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Syafidatul Azua Shafi demonstrating a free dive to the media at a recent event. — TRP pic by Rajina Dhillon
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TO some, the idea of swimming, let alone diving, with a single breath of air may seem scary or impossible.
But two ambitious Malaysian women are hoping to change that perception that most have on free diving.
Just like scuba diving, free diving is another form of underwater diving, but it relies heavily on the ability to hold one’s breath long enough to enjoy the tranquillity of underwater marine life and sights.
Syafidatul Azua Shafi and Maslinda Abdul Talib, two friends who share the passion for free diving, are determined to share the experience with more Malaysians.
Maslinda’s free diving story dates back to 2010, when a YouTube video sparked an interest on the dive form.
“At that time, there were no free diving courses in Malaysia. The only opportunity I had after searching for so long was when a foreign instructor came to Malaysia to set up a base in Southeast Asia.
“I managed to get in touch with him and when he told me they were coming to Malaysia to conduct some courses, I enrolled straight away,” she tells The Rakyat Post.
The scuba diver’s journey to promote the dive form kicked off in 2012, after pursuing advance courses to fulfil her new found passion.
Syafidatul, also a scuba diver turned free diver, learned about the sport through Maslinda.
She has gone on to become Malaysia’s first free diving instructor, trained by Scuba Schools International (SSI).
Today, Syafidatul also has several records under her belt and continuously challenges herself through numerous competitions.
“I recently won first place in the female category at the Andaman Free Diving Challenge and beat competitors from the United States, Netherlands, Hungary and Ireland.
“I broke five national awards in the competition and hope to break more records in competitions to come.”
Her record includes a depth of 40m by free immersion, a free diving technique done only by pulling on a rope during ascend and descend.
She also holds the national record of swimming 130m underwater, in the “pool dynamic with fins discipline” — where a free diver travels in a horizontal position underwater attempting to cover the greatest possible distance.
Syafidatul’s personal record for the longest time she has been able to hold her breath is five minutes.
Moving forward, she hopes to inspire more to take on the dive form and have Malaysia recognised for having one of the best teams in free diving.
“There are world championships every year because this is a competitive sport. So I hope one day we can send a team and break more records and maybe aim for world records.
“I see the sport growing and I’m hoping that more free divers will come on board.
“I have close to 50 students and have been receiving very good feedback since I started teaching last September.
“Most of them are scuba divers while some are just here to try free diving.”
Free diving has been around for some time, but has only been just gaining momentum in Malaysia over the last two years or so.
“In comparison with other Southeast Asian countries, Malaysia is very active in the sport. The industry is big in other countries, but it is mostly supported by foreigners.
“I see the demand and we are training a few who could possibly be the next batch of free diving instructors,” says Maslinda.
Unlike scuba diving, no breathing equipment is used and both Syafidatul and Maslinda said that is one reason it allows divers to immerse themselves in underwater surroundings.
“Imagine swimming with the whales or dolphins without them getting scared or swimming away. Free diving allows you to see marine life without scaring them away.
“Compared to scuba divers, free divers create less noise and attention by not letting off bubbles when they breathe through their equipment and marine life tend to get more curious when they see you,” Syafidatul explains.
As exciting as it may sound, Syafidatul says it is also very important that free diving is practised in the safest way, just like scuba diving
“It’s more about deploying the right techniques and I am hoping people will learn it in the right way.
“We promote free diving through proper courses,” she shares.
Through their determination and passion, the duo aim to put Malaysia on the world map for free diving.
Here’s a simple demonstration on how free diving is done: