For most Coastal Alaskans, the mere thought of being submerged in the ocean is spine chilling, evoking thoughts of paralyzing cold, hypothermia, and the Homer Spit’s ever-expanding Fisherman’s Memorial.
Everyone in Coastal Alaska knows someone who knows someone who was related to someone who was lost at sea.
It has been engrained in every child from Prince of Wales Island to Point Barrow to Attu that the ocean is unsafe.
Besides the hottest day in July, you simply don’t jump in.
And you definitely don’t stay in or purposefully swim out into the massive tidal flux and gnarly currents.
So, one might wonder about the recent newspaper articles and images popping up on social media of folks diving into the ocean in Alaska, spending time swimming around and even landing salmon and halibut. Don’t THEY know that the ocean is UNSAFE?!
No, not SCUBA diving where you breathe compressed air and wear air-tight dry suits with all the bells & whistles.
Freediving is SCUBA Diving’s version of bivouac camping.
Stripped of unnecessary gear, allowing the individual to interact more naturally with the environment.
By definition, Freediving is: the exploration of the ocean in minimal snorkel gear with only the breath in one’s lungs.
In the water a freediver will slow their breath, expand their lungs and take in an extra-large gulp of air. They will then submerge themselves, maybe playing near the surface, swimming through tendrils of kelp, or maybe diving down to a comfortable, practiced depth of 10, 20, 30, 40, or many more feet and stay there, exploring, until they feel the urge to breathe. Often that urge will be dismissed a time or two before resurfacing.
Now add a speargun or pole spear and you’re spearfishing! Or leave the fishing gear at home and you’ve entered extreme tide pooling. Think of 360 degrees of tidepool creatures coming out of their shells and moving freely in their natural habitat, combined with a myriad of other sea creatures in the water column that you would never see during a normal tidepooling excursion.
Undoubtedly, if you’ve ever been tidepooling around Kachemak Bay, you’ve looked at the water’s edge, looked at the height of your boots & thought ‘If only I could go a little further!’
Well guess what, you can! And you can stay fairly warm doing so (at least, for an hour or two).
Folks freediving in Kachemak Bay don a somewhat lengthy, yet simple list of gear:
– a hooded, open cell neoprene wetsuit, preferably 5-9mm thick;
– equally thick gloves and socks;
– 12-25lbs of weight;
– 3 foot long fins; and
– Of course, a mask & snorkel.
– A basic freediving gear package can be purchased for around the same price as a shiny new pair of backcountry ski boots. Though you can freedive year-round.
Actually, the visibility in Kachemak Bay can be much better in the winter months when the water temperature dips below 40 degrees and isn’t teeming with life like in the balmy, 50 degree water during the summer.
Like any water activity on Kachemak Bay, there are many factors that need to be considered before going on a freediving expedition. Kachemak Bay has one of the biggest tidal exchanges in the world resulting in extremely strong currents. So, know the tides and watch the weather before heading out. And remember, the number 1 rule in the freediving world is to NEVER swim alone! Always go with a buddy – just like you learned in swim class when you were 5.
Do be aware of the weather, but just because it’s windy out doesn’t mean that you have to forego your dive trip for the day – Kachemak Bay has tons of coves & bays that you can tuck into and hide from the wind. One of our favorite things about diving around Seldovia & the South side of Kachemak Bay is the fact that there is almost always a place to dive, regardless of the weather.
Freediving has recently been described to me, by a newcomer to the sport, as a form of meditation. Whether you’re spearfishing, extreme tidepooling, or bobbing through 12ft long tendrils of kelp, lit up a golden yellow by the evening’s sun, it will take your breath away and turn on your inner focus.
So, what about the deeply engrained beliefs regarding the danger of Alaska’s waters? They ARE very dangerous, especially to fishermen and other recreationalists unprepared for the icy cold; those not expecting to go overboard, or those in a sinking boat situation. However, to the trained individual, diving with the right gear in the right conditions, on a planned pursuit, the dangers of the ocean can be nearly negated.
We at Alaska Freediver aim to do just that – to ease folks’ fear of the ocean through education and awareness and the use of the proper equipment. By changing Coastal Alaskans’ attitude toward the ocean, we hope to create a culture of individuals who are deeply connected to Alaska’s waters.
Written By, Amelia Pollack
Amelia Pollack, a lifetime Alaskan, is an avid fisherman, hiker, hunter, gatherer, chef of wild-caught foods, & mother of 3.
Amelia and her husband, Chris, created Alaska Freediver as a way to share their love for Alaska’s bounty with all of you.
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