Experience the captivating world of freediving in Taiwan, where beneath the tranquil waters surrounding Kenting Chuanfanshih, freediving instructor Mia Hou gracefully glides through a shimmering vortex of sardines. Taiwan has emerged as a prominent destination for this rapidly growing water sport, attracting enthusiasts from around the globe.
Freediving, the art of diving underwater on a single breath, has been practiced for centuries by spearfishers and seafood gatherers like Japan’s ama and Korea’s haenyeo. However, an increasing number of individuals worldwide are now embracing freediving for recreational and sporting purposes. In fact, the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) reported a 12 percent rise in PADI Freediver Certifications between 2021 and 2022. Moreover, the release of Netflix’s breathtaking documentary, “The Deepest Breath,” on July 19, is poised to bring even greater visibility to the sport.
AIDA International, the world’s leading freediving certification agency, revealed that Taiwan, a self-governing island slightly larger than Maryland, received the second-highest number of freediving certifications worldwide in 2020, surpassed only by China. Presently, Taiwan boasts a staggering count of over 300 freediving instructors and more than 90,000 certified freedivers. It is no surprise, then, that Taiwan is home to DiveCube, a diving hotel featuring Asia’s deepest hotel pool.
This burgeoning interest in freediving carries significant meaning for Taiwan, a country where a majority of the population does not know how to swim despite its status as an island nation. This discrepancy can be attributed to a combination of superstitious fears regarding the ocean and restricted coastlines during the 40-plus years of martial law.
Raymond Ko, a freediving instructor in Taiwan, notes that the Taiwanese people’s perception of the ocean has been shaped by tragic incidents. Drowning is a common cause of death in Taiwan, and there is an underlying apprehension about the possibility of China’s People’s Liberation Army encroaching upon the shores from the sea.
However, freediving is challenging and transforming these perceptions.
Taiwan’s younger generation, born after the lifting of martial law in 1987, is bravely confronting these fears. Having never experienced the limitations imposed on coastal access by their predecessors, these millennial Taiwanese are discarding the anxieties of the past and embracing the aquatic surroundings. Social media platforms, particularly Instagram, have played a significant role in popularizing freediving in Taiwan. Raymond Ko explains, “Underwater photography on Instagram has driven the growth of freediving in Taiwan. I see many young divers equipped with $10,000 camera setups around the dive spots.”
It is important to note that although freediving offers stunning opportunities for underwater photography and exploration, it is considered an extreme sport and carries the risk of underwater blackouts. However, when practiced with proper training and adherence to safety protocols, such as never diving alone, freediving can be a remarkably safe activity.
Deep Week, a freediving camp scheduled to host its inaugural event in Xiaoliuqiu from November 18 to 25, is expected to draw numerous international freediving enthusiasts and champions to Taiwan. The event boasts a lineup of instructors that includes four Taiwanese record-holders and Alexey Molchanov, widely regarded as the world’s greatest living freediver. Adam Stern, the founder of Deep Week, remarks, “Taiwan has one of the largest freediving populations globally and offers world-class diving conditions. Its central location in Asia makes it easily accessible for international freedivers.”
Already, Mia Hou has observed a growing number of travelers arriving in Taiwan from Europe, China, and particularly Hong Kong, to partake in freediving. Despite being one of the few English-speaking instructors in Taiwan, Raymond Ko reveals that half of his students hail from overseas.
For avid freedivers seeking the best spots in Taiwan, the southern region offers unparalleled opportunities. While the waters in northern Taiwan, including the capital city of Taipei, tend to be cold with large waves, the south boasts exceptional locations for freediving.
Xiaoliuqiu, a small island off the southwestern coast, entices freedivers throughout the year and is renowned for its interactions with over 800 protected green turtles and hawksbills. Encounters with these magnificent and serene reptiles are almost guaranteed, and the island’s geographic positioning shields it from strong winds, creating a calm diving environment.
Southern islands such as Penghu and Orchid Island are renowned for their warmer water temperatures, crystal-clear visibility, and minimal waves. Orchid Island, also known as Lanyu, is situated in the southeast and offers world-class underwater visibility, although its sharp rocks and unpredictable currents make it more suitable for advanced divers. On the other hand, the Penghu Islands, characterized by their basalt-crowned landscapes, encompass approximately 90 islands and islets. South Penghu Marine National Park safeguards a plethora of coral reefs and marine life, including stingrays, cuttlefish, sweetlips, and yellowtail barracuda. An intriguing attraction in the region is an underwater mailbox situated 20 feet beneath the surface, where adventurous divers can send waterproof postcards.
Mia Hou passionately expresses her love for exploring Taiwan’s breathtaking ocean depths, stating, “When diving upside down, I lose myself in the vast expanse of the beautiful blue.”
If you are intrigued by the wonders of freediving, Taiwan awaits you with its awe-inspiring underwater landscapes. Immerse yourself in the thrill of this captivating sport and uncover the hidden treasures beneath Taiwan’s waves.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about freediving in Taiwan
What is freediving?
Freediving is the practice of diving underwater on a single breath, without the use of breathing apparatus such as scuba tanks. It involves descending to various depths and exploring the underwater world while holding one’s breath.
Why is Taiwan considered a mecca for freediving?
Taiwan has emerged as a popular destination for freediving due to several factors. It offers stunning diving locations with diverse marine life, such as Xiaoliuqiu, Penghu, and Orchid Island. Taiwan also boasts a significant number of freediving instructors and a large community of certified freedivers. Additionally, the lifting of martial law in 1987 has allowed the younger generation to embrace the ocean and water sports more freely.
Is freediving safe?
Freediving, like any extreme sport, carries risks, particularly the risk of underwater blackout. However, when practiced with proper training, adherence to safety protocols, and under the guidance of certified instructors, freediving can be a safe activity. It is crucial to receive proper training, understand breath-holding techniques, and never dive alone to minimize risks.
What are some popular freediving spots in Taiwan?
Taiwan offers a range of fantastic freediving spots. Xiaoliuqiu is known for its calm waters and interactions with protected green turtles. Penghu Islands boast warmer water temperatures, clear visibility, and diverse marine life. Orchid Island offers world-class underwater visibility but is more suitable for advanced divers due to its sharp rocks and unpredictable currents.
Can beginners participate in freediving in Taiwan?
Yes, beginners can participate in freediving in Taiwan. There are certified freediving instructors who offer training and courses for individuals of all skill levels. It is important for beginners to undergo proper training and start with shallow dives while gradually building their skills and experience under the guidance of instructors.
How can I access freediving locations in Taiwan?
To access popular freediving locations in Taiwan, such as Xiaoliuqiu, Penghu, and Orchid Island, you can fly into nearby airports and then take ferries or connecting flights to reach your desired destination. Local transportation services and tour operators can also assist with transportation and provide guidance on accessing these locations.