Senior marketing major Rich Abernathy also has a passion for freediving. Freedivers rely on just one breath of air to complete an underwater dive that usually lasts between a minute and two and a half minutes. Rich has dived in over 37 different springs in Florida and also in ocean locations. He is currently a sponsored freediver with Florida Freedivers, and his end goal is to be sponsored by GoPro.
What I love most about freediving is the calming peace that comes when I get into the water. I have anxiety, so freediving is a great way to suppress my stress. And the ability to explore and interact with marine life is hard to beat. Here's the story behind my addiction to freediving.
I became immersed into the sport of freediving two years ago. While visiting one of Florida’s freshwater springs, I met a freediver. At the time I thought he was crazy, but after asking a few questions, my interest peaked. Over the next few days, I scoured the internet, learning everything I could, and I began freediving by setting small depth goals. Naturally, my skills progressed to hitting depths of 70 ft over time.
Through my addiction to freediving, I’ve discovered that truly living begins when we get safely out of our comfort zones. I also met and dove with many interesting people, such world-class freedivers Alexy Molchanov and Forrest Simon. Freediving is an inherently dangerous sport, so safety is my number one priority. Because every breath counts!
What has been your coolest freediving experience?
I’ve had several. There’s one time I was diving and out of nowhere this big glob is rocketing towards me and I had not idea what it was. It turns out to be a beaver, which that was kind of scary. I’ve had other unique experiences: seeing cuttlefish and sea turtles, as well as diving and petting sharks. I also dove with alligators. It’s really fun sometimes to go down in the crystal-clear Florida freshwater spring and just stay on the floor and look around as if you’re a spear fisherman.
Are you ever afraid when you dive?
After a while of not diving it can actually be kind of scary. But like with anything, after doing a couple of dives, your bottom time increases (the time that you’re under the surface) and you get back into your comfort zone. That’s typically what happens since I don’t get to freedive very often since I’m here at school.
Going into caves can be pretty nerve-wracking, especially since you can’t just rocket up to the surface. You have to literally rely on your mental sanity to stay calm.
How long can you hold your breath?
Laying on a couch one time I did 3 minutes and 42 seconds. A typical dive time will be cut into a third or a half of that. I do thirds to be on the safer side, meaning I will dive from a minute to a minute and a half.
What kind of gear do you use?
I use longfins, which are typically about three feet long. I use a mask, a snorkel, gloves, and a wetsuit. I use a professional open-cell wetsuit. I also use dive weights and fin socks, but you don’t have to use them all of the time. I am a sponsored freediver by Florida Freedivers, and I use their wetsuit and fiberglass fins. That’s really it, aside from your lungs.
Any advice for someone interested in freediving?
Yes! Anyone who’s interested in freediving should hands-down take a freediving course with instructors to become a certified freediver. That is the quickest and easiest way to get comfortable in the water and, most importantly, to do it safely.
There’s a saying that my friend has, “if you dive alone, you die alone.” You always want somebody at the surface who is watching you and making sure that you come up. I prefer to dive with certified freedivers. It’s not unusual for me when I first start diving with someone to do practice rescues, just to make sure they can rescue me. I do care about my life.
This is one of the most dangerous sports in the world because you’re just holding your breath. Done properly, it can be extremely safe, but that also depends on who you’re diving with, their capability, and knowledge of freediving and its proper practices.
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