to share with our families and friends, that is our biggest motivation, something very simple from the beginning of time: hunting for food and survival, nothing more.

Of course it is a fact that not everything with spearfishing is harmony and we must also consider the following principles, and this is something I want my fellow spearofishers to read carefully out there:

  • Respect protected species: Last week I was lucky to see a goliath grouper, also known as jewfish in a permitted fishing area. Goliath groupers are not protected in Colombia. It was a beautiful animal, at least one meter long, very rarely seen these days in here, good enough for a few weeks of fish, but I decided not to shoot, instead I looked at him, admired him and then scared him off so he could at least have a new chance. The jewfish is on a no catch list in the Caribbean and especially in Colombia, it also offers little merit as of the sport, or as my good friend and excellent fisherman Nicolas Valencia says, “it’s like hunting cows.”  The list is longer, so learn and educate yourself before going out.
  • Respect the minimum sizes: Read before jumping into the water. Learn about the permitted species and minimum sizes for each one.
  • Do not you fish in protected areas: simple, respect the parks and natural sanctuaries for ocean wildlife so we can always enjoy it and it can always recover.
  • No tanks: Simple, if you can’t dive then don’t dive, spearfishing has to be done while Freediving, means you are holding your breath, otherwise it’s illegal and absolutely non sustainable.
  • Stop thinking in pounds: Specially with octopus and lobster, both in the no catch list for the Colombian Caribbean. Instead of thinking in 10 pounds of octopus or lobster (catching 20 animals, ½ pound each) think on 2 pieces, 5 pounds each.
  • Observe: We have that power, a power that other fishermen do not, and in the wise words of Peter Parker’s uncle Ben: “With great power comes great responsibility.” I once saw 2 large groupers that were moving in a curious/funny way, the first thing I thought is that I was very lucky and engaged, then I saw again and understood that they were in a dance of mating and left the lovers alone. If you see a lobster make sure they don’t have eggs. Also observe that animals are not on red list
  • Eat what you catch, catch what you eat: don’t just fish for a photo or to prove your manhood to your friends, catch only the fish you are willing to take home and eat. I’ve heard many cases of people fishing giants just for the photo and then they have no idea what to do or how to move the animal, so what happens? They rot because they were not prepared or leave them lying on the beach … it’s a shame! So think before you shoot or don’t shoot at all. At least give it to the locals, but never allow yourself the sin of wasting food, it is indeed a tragedy, there’s many people out there starving. There is no greater satisfaction than to bring  fresh and healthy food home and sharing it with family and friends.
  • Aim carefully: If there’s coral between your spear and your prey, or behind it then do not shoot, you’re going to break the coral and they grow an average of 1 cm per year, that’s very slow.
  • Catch some lion fish (if you are in the atlantic ocean/caribbean sea): their meat is delicious, especially for ceviche and we all know the problem with them, design a sling or use a small gun just for them, take a good bag where you can put them without hurting yourself, their sting is painful but not fatal.

Certainly the conclusion is that it is not just about going out there and shoot the first thing moving, a spear fisherman is more committed and has the obligation to be more responsible, we are in the water with them and we are very grateful to Mother Ocean when she shares her gifts, this activity involves a high level of consciousness and awareness together in order to be sustainable,  once achieved it is a wonderful practice that could help the ecosystem much more than we could ever imagine. Think and then shoot.

Safe dives!


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