Most people get into scuba diving out of a wish to go deep and stay long, something that requires a plethora of equipment. But just maybe there’s merit in re-visiting the techniques of skin divers?
I recently spent some time at a coastal town, with not a dive center in sight. But the water was warm and clear, and the coastline rocky, so there was a good chance there was something to see. So I pulled out my fins, mask, and snorkel and took the waters, skin diving style.
Scuba diving grew out of skin diving
With more and more people taking to the shores for pleasure in the beginning of the 20th century. The curiosity of what lay beneath the surface made people start putting on flippers and masks. In a number of instances, inspired by the fishermen of the Mediterranean, spears, and plummet into the deep.
Only with Jacques Cousteau’s Aqualung, invented in the 1940’s, did true scuba diving come about, and up until the 1960's skin diving was still the predominant discipline. It evens gets a mention in a number of James Bond books, including the first one, Casino Royale, and in the short story Octopussy.
What is the difference between skin diving and snorkeling
First up, there are a number of similarities, both include the same gear; mask, fins, and snorkel. Both practitioners spend most of the time in the surface, looking down at the world below.
Read more about the Gear Used for Snorkeling and Skin Diving
But where the snorkeler is content to stay in the surface, the skin diver only stays there to find something interesting to dive for, and to catch his or her breath between dives. The purpose is to swim below the surface, among fish, bottom structures, and whatever else is down there.
Compared to scuba diving, the diver is much more free and unencumbered by scuba gear. And in many instances, it is an easier thing to do during, say, on a holiday, than scuba diving, as it requires minimal gear and no dive guide.
What to know more about snorkeling? Here's our Full Snorkeling Guide.
Plus, there’s much to be learnt from skin diving for us scuba divers. A few tips to get the most from your skin diving:
1. Breathe deep
It used to be skin divers were taught to hyperventilate prior to diving, to flush CO2 from their system. This is not recommended anymore, as hyperventilating can lead to too much CO2 being flushed.
When, while holding our breath, we feel the need to breathe, it is in most cases not from a lack of oxygen, but from an excess of CO2.
So lowering the body’s CO2 levels too much can cause the body to not give us sufficient warning that we need to breathe, causing divers to drown. Instead, breathe deep, real deep, all the way down from the bottom of your belly, two or three times. Then fill your lungs all the way up on a fourth breath just before diving.
If you happen to know someone who’s into yoga, try getting them to teach you a few breathing techniques.
2. Let your weight do the work
Once you’ve taken your breath and start your dive, it is important you use as little energy as possible, as energy equals oxygen, and will cut into your bottom time.
So instead of swimming down, let your weight push you down. Lie still in the surface. Then, bend 90 degrees in your hips, putting your torso perpendicular to the bottom, and raise up your legs until they are pointing straight up in the air.
Then simply let the weight of your legs push you down, and only start finning once your entire body is submerged, at which time you’ll notice that your descent will slow or stop.
3. Move slowly
Again, using energy burns oxygen, so swim slowly, keep your body as streamlined as possible, and relax.
The more you do this, the longer you can stay under water.
The breaststroke is the most useful stroke underwater if you are not warring fins. When you move your arms from the bottom position at the end of a stroke and back in front of you, make sure you keep them as close to your body as possible, so you don’t slow yourself down.
If you are swimming with fins there are several finning techniques that might work for you.
And try to elongate the glide phase of the stroke as much as possible. If there are features at your dive site you can safely touch, you can conserve even more energy by doing a pull and glide.
4. Watch for the signs
Most people can swim underwater for about thirty seconds to a minute before they need to return to the surface. With training and proper technique, you can extend this significantly.
But watch out for the signs that your body is oxygen starved. The clearest sign are the convulsions you’ll get in your diaphragm.
Once you get these, it’s a sign that you should start considering heading back to the surface. Try to learn to distinguish between the first few convulsions, which serve only as an initial warning, and the later ones that need to be taken seriously.
This part can best be trained in a shallow pool, lying face down, with a friend standing by in case you need help, and overextend yourself.
Skills for Scuba Diving
The skills above, in particular 1 and 3, can also help you conserve energy and air when you scuba dive. And while we can see a great many things with tanks on our backs, there are a number of animals. Dolphins for one are much more willing to let us get close when we’re not blowing bubbles.
So add skin diving techniques to your arsenal and become a more complete diver.