Aug 02

Freediving Lingo- A Guide to Understanding Apnea-ish

A phone conversation with my mom during a competition several years ago:

Me: “So his whole free immersion dive went great from official top to the end of his surface protocol even though he had a little samba. He got the tag at the plate and said that even though he was narc-ed, his kick cycles and sink phase were right on.”

My mom: “Umm…what?”

I used to come home from competitions in Grand Cayman and confuse the heck out of everyone while I got used to adjusting my vocabulary to a non-freediving crowd. But since then my entire family has been ingrained enough with freediving that I now get emails like this:

My mom: “I saw that you got a white card today! Were you able to grouper call deep enough? We saw the bottom plate footage and it looked like you didn’t even grab the candy cane?”

And she did all that without Rosetta Stone! I realize that I’m lucky enough to have family willing to learn the freediving lingo, but I know it’s not always easy so below I’ve compiled a guide to the most common freediving vocabulary that you’d hear hanging out around the water. You won’t find these terms on dictionary.com but they’re often the core of any conversation you’ll overhear between two freedivers.

Freediving Disciplines

Constant Weight (CWT)– The discipline of diving to depth under one’s own power using a fin or fins and an unchanging amount of weight

Constant No-Fins (CNF)– The discipline of diving to depth under one’s own power and an unchanging amount of weight without fins

Free Immersion (FIM)– The discipline of diving to depth by pulling down and back up a weighted line while using an unchanging amount of weight

Dynamic (DYN)– The discipline of swimming for distance in a pool on a single breath

Dynamic No Fins (DNF)– The discipline of swimming for distance in a pool on a single breath without fins

Static (STA)– The discipline of holding one’s breath facedown in a pool for time

Variable Ballast– The discipline of using a heavy weight to sink oneself to depth, then releasing the weight and finning/pulling to the surface

No-Limits– The discipline of using a weighted sled to descend to depth, then using a lift bag to ascend to the surface


Blackout-related terms

Hypoxia– A lower than normal level of oxygen

Anoxia– A complete absence of oxygen

Hypocapnia– A lower than normal level of carbon dioxide

Blackout– A loss of consciousness as a result of a lack of adequate oxygen reaching the brain

Samba / LMC- An extreme level of hypoxia in which the diver shows signs of being close to blackout

Whiteout– A loss of consciousness as a result of a lack of adequate carbon dioxide in the body

Cyanosis– Blueness in areas of the body, most commonly the lips, that potentially signals extreme hypoxia in a diver


Competition terms

Official Top– The official start time at which a diver needs to begin a competition performance (within 30 seconds for ocean disciplines and within 10 seconds for pool disciplines)

White / Yellow / Red Card A card shows by judges following a competition performance signaling their assessment of the dive. White is for good performances without any penalties, yellow is for good performances with penalties and red is for disqualifications.

Surface Protocol A series of actions athletes are required to perform following any competition dive, swim or static. The diver must remove all face equipment, give an “Okay” signal and say “I’m okay” or “I am okay” in English within 15 seconds of the airway breaking the surface. Failure to do so results in a disqualification.

Announced Performance– An official announcement of an athlete’s intended performance.

Realized Performance– An athlete’s actual official performance.

Tag A marker that diver’s must reach, grab and bring to the surface during depth disciplines.



Counter-Balance– A surface-based rig system comprised of poles, floats, line, pulleys and weights that is used for diving and competitions. The counter balance also allows safety divers to pull blacked out divers up from depth when used in conjunction with a lanyard.

Lanyard– A piece of equipment made up of a carabiner, firm line and a strap that attaches to both a diver and the dive line. Used most often in competitions and with a counter-balance.

Plate– A circular piece of (usually) plastic that is often brightly colored that sits at the bottom of a dive line at the diver’s target depth.

Candy Cane– Markings on the final two meters (6.6 feet) of the dive line intended to alert the diver that they are nearing the bottom.

Lube– A liquid solution usually made from conditioner and water to help divers get into their open-cell neoprene wetsuits.

Fluid Goggles– Goggles worn only in competitive freediving that have lenses to adjust a diver’s vision to be able to see through liquid. These goggles are filled with saline or salt water so the diver doesn’t have to equalize a mask airspace.


General freediving lingo

Turning– Ending a dive early and heading to the surface before reaching the intended depth

Peak Inhalation– The filling of one’s lungs in preparation for an apnea performance, starting at the diaphragm and moving to the top of the lungs.

Kick Cycle– A count of the number of kicks it takes to reach a given depth.

Sink Phase– The cessation of kicking once a diver reaches negative buoyancy. Sink phase often coincides with the end of a diver’s kick cycles.

Grouper call / Mouth Fill– A technique of bringing air from the lungs to the mouth in preparation for equalizing the ears. Often used in deep, competitive diving. (*Some agencies teach that grouper call and mouth fill are different and specific actions, but the overall idea is the same)

Squeeze– The over-pressurization of a bodily airspace resulting in injury. This can occur in the ears, chest, trachea, sinus or on the face when wearing a mask.

Personal Best (PB)- The deepest depth, longest distance or longest time reached by a specific diver.

Functional Residual Capacity (FRC) Diving / Negative Pressure  Diving– Diving with only the air left in the lungs after a relaxed exhalation, often used to increase flexibility and practice deep equalization.

Narc-ed– Feeling the effects of nitrogen narcosis, which is a disoriented state brought on by the increased effect of nitrogen caused by the increase of water pressure at depth.


Well, that is by no means the full list of freediving lingo, but it’s a great start and hopefully help your friends and family understand what the heck you’re talking about after a day of diving! Feel free to leave more suggestions in the comments section below and I’ll add them!

1 comment

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  1. Paul Lescarmure


    This started out funny & I was looking forward to an anecdote of frustrated/ failed communication, between a diver & someone–a non-diver–close to them…But, I was exulting during the passage where your (newly Freedive–literate) mother critiqued your performance near “the candy-cane”.

    Taking it all in, I think you’re doing a good service, providing a lexicon of Freediving–specific terms, to facilitate understanding between divers & “land-people”. Good job!

    If some folks comment that many of your entries are specific to competition, well, I think you’ll agree that’s unavoidable. Freediving competition involves so much stuff that’s unusual & specialized; it’s spawned a large number of very specialized terms–most of which are very important, @ least to Freedivers themselves…


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    […] you mean when you say you “hit a PB.” You can help them out by having them read this Guide to Understanding Apneaish, but if that’s not enough, you may need to consider making a few […]

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