Free diving involves swimming to great depths without the aid of scuba or other breathing gear. These free divers are descending into a "blue hole" near Grand Bahama Island, Bahamas.
Photograph by Wes C. Skiles, National Geographic

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  • On November 23, 1976, French free-diver Jacques Mayol became the first person to reach a depth of 100 meters (330 feet) without breathing equipment. Mayol made his dive off the coast of the island of Elba, Italy, in the Tyrrhenian Sea. Tests showed that while diving, Mayol’s heart rate slowed from 60 to 27 beats per minute—exactly as whales’ and dolphins’ hearts do to save energy during a deep dive.
     
    Free-diving has been practiced since the fifth century BCE by people living near the sea. Spear fishers in the Mediterranean, pearl divers in Japan, and shell divers in the South Pacific have held their breath for long periods while harvesting food or valuable items from the seafloor.
     
    Competitive free-diving was established in the 20th century and is overseen by the World Underwater Federation. The world record in constant-weight apnea free-diving (one of the more rigorous disciplines of the sport) is 128 meters (420 feet).
  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    coast Noun

    edge of land along the sea or other large body of water.

    Encyclopedic Entry: coast
    energy Noun

    capacity to do work.

    freedive Verb

    to swim deep into a body of water without the use of artificial breathing devices, such as scuba.

    harvest Noun

    the gathering and collection of crops, including both plants and animals.

    island Noun

    body of land surrounded by water.

    Encyclopedic Entry: island
    rigorous Adjective

    demanding, disciplined, or harsh.