Indigenous communities have a long history of free diving to forage for food and other treasures from the sea, such as pearls, sponges and corals. For us with average, nicotine-clogged lungs, it is utterly impossible to hold our breath for more than a minute, more so plunge to depths of 30 meters, with eyes wide open.
What’s more fascinating is that free divers can even walk on coral beds. How exactly do they do it? Apparently, there have been many debates about this. Some scholars and historians attribute this extraordinary human ability to an ancient people that evolved to adapt to aquatic environments.
But, no sufficient amount of research can support this claim. Many free diving enthusiasts dispute this claim, emphasizing that free diving is an acquired skill that requires great effort, patience and self-discipline. These free diving enthusiasts say that in order to walk on coral beds, one must have the body and mind for it.
Conditioning the Mind and the Body
Contemporary free divers draw much inspiration from the Sama-Bajau peoples of Southeast Asia. These ethnic groups are often known for being sea gypsies. Thousands of them still live nomadic, seaborne lifestyles in the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia.
In Auckland, New Zealand, free diving activities even include modern day spear fishing to stimulate the experience. But, can habitual free divers or even beginners be able to walk on coral beds?
Fighting Undercurrents, Defying Buoyancy
Bajau fishermen walk on coral beds so they can aim their spears well when fishing. It also allows them to gain enough momentum to hit the target. The secret, they say, is to have a leaner, stronger body and an incredibly still mind.
Scientists explain that having a leaner body makes you less buoyant. More people support the claim that free diving is more of an acquired skill than an evolutionary mutation. Bodies of habitual divers can change to better adapt to the water. It may take years, but not generations.
Other than controlling breathing, a free diver should learn to control the constrictions in the diaphragm and to relax the lungs, especially when water pressure begins to increase. As you go deeper, it will naturally be more difficult, as water continues to press down on your lungs.
Being able to walk on the ocean bed may seem now like an art that only the Bajau people can master. But, in recent years, modern free divers have proved us wrong. But of course, local knowledge and familiarity are still integral elements to achieving the legendary reputation of being able to walk on coral beds.