By Mark Wallerstein
Traveling nowadays is difficult, and it only looks to be getting worse, especially with increasing baggage fees. Unfortunately when we, as freedivers, are traveling we don't just pack clothes, towels, and sunscreen. We bring our freediving fins, masks, snorkels, freediving wetsuits, cameras, spearguns.... All of which are usually large, expensive, fragile, or all of the above. And it's no secret the ground crew don't exactly handle luggage "delicately". Lucky for us there are a few trade secrets that help make transit a whole lot easier, protect your gear, and possibly start some interesting conversations.
First let's start with your freediving fins. Your fins are usually going to be one of your largest pieces of equipment, and sometimes one of the most fragile, especially if you have carbon fiber freediving blades. The last place you want those blades to sit is in a bent bag on the tarmac in 108 degrees for 4 hours. Luckily there is a very easy solution that will often bring some entertainment and good conversations. All you need is about 2 feet of line and an always useful carabiner. After putting a loop on both ends of the line, feed one through the heel of the pocket and out the toe of one fin, then through the toe and out the heel of the other. Link it with the carabiner and attach it to your backpack strap and let your fins dangle free. Those with removable carbon blades can simply pop out the blades, wrap them in some bubble wrap and carry them on; alternatively if you have more durable plastic or fiberglass fins simply put them inside a hard case bag for checked baggage. As for the carry-on, for all the traveling that I have done, this has never been seen as a second bag, or any added expense. You certainly draw attention from onlookers as you walk through the airport with three foot fins dangling by your side, and this is not a bad thing. In fact, its is a great way to start conversations with random people about this amazing sport of freediving. On almost any plane I have been on the fins fit perfectly flat in the over head and you can put your bag on top to keep it safe, and if not, you can always ask the crew if they can hang them in their personal baggage area.
Next let's move onto some of the smaller items. If you have a Sphera freediving mask the last thing you're going to do is toss it into a bag and say 'good to go'. You're going to put that mask into its big case and then gently place it into a bag and hope it's not going to get scratched or crushed on the flight. One little trade secret to save some space in your bag, and add even more protection to the mask, is to wrap it in clothes. If you wrap it in a t-shirt and then put it in the case you have saved space in the box and also completely padded the mask so whatever happens your mask will be protected. Same goes for a camera. Using your clothes as padding will immobilize it, protect it, and save valuable space.
One more piece of equipment that can be considerably hard to travel with, or if it's done right can actually make life easier is the speargun. Some of the biggest problems with traveling with a speargun is its size, unchangeable shape, and the fact that the spear can bend so easily, and depending on where you traveling cannot be replaced. Most people buy dedicated spearfishing/speargun bags, pack it and hope for the best. This is not bad; however certain things can be done to add more protection. Ideally you want your gun to be padded so if your bag gets banged around the speargun won't break. You also want the spear to have as much support as possible to avoid being bent. One way to help this situation is to zip tie the spear to the outside of your gun, and then roll it in some of your clothes (like rolling up a rug) and slide it into the bag. This will give some protection and stability. Even better would be to head to your local hardware store and buy a stretch of PVC piping that you can put the spears in and then zip tie it to your gun. This will ensure that your shafts don't get bent. The ideal storage for your speargun and clothes isn't even sold as a dive bag. One of the best bags you can get is actually a snowboard/sport hard case. A snowboard case is made of hard plastic that can take a beating, it can usually change lengths (great if you're traveling with both reef and blue water guns), and is wide. You can put multiple spearguns, shafts, and fit a good amount of clothes and freediving equipment in these cases, and they offer the most protection. The only down side to this bag is that usually you need to pay a little extra for it when checking in. However, if you pack right, and fit your clothes in it as well, it will keep everything safe and could narrow it down so you only travel with 1 bag. A bonus is that because it's odd shape and having to be checked as a special item it usually comes off the plane first, getting you into that beautiful blue water even quicker.
Mark Wallerstein divides his time between managing the office at FII Headquarters in Fort Lauderdale and teaching FII freediving courses throughout the South Florida region. He is currently training with Martin Stepanek for his Instructor Trainer certification and his favourite freedivng and spearfishing location is Hawaii. A passionate outdoorsman, Mark loves nothing more than camping and being at the helm of a good Southern style BBQ. View Mark's upcoming FII freediving course schedule here.