National Geographic recent proclamation of Taiwan as a "mecca for freediving" has shed light on the country's captivating underwater wonders. Not only does this recognition highlight the breathtaking underwater topography that awaits adventurers - including places where divers are guaranteed to see protected sea turtles, bountiful coral and marine life, and even a working mailbox 20 feet underwater - it also unveils a remarkable transformation taking place on this island nation. Despite being an island nation, most Taiwanese have long held a superstitious fear of the ocean, shying away from its boundless beauty and thus never learning how to swim. Additionally, previously restricted coastlines enforced by the oppressive martial law of the KMT stifled the island's connection with its surrounding waters.
Thankfully, freediving is changing that and attracting both the island's locals and international visitors to celebrate the island's geography and natural beauty. Below, I share my first experience at freediving on the motherland (and in my life!) and how others can learn how to do it safely and in just three days during a visit to Taiwan.
Raymond Ko of Freedive Nomad is an AIDA, PADI, and Molchanovs-certified freedive instructor from the United States. His story is one that I can relate to as a burned-out attorney who left the law to become a travel blogger in Taiwan; after 20 years of being chained to a desk in the finance industry, he left to pursue his passion after experiencing the life-changing wonders of freediving.
What’s so great about Ray’s freediving courses is that if you are based in Taipei (or any city in Taiwan), you don’t have to take a day off to embrace Taiwan’s beautiful blue ocean and enjoy the mental and physical benefits of freediving. Ray offers his theory class online, then comes up to Taipei (or whatever city you’re based in) for your first pool training, and then all that is needed is a weekend to travel to Xiaoliuqiu where Ray helps you arrange almost everything for your trip and open water session!
And unlike most certification courses that have a student-to-instructor ratio of four-to-one, Ray takes a MAXIMUM of 2 students for an intimate, thorough, and safe experience. It was just what I needed to calm my nerves underwater and be fully present in Taiwan’s crystal clear water.
Below is my journey to becoming freedive-certified with Freedive Nomad’s 3-step process:
Step 1: Online theory and dry skills course
My husband and I met Ray over Zoom where he conducted his theory and dry skills course. Safety is Ray’s priority, so he was very thorough and clear when teaching this part of the course. He also taught us the different ways to equalize our ears; my husband and I found that different techniques worked better for each of us. We also practiced holding our breath for a minute and a half. With the techniques that Ray teaches, you’ll be surprised by how easy this is!
Step 2: Pool session in Taipei
We met Ray at the Taipei Nangang Sports Center for our first pool session. (Note that Ray can meet you wherever you are located, or conduct the first pool session at Taiwan’s largest freedive pool in Xiaoliuqiu.)
Ray booked extra time for our session so that we never felt rushed:
We went over safety, dive techniques, and breath-hold practice. I wasn’t able to complete my one-and-a-half-minute breath-hold underwater, but Ray assured me that there was plenty of time to master this before our open water session.
Step 3: Open water session on the beautiful island of Xiaoliuqiu
Finally, my husband and I booked a weekend trip to Xiaoliuqiu. From Taipei, the trip is 4-5 hours door-to-door. We took the high-speed rail to Kaohsiung (Zuoying stop), hopped the shuttle to the Donggang port, and then took the ferry to Xiaoliqiu. Ray has provided a guide on how to take the Xiaoliuqiu Ferry.
Ray gave us suggestions for hotel stays, met us at the dock to help us transport our luggage, and even arranged scooter rentals for us. Talk about service!
We stayed at the Xiaoliuqiu Piano Hotel (小琉球皮亞諾旅店), the only hotel in Xiaoliuqiu that has a rooftop infinity pool.
I was super nervous about my open water session and had yet to complete my one-and-a-half-minute breath-hold. So I booked a massage session with Ray’s wife, Sheila, the founder of StretchologyAsia:
Sheila made me so relaxed that I completed my breath-hold on the first try!
Then, we headed straight to the ocean to get certified.
I was able to relax knowing that Ray was taking care of just the 2 of us the entire time. My husband and I took turns getting used to diving in the open ocean. There was never any rush; Ray was on our time and let us take turns, diving down with us each time and giving us very specific and constructive feedback about our technique.
Ray’s open water session also has the option to hire a highly-skilled underwater photographer that creates amazing photos for your memories: The cost is $3,000 per session and includes 10 edited photos. Each extra person is an extra $1,200 (with 10 additional edited photos.)
If you are looking for an experienced, patient, and overall cool freediving instructor, I highly recommend Ray from Freedive Nomad! Check out his website, podcast, and unbiased testimonials for more information and to experience the wonders of freediving.
This post was sponsored by Freedive Nomad.