Me & my Philippines: freediver Catalin Craciun

The owner and head instructor at Freedive Boracay — the island's first freediving school — on why the time is right to ditch your tank

I switched interest from scuba diving to freediving because the latter feels more physically and mentally rewarding. There is a certain freedom in freediving; you feel like you “work” for your dive as opposed to relying on a tank underwater. Of course scuba divers will disagree.

Cat preparing for a dive

Cat freediving in White Beach

I was working as a scuba diving instructur in Utila, an island in the Caribbean, five years ago when a friend introduced me to freediving. I quickly became addicted to it. Then I went to Koh Tao in Thailand in 2012 to take my Master Freediver and Instructor Course with Apnea Total, a freediving organization, which has certified over 10,000 freedivers. I worked in Koh Tao and after a while I went back to Utila to manage Freedive Utila.

I opened Freedive Boracay, the first and only freediving school on Boracay Island, in October 2014. We are based at Fisheye Divers, close to Starbucks, on the famous White Beach. The school has received quite a bit of interest and we’ve become busier by the day.

Lakambini LaRoque (left) teaching free diving

Anybody can freedive; you only need to know how to swim and to equalize. As to how deep one can go depends on the person. We all progress differently. Most of our students are able to freedive to a depth of up to 20m on a single breath of air by the end of their beginner course.

One should not get hung up on how deep one could go. The course we offer at Freedive Boracay is not about competing with other people or putting a good number on our dive computer. It’s about learning to freedive in a safe, comfortable way. 

Cat with his business partner Bing LaRocque, the first Filipina freediving instructor

A typical day in Boracay starts with dry training with our master students (students taking a one-month Master Freediver Course) and then going out in the water for one or two freediving sessions.

Lakambini LaRoque heading towrds Camia shipwreck, Boracay Island

Our favorite dive sites in Boracay are Camia, a sunken 30m long ship wreck and Tribird, a 50-seater airplane wreck. These spots are right in front of our shop, maybe six to seven minutes away by boat. Both wrecks had been sunk to create an artificial reef. The view when you descend is spectacular. The airplane is still in an incipient phase, but the reef has already started to form. Camia has a lot of reef and it’s packed with all sorts of fish both around the wreck and inside. We like to freedive there because it gives us something to look at as opposed to just diving into the blue.

What we love most about Boracay is its diversity. It’s got amazing beaches, great food, hotel choices for all sorts of budget, and great nightlife.

We don’t really hate anything in Boracay but the roads could be improved. 

Apart from diving, another top-rated activity in Boracay is kiteboarding. We recommend Isla Kiteboarding on Bulabog Beach, sunset boat sailing, which you can do in many locations on White Beach, and island hopping.

Probably the most overrated water activity in Boracay for me is helmet diving [walking underwater along the ocean bed aided by a helmet that’s attached to an air compressor].

Some of the quieter beaches in Boracay where you can escape the crowds are Puka Beach and Ilig-Iligan Beach. Puka Beach is a great place to watch the sunset and find some of the best value hotels.

Lakambini LaRoque playing in the waters of Diniwid Beach

Diniview on Diniwid Beach is beautiful and their villas can accommodate families and groups. It’s up on a hill so the views are great and surrounded by a lush jungle. It’s very quiet. It also has a pool.

Mandala Spa & Villas is a beautiful isolated spa resort offering lots of activities, including yoga. However, the prices are on the high side.

Apnea Total freediving. Photo from Freedive Boracay

My favorite restaurants in Boracay are Smoke (+6336/ 288 6014), Dos Mestizos, and Lemon Cafe. Smoke has two restaurants, both at D’Mall de Boracay, serving up cheap good food. Service is quick and the restaurants are very popular. I like their soup, chilli chicken with eggplant, seafood and Filipino dishes. Lemon Cafe has great food in general and delicious desserts. I like their pork chop with mint jelly. Dos Mestizos has fantastic Spanish food and great tapas buffet every Saturday night. Everything there is good.

The best bar for me is Bombom Bar Restaurant (+6336/ 288 4795) because of its live music and happy hour. It’s right on White Beach, just steps away from Freedive Boracay.

Exit Bar is a popular hangout on White Beach where a lot of the kiteboarders and locals go.

Levantin on Bulabog Beach is right on the beach and a good spot to watch the sunset. It's often busy. Food is good and reasonably priced. 

Summerplace is a nice dance venue while Epic Boracay is a cool hangout.

MJ Paula Jumuad freediving in Jellyfish Lake, Mindanao

Freedive Boracay offers a two-day freediving beginners' course for P11,500 (about US$267). You get two classroom sessions and two water sessions, each for about two hours, plus equipment use, boat rides to dive sites, and a certification card. Twenty meters is the maximum depth allowed in the course. Freedive Boracay can also help book room nights in a hotel and arrange transfers from Caticlan and Kalibo Airports. Visit www.freediveboracay.com for more info.

Originally published in InFlight Traveller April to June 2015. Updated July 2015