In 2014, Myoungho Noh was certified as the first PADI Freediver Instructor Trainer and Course Director. We spoke to him about some of his favourite freediving moments and what he hopes the future holds for the sport.
What inspired you to start freediving?
About 20 years ago, I joined a scuba diving club at my university and started to learn about scuba diving and skin diving. In Korea, the ocean is not that far from my home, so, during the summer season, I would go to the sea and enjoy scuba and skin diving. I then became a PADI Open Water Scuba Instructor. In 2007, I moved to Dahab in Egypt to teach scuba diving. While I was teaching my students in the ‘Blue Hole’, I had opportunities to watch others freediving. The moment I first saw freedivers, I was amazed to see the beauty of their movement and was curious about how they were able to move so comfortably in deep water. I decided to learn how to freedive and started to look for freediving instructors and stores. I was eager to develop the knowledge and skills of freediving. In time I started to participate in freediving competitions as well as deep freedives. I then became a freediving instructor trainer and international freediving judge. In 2011, I developed my own PADI Freediver Distinctive Specialty courses and started to provide freediving training. In 2014 I was certified as the first PADI Freediver Instructor Trainer and Course Director. These days, I am teaching freediving and trying to promote freediving all over the world.
What do you enjoy most about freediving?
When I dive into the water, I enjoy observing aquatic animals. When I see these species, they don’t swim away and they watch me curiously as well. This is why I keep freediving over and over again. In these moments, I feel like I am a part of nature, not a stranger.
Which freediving discipline do you prefer and why?
I love to dive into the water in the way of free immersion. I can relax my whole body and, with a bit of force on my fingers I catch the safety line and go down slowly into the deep. While I am freefalling along the line, I close my eyes and feel the water flow on my face. Then, I recognize that my body becomes a part of the water. I believe that free immersion is the best way to relax your body and experience the feeling of water while your entire body is submerged.
What are your favourite freediving locations and why?
My favorite freediving location is Palau. The underwater visibility is very clear, there is a great choice of dive sites and various species of aquatic animals including sharks, manta rays and dolphins. There is a very unique diving site, called the ‘Blue Hole’. The Blue Hole consists of 4 different holes and, no matter which one you enter, you can reach one large underwater space. Here you can watch the picturesque scenery of light piercing through darkness from four different directions. It is amazingly mysterious.
There’s also a lake called “Jellyfish Lake” which I like to freedive in. This lake was isolated from sea thousands years ago and today the jellyfish living there have no poisonous tentacles as there is nothing to attack them. Thus, they are harmless, so divers can swim with them. Scuba tanks are not allowed to be used in the lake and you can only interact with the amazing jellyfish whilst snorkeling or freediving. While swimming with the thousands of jellyfish, you feel like you are amongst mysterious aliens in space.
What local freediving locations do you have access to and what do you like about them?
I have been spending lots of time enjoying and teaching freediving in Korea. My favorite place in Korea is Jeju Island, a World Natural Heritage Site listed by UNESCO. This island is warm and, especially during summer, you can enjoy an average water temperature of about 26 degree Celsius. Here you can experience and enjoy fantastic soft corals. Under the water, the visibility is very clear so it is easy to enjoy various underwater creatures while freediving. Jeju Island is also home to the “Hae-nyeo”, these are regarded as the oldest women freedivers in the world. From 200 years ago and until now, they have made their living freediving. It is an interesting experience for visitors to dive with them.
What has been your favourite marine life encounter while freediving?
For me, the most amazing encounter was with with a huge whaleshark underwater. I knew that that the whaleshark would not attack me; however, the size of the whale shark was mesmerizing. It did not take long time to understand that the shark was like a big puppy and indeed was friendly. It was a unique experience which I shall remember as long as I live.
What’s your advice for anyone who is thinking about taking a course in freediving?
Don’t think too much about how deep you can go! First, you have to be relaxed underwater. Then, you are ready to adjust yourself to the underwater environment. After that, you can enjoy the feeling of becoming part of the water around you. This will help you stay underwater for longer.
Where do you see freediving progressing in the next few years?
I want more people to know about freediving. The Philippines is a good place for anyone to learn about and enjoy freediving because water is warm year-round and there are unique underwater species that you may encounter. I often go to Moalboal in the Philippines every winter to teach and enjoy freediving with the turtles and sardines.
What do you like about teaching the PADI Freediver program?
Most freediving trainees are interested in Freefall streamlining when I teach the PADI Advanced Freediver course. At about 10 meters depth, a freedivers buoyancy becomes negative and with this, freedivers can freefall into the deep without kicking. It makes divers feel like they are riding a scooter underwater. It is a very enjoyable and comfortable freediving technique. While I am teaching freefall techniques at the advanced level, I feel a sense of pride when I see my student’s progress in their freefalling performance.
What advice do you have for freedivers who want to take the PADI Freediver Instructor course?
The students are expected to learn freediving systematically at a PADI Dive Center and get certified at three different levels; PADI Freediver, PADI Advanced Freediver and PADI Master Freediver. To become a PADI Freediver Instructor, it is important to learn and master the basic skills at each level. Also, instructor applicants need to have freediving experiences and be confident with their freediving skills. After all, with the systematic approach and PADI’s teaching philosophy of the PADI Freediver courses, you can become an effective and competitive freediving instructor.