Hello water fam! 2016 was an unbelievable year. I was incredibly lucky to travel to some really amazing and unique destinations all in the name of freediving. Since some of you have been asking which were my favorites, I’ve decided to do a quick run-down of my top 5 2016 freediving destinations. Each location had something unique to offer and comparing them all would be sort of like comparing pineapples to pomelos. So with that in mind, these spots are listed in no particular order. I’ll leave it up to you guys to decide which should be number one!
1. Kaş, Turkey
Located on the southwestern shores of Turkey, the small town of Kaş is built into rocky, tree covered hills and winds its way down to the Mediterranean sea. After training and competing in Greece for the 2016 AIDA Freediving Team World Championship, I followed a group of friends to Kaş to get a front row seat at the CMAS Freediving Depth World Championship.
Within 24 hours we realized the town had a ton to offer – ridiculously fast and easy access to depth, charming streets, aromatic spice markets, incredible food (with plenty of vegan-friendly options), friendly people (and even friendlier cats!), incredible history, and some of the most gorgeous waters we’d ever seen. I have to say this was one of the best places I’ve ever had the privilege of visiting. I don’t know what else to say about Kaş, except drop what you’re doing and GO NOW!
2. Puglia Region, Italy
Italy’s Puglia region stole my heart. Boasting more than just incredible rocky coastlines and deep azure blue waters – this place had soul. While spending most of our time between Leuca and Corsano, a typical day consisted of waking up to ocean breezes, grabbing a quick Crema di Cafe at La Guardiola, and rambling down grass covered cliffs on a caffeine high to make our way to the sea. With nothing more than a small backpack of freediving equipment, we’d don our gear and jump into the water to explore between the giant sunken boulders on the sea floor, or swim into unnamed caves and grottos.
Sound amazing? ….It was.
3. West End, Grand Bahama Island
With pristine reefs, healthy fish stocks, crystal clear blue water and visibility for days, the diving off of West End, Grand Bahama is some of the best in the world. But divers don’t just come here for the pretty views. Better know as Tiger Beach, this particular dive site gets it’s name from it’s most famous residents, the Tiger Sharks. While you’ll also find other species of sharks like Lemons, Nurse, and Reef sharks at Tiger Beach, the massive Tigers are by far the biggest draw for most divers.
Freediving with these animals is hard to describe in such a short post, but I will say this much: it was mind-blowing. Easily one of the most incredible and eye-opening experiences of my life, it was also a culmination of some of my wildest childhood dreams. Interactions like these not only work to shift public opinion, they also raise serious questions about conservation. I need to point out, however, that that these types of interactions should only be attempted by highly experienced watermen. In fact most visitors to Tiger Beach are seasoned underwater photographers/cinematographers, marine scientists, and professional guides – and so it should be.
In the coming weeks I’ll write a more in-depth post on my experiences at Tiger Beach, as well as the pros and cons of diving at sites like this (including why it might not be a great spot for the average diver). That being said, it is absolutely an incredible dive location, and rightly deserves a place on this list.
4. Sailing Live Aboard – The Greek Islands
What better way to train for a freediving World Championship than on a 38′ sailboat? In Greece!?
At the behest of my best friend Kerry Hollowell I found myself mixing up what would have been a fairly standard training period in Kalamata, with a week-long stint through the Greek Islands on a 38′ catamaran (there was very little arm twisting involved). For seven days we we able to eat, breathe, and sleep freediving. With ever-changing scenery, non-stop island hopping, and the ability to set your own schedule and find those just right conditions – this was definitely an ideal way to train. Evenings on secluded moonlit beaches with a close friends was just icing on the cake.
5. Valle Verzasca, Switzerland
Ah, Switzerland. Clean mountain air, pristine (ice-freaking-cold) rivers, unique grotto dining, and lush lush forested mountains. Whether you’re a freediver or not, Valle Verzasca and it’s surrounding areas should be on everyone’s bucket list. The landscapes were just stunningly beautiful.
To see more about Ashleigh Baird, visit her at https://thewanderingfreediver.com/