Q&A with a Freediving Instructor

Britney Ouellette freediving with coral underwater
Photo courtesy of Britney Ouellette

Today we chat to Britney Ouellette, a freediving competition winner with a personal best of 55 meters. She currently dives and teaches in Grand Cayman.

How long have you been freediving?

I have been freediving for almost five years now. As a scuba diver, it was something I was curious about but wasn’t brave enough to try.  When I moved to Grand Cayman my roommate and I had the same days off and he had been freediving recreationally for years. He forced me to go out with him a few times and even though we stayed shallow I was always very nervous.  After maybe the fourth or fifth time out something clicked and I realized it wasn’t as scary as I had built it up to be. I ended up falling in love with the sport and I took my level one course with a friend here in Grand Cayman. Since then, I have been freediving as much as possible.

Freediver underwater swimming through a bubble
Photo courtesy of Britney Ouellette

What are the different freediving styles?

Constant Weight No Fins –  when you descend and ascend by swimming without the use of fins or without pulling on the rope 

Constant Weight – descending and ascending by kicking with either bi-fins or a monofin and without the use of your arms.  

Free Immersion – is done without any propulsion equipment. You descend and ascend by pulling yourself on a rope.

Static – In a pool, holding your breath without moving. 

Dynamic (with or without a fin) – In a swimming pool doing laps either with a monofin, bi-fins, or no fins. 

What is the deepest you have been down to, and for how long?

The deepest I have been to is 55m in constant weight which is normally around a two-minute dive for me.  When you attempt a depth dive you typically do not focus on extending the time of your dive.  

The longest I’ve held my breath is 5:02 min during a static dive.

Freediver swimming up in black and white
Photo courtesy of Britney Ouellette

Is freediving a more mental or physical challenge?

I would say it is a split of 60% physical and 40% mental.  There is a lot of physical training involved but if you are not in the right headspace it is easy to convince yourself that you will not be able to do the dive.

I try to work out regularly both with weights and lane swimming but during training for a competition I had to step it up a lot. I was either adding yoga, weight training, lane swimming, or running into my daily routine. As well cut out dairy from my diet which helped clear out mucus from my sinuses.

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What relaxation methods do you use before diving?

One thing that really works for me is visualizing my dive. I lay on a yoga mat and do everything from the full breath up then talk myself through what I am going to do and feel at different depths. 

Then when I am breathing up for a deeper dive I try to visualize I am breathing in positive energy and exhaling negative energy and that always calms me down. Sometimes I still have jitters after that so then I just tell myself to put on my big girl pants and just do it.  That always makes me laugh at myself and it calms me down. 

Britney Ouellette freediver, showing us her dive computer
Going deep in Grand Cayman with freediving instructor Britney. Photo courtesy of Britney Ouellette

What are the logistics of attempting such a deep dive.

55 meters really isn’t a deep dive compared to depths a lot of other competitive freedivers dive to. There are still logistics of diving that deep but it is also about being in tune with your own body and believing in yourself.  

One thing that took me a while to learn is called the mouth fill technique. As we descend to deeper depths and pressure increases we have to pull air from our lungs and store it in our mouth so we are able to equalize.  For me, this took a long time to learn and a lot of practice on land. But once I learned this technique, I was able to quickly go from a personal best of 40m to 55m. 

Describe your experience at 55 meters depth.

I remember in my head thinking “Oh I’m here, well, wasn’t that easy”

55m below the surface is quite similar to 30m down here in Grand Cayman.  We have dramatic walls that we dive beside that are covered with coral and marine life and it’s quite beautiful.  Some of the walls are so dramatic, they drop down like a steep cliff covered with marine life while other areas slowly slope down with a sandy bottom.

Tell us about the Deja Blue Competition.

Deja Blue is an international freediving competition hosted by Performance Freediving International (PFI) in the Cayman Islands. The competition was composed of six disciplines which included three depth (Constant Weight, Free Immersion, and Constant Weight no fins) and three pool disciplines (static, dynamic, and dynamic no fins)… Continue reading

Read Part 2 of Britney Ouellette’s Interview

Emma was initially terrified of the deep ocean but dived right into scuba diving years ago and hasn't looked back since! After completing her PADI DiveMaster certification and with a Bachelor of Communications (Media) background in film-making, Emma started her scuba career as an Underwater Videographer before becoming a full-time PADI Master Scuba Diver Trainer. She taught and certified hundreds of PADI scuba divers as Open Water Divers, Rescue Divers, Deep Specialty Divers, Dive Masters and more, and then managed several Dive Centres. Her favourite fish (which is also tattooed on her arm) is the Barracuda!