Freediving dangers spur caution

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Better safe . . . Dive Otago director and diving instructor Virginia Watson holds a freediving float beside Otago Harbour. PHOTO: SHAWN MCAVINUE

Experienced freedivers often find themselves on the “wrong side of the statistics”, a Dunedin diving instructor says.

Water Safety New Zealand data shows freediving was the most dangerous water activity in Otago last year.

Dive Otago director Virginia Watson said based on sales of gear in the business’ shop in central Dunedin more people in the city were freediving.

“There’s been a huge increase in the amount of people doing it,” Ms Watson said.

Freediving was big in Dunedin in the 1970s, then dropped off but had had a “resurgence”.

A reason for the rise in popularity was people posting freediving experiences on social media and freediving segments on fishing shows, which often used underwater cameras, Ms Watson said.

“People are exposed to it more than they ever have been before.”

The freedivers dying were often experienced but had no formal training.

“It’s something they’ve grown up doing and some of the key safety messages get pushed aside when someone has been doing something for a long time.”

A key freediving safety message was to avoid having too much weight on a weight belt.

Often more experienced freedivers put more weight on their belt to make it easier to get down in the water, Ms Watson said.

“Most of the time that’s fine, except when they are under more stress or something goes wrong.”

Many dead divers in New Zealand were found with a weight belt still on their body, she said.

Freediving training provided the skills required to weight yourself correctly, she said.

Another key message was to always dive with a buddy, she said.

The buddies should take turns watching from the surface as the other freedived below.

“You can’t go wrong know where that person is so there’s no question about if they have surfaced or not.”

Freediving training provided rescue skills to help someone in trouble, she said.

“It’s an incredibly safe sport when you follow the recommendations. You’re giving yourself the best chance and you can get out there and enjoy it.”

Often New Zealanders had a “she’ll-be-right attitude” when it came to freediving.

“We don’t have enough respect for the ocean.”