Photos: Freediving images to inspire

Freediving is a unique sport; its athletes inspire a mix of wonder and awe, as these shots show.
By Tarquin Cooper

There is something strangely captivating about the freedivers who plunge to seemingly impossible depths on a single breath of air. The sport is serene and beautiful, yet also incredibly impressive.
Part of its appeal lies in its hold on our imagination. Perhaps it is the water itself that pulls us in. Make no mistake — humans are designed to freedive. In water our heartbeats slow, the blood stops pumping to the extremities to conserve vital organs. We share very real characteristics with other aquatic mammals.
Competition freediving is all about descending to the deepest depth possible. The current record for the purest form of the sport, Constant Weight No Fins (CNF), is 101m, held by Will Trubridge. It's where freedivers have to descend and ascend using their own power, and without fins. (The full list of world records in breath-holding and freediving can be found here.)
But for most people, the sport is just about having fun and exploring the underwater world. Dive in below…
 

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Dive in
Freediver diving into the 'Blue Hole' in Egypt.
Dive in Humans are naturally amphibious and uniquely adapted for diving. Here, a freediver dives into the world renowned Blue Hole in Dahab, Egypt. © Jacques de Vos
Swimming with turtles
Linda Paganelli diving with a Green Turtle.
Swimming with turtles Record Italian freediver Linda Paganelli swims alongside a green turtle in Dahab, Egypt. © Jacques de Vos
A beautiful silence
Lotta Ericson diving in the Egypt sea.
A beautiful silence Lotta Ericson uses a monofin while freediving in Dahab Egypt. The technique is much harder to master than using separate fins, but it's more efficient, allowing freedivers to dive deeper. © Jacques de Vos
Emerging from the deep
William Trubridge coming up from a training dive.
Emerging from the deep New Zealand's William Trubridge comes up from a training dive without fins in Dean's Blue Hole, Bahamas. Trubridge holds the world record in this discipline — an incredible 101m, which took 4m 08s to complete in 2010. © Daan Verhoeven
O2 rings
Ren Chapman diving through a bubble ring during the Suunto Vertical Blue competition 2012.
O2 rings US freediver Ren Chapman dives through a bubble ring during a quiet moment during the 2012 Suunto Vertical Blue freediving competition. Ren was part of the safety team, a group of dedicated divers who swim up with the athletes during the last 20-30 meters of their ascent. © Daan Verhoeven
Long way down
Jesper Stechmann diving down 71 meters without fins.
Long way down Danish Jesper Stechmann on his descent to 71 meters without fins at the World Championships in Kalamata. Jesper turned early on this dive, but the Dane has made it to the magical 100m mark using fins. © Daan Verhoeven
Coming up for air
Tetsuo Hara diving up from 75 meter.
Coming up for air Japanese freediver Tetsuo Hara comes up from a 75m dive with a monofin in Dean's Blue Hole during the Suunto Vertical Blue freediving competition. Tetsuo is Japan's third deepest freediver. © Daan Verhoeven
Hold your breath
william trubridge practises yoga to improve his freediving
Hold your breath Practising yoga is an essential part of freedive training. The discipline not only helps to open up the lungs but also helps to achieve a Zen-like state of calmness before a dive — vital to conserve oxygen and therefore dive longer. © Samo Vidic
Into the abyss
Into the abyss Trubridge hovers momentarily in Dean's Blue Hole. At 200m deep, it's the world's deepest known seawater blue hole. The world-record breaking freediver trains there year-round. “When I dive it feels like I'm being accepted into the ocean,” he says. © Agustin Munoz
Flying descent
Brian Pucella swimming down Dean's Blue Holeat the Bahamas.
Flying descent US freediver Brian Pucella appears to fly into Dean's Blue Hole. After 20m, freedivers have negative buoyancy meaning they naturally sink. This has an advantage on the way down, but makes ascents all the more hard work, especially when oxygen limits are maxed out. © Daan Verhoeven
Blowing bubbles
Freediver Brian Pucella blows a bubble ring underwater.
Blowing bubbles US freediver Brian Pucella blows a bubble ring at the edge of Dean's Blue Hole, Bahamas. He is at about 9m down. A bubble ring like that can stay intact until it hits the surface. © Daan Verhoeven
The beckoning darkness
The beckoning darkness This shot by Rafal Meszka was a finalist in the Red Bull Illume photo contest. It shows the first freedive by Emelia Biala after surviving a horrific train crash. “The doctors said she probably wouldn't be able to dive again,” says Meszka. “Fortunately, Emilia is still an excellent freediver.” © Rafal Meszka / Red Bull Illume
Under ice
Stig Severinsen diving under ice.
Under ice Stig Severinsen sets a new world record for the longest freedive under ice. The Danish freediver last year swam 152.4m in frigid waters in Qorlortoq Lake, East Greenland. © Dan Burton
Whale of a time
Julia Petrik diving with a Beluga whale in the Russia's Arctic sea.
Whale of a time Freediver Julia Petrik hitches a ride from a Beluga whale in Russia's Arctic. Underwater photographer Dan Burton has shot many of the world's top freedivers over the last two decades. © Dan Burton
Pause for thought
The diving model posing for a picture
Pause for thought Competition freediving is what often grabs most people's attention when they think about the sport. But it's also just about having fun under water. Here a freediver strikes a pensive pose in the diving Mecca of Dahab, Egypt. © Aurélie Cottier
Which way is up?
60 freedivers diving all together in Bali.
Which way is up? Dozens of freedivers gather like a school of fish during the One Breath Jamboree in October 2013, Tulamben, Bali. © Aurélie Cottier
Breach!
Trubridge surfaces during Suunto Vertical Blue
Breach! During competition divers must perform three surface protocols for a freedive to be validated — remove goggles, give the ok sign and then verbally say, 'I'm ok'. Sounds easy, but cognitive abilities decline during deep dives. © Samo Vidic