While I was visiting Jim Watt last week in Kona, I discovered that I really like free-diving. We were out on his boat for eight to ten hours at a time, and would occasionally moor up at a local reef and hop in the water, just to take a break from what we call, "expedition mode."
I've never really free-dived just for the sake of free-diving. Normally, I have my camera with me, which both prevents me from both seeing how deep I can go and from focusing on the actual act of diving. In the Bahamas, it's common to have to dive down twenty-five feet or so to photograph dolphins feeding in the sand, but as a photographer I would never think to ditch my camera and just go swimming. :)
This time, I decided to go in without my camera. I had my big free-diving fins with me (which I prefer for open-water work, even when using a camera), and after relaxing for a moment on the surface, I took a few large breaths of air and plunged downward, kicking with long, slow strokes. After descending down past twenty feet or so, the most amazing thing happened: I became engulfed in whalesong. It's no secret that the wistful moans of humpback whales can be heard for hundreds of miles underwater, but these whales were probably just a few miles away -- and there were many of them singing at the same time. To say that it was overwhelming is an understatement, and I repeated dived down just to immerse myself in its layered eerie-ness.
The reef floor was at 45', and I made it down to that depth on my second dive. By my fifth dive, I could stay with my fingers stuck in the sand for more than ten seconds before heading back up to the surface.
It's addictive! I've heard that most people can be taught to dive down to around 60' in a single day, and from my experience, that seems pretty reasonable. Can't wait to do it again. The problem is, you aren't supposed to mix free-diving with scuba diving. Something about nitrogen bubbling up in your blood, blah blah blah. :)