How Did Free Diving Start in Ancient Times?

Free diving, also known as breath-hold diving, is a sport that involves diving into deep waters without the use of any breathing apparatus. It’s a fascinating activity that requires immense mental and physical strength.

The sport has been practiced for centuries by different cultures around the world. In this article, we’ll explore the origins of free diving and how it started in ancient times.

Origins of Free Diving

Free diving dates back to ancient times when humans used to dive into water for fishing, gathering pearls, and exploring new territories. The first recorded instance of free diving was in ancient Greece where it was practiced as a competitive sport. The Greeks were known to have organized various games and competitions which included free diving as one of the events.

Ancient Greek Free Diving Competitions

The ancient Greeks held their free diving competitions in the Mediterranean Sea, where participants would dive into the water without any breathing apparatus and attempt to retrieve objects from the seabed. These objects included weights, jars filled with sand, and even live animals such as octopuses.

The competition was tough, and only those with exceptional physical strength and mental endurance could win. The event was not just about retrieving objects but also about how long one could hold their breath underwater.

Japanese Ama Divers

Apart from the Greeks, another culture that practiced free diving was Japan. The Japanese have a long tradition of free diving called ‘ama’ which means ‘sea women.’ These women were skilled divers who dove into the water to gather pearls, seaweed, abalone shells, and other marine life.

The ama divers used to wear nothing but loincloths while diving into deep waters without any breathing apparatus. They were able to hold their breath for up to two minutes while diving down to depths of over 30 meters.

The Modern Day Free Diving

Free diving has come a long way since ancient times. Today, it’s recognized as a competitive sport with its own set of rules and regulations. Free divers compete in various events such as depth diving, dynamic apnea, and static apnea.

Depth diving involves diving to great depths without any breathing apparatus, while dynamic apnea involves swimming horizontally underwater for as long as possible. Static apnea involves holding one’s breath underwater while lying face down on the surface of the water.

The Risks of Free Diving

While free diving is an exciting sport, it comes with significant risks. The most significant risk associated with free diving is hypoxia, which is caused due to a lack of oxygen in the body. This can lead to blackouts and even death if not treated immediately.

Another risk associated with free diving is decompression sickness or ‘the bends,’ which is caused by ascending too quickly from deep waters. This can lead to severe pain and even paralysis if not treated promptly.


In conclusion, free diving has been practiced for centuries by different cultures around the world. It’s a fascinating sport that requires immense mental and physical strength.

While it comes with significant risks, proper training and safety measures can help reduce these risks significantly. Free diving continues to evolve as a sport, and we can expect more exciting developments as we move forward into the future.