The Rise Of Freediving In Nicaragua

There is a debate among the water-loving community about which sport is more appealing: freediving or scuba diving. Freediving is often known as scuba diving’s less mainstream counterpart. But there is more to freediving than meets the eye. In this latest expedition update, the Edges of Earth team discovers freediving in Nicaragua and meets some exceptional freedivers changing peoples’ lives. Read on to find out more.

What are the benefits of freediving?

For many, the appeal of scuba diving is accompanied by the appeal of quite literally, "breathing underwater" and gives people the unique chance to see the underwater world. However, many people are realizing that freediving makes exploring what is beneath the surface even MORE accessible than scuba. With the right training, freediving means you shed the heavy and expensive gear, and alongside a buddy, can hit the water free of constraints.  

Freediving can deepen your understanding of your body’s responses and capabilities. It teaches you to extend your breath-hold and harness your mammalian dive reflex, recognizing our innate connection to bodies of water. This knowledge translates into greater ease and confidence in other sports as well. Surfers find themselves less intimidated when held underwater by waves, and scuba divers often feel more comfortable shedding their bulky gear, seeking the simplicity and closeness to nature that freediving offers. 

But the benefits are not just experienced underwater, they can be just as impactful on dry land. Freediving can sharpen awareness of your body’s signals and enhance your ability to manage stress. Whether at work or in your personal life, the mental and physical discipline acquired through freediving can help navigate complexities with ease.

Freediving not only promotes healthy habits but also opens up new realms of human potential and exploration.

That is why our team was eager to connect with experts who could immerse us in this wild and somewhat uncharted world of freediving, offering both a recreational and competitive perspective that we had not fully experienced since beginning our worldwide expedition.

Discovering freediving in Nicaragua

In a remote corner of Nicaragua, we discovered a group pioneering freediving in Nicaragua. Thomas Dédès and Colleen Yaw, at the helm of Freediving Nicaragua, have established an SSI center on the shores of the 23,000-year-old Laguna De Apoyo. This center serves as a sanctuary where locals and visitors alike can hone their skills and explore personal limits in breath-holding and deep diving.

Driving through the south of Nicaragua, we finally made it to a long, partially paved road down to the volcanic lagoon. Weaving through small towns, each with a different stand-out feature—from tropical plant sanctuaries to fluorescent-painted pottery—we had made it to a secluded and special part of Nica. With little idea of what to expect, we were certain of one thing: Thomas was the real deal, empowering his team to take freediving seriously in their own way. 

Keen to try freediving? Check out: 7 Ways to Learn How to Freedive with Confidence

Originally from France, Thomas discovered his passion for freediving during a visit to Indonesia. His journey began like most, with a Freediver course. Diving to 20 meters quite quickly, it was clear he was a natural. The next day, he experienced a life-changing moment while swimming at 8 meters alongside oceanic mantas, just 12 hours after his training. This encounter highlighted how many people miss such extraordinary encounters with nature—and he did not want to be one of those people. 

It was then Thomas realized his true calling was teaching. He was fascinated by understanding how people learn and witnessing the joy on their faces when they achieve what once seemed impossible. After getting a taste of life as a freediver, it was hard for Thomas to go back to his corporate career in London. So naturally, he did not.

His commitment quickly led him to become the manager of Thailand’s largest freediving school, where he served as a Freediving Instructor Trainer. Thomas has since taught freediving worldwide, developing the next generation of instructors and elite athletes. While teaching is his priority, Thomas also maintains an impressive athletic record, diving to depths over 60 meters and holding his breath for more than seven minutes!

RELATED: Depth Defying: The World’s Most Incredible Freediving Records

Today, Thomas is one of only seven SSI Freediving International Training Directors globally, primarily teaching Level 3 and instructor courses. His core role involves developing freediving in Nicaragua and neighboring countries, which are areas with a scuba presence but limited freediving or SSI representation. 

He is also instrumental in revising the SSI training manuals, further contributing to the sport’s growth and legitimacy, which sits at the core of who Thomas is as a person. With all that, we were curious to see this guy in action and how he and his team are thinking about freediving in Nicaragua’s place in it all. 

Our timing could not have been more fortuitous, coinciding with a freediving competition organized by Freediving Nicaragua. This event was pivotal, enabling local Nicaraguans to set the country’s first-ever depth freediving records. Since the beginning, Thomas and Colleen have been dedicated to transforming their center into a premier educational facility for international athletes looking to push their limits, while also nurturing the local youth to ascend in the sport. Their overarching goal has been to cultivate opportunities for Nicaraguans to excel as both instructors and competitors, positioning freediving in Nicaragua as the epicenter for those looking to commit themselves seriously to the sport.

Upon arrival, it was immediately evident why this locale could become a top destination for freediving.

The lagoon was not only visually breathtaking but also an ideal environment to enhance freediving skills. 

This is precisely why Thomas and Colleen selected this spot in the first place. During the global pandemic, with the world in lockdown, Thomas scoured the globe from a computer screen looking for an optimal place to establish a year-round freediving center that could accommodate divers from beginner to elite levels while also offering potential for expansion.

Thomas was initially skeptical about setting up a freediving center on a lake or lagoon due to his experiences in the cold Alpine lakes of France. He always associated these bodies of water with cold, ice, and non-ideal conditions for the sport. But Thomas had a change of heart when he discovered a nearly freshwater crater in Nicaragua. Laguna De Apoyo, estimated to be 175 meters deep with minimal salinity, was inarguably THE spot for freediving in Nicaragua.

LEARN MORE: A beginner’s guide to breathing for freediving

Sitting with Thomas in his center’s open-air classroom looking out onto the lagoon he said, "The conditions are exceptionally favorable here, beyond what I could have imagined. There are no waves, no boats, no currents, and no thermoclines, and free from typical oceanic hazards like stinging jellyfish. The water temperature is consistently warm, around 28-30 degrees Celsius, basically like a pool, and the lagoon remains almost still for most of the year, except when you are here!" 

We had arrived during a bit of a shoulder season and there was the tiniest chop on the water. For us, we considered these nearly perfect conditions. For him, the conditions were rugged, truly demonstrating just how unique this setting truly is.

On our first day at the site with Thomas and his team, we witnessed history in the making. Seven competitors—both local and international—set personal bests and national records. 

This marked Nicaragua’s inaugural depth freediving competition, made possible by the country’s first freediving school and training center. Each competitor had been trained and personally mentored by Thomas or one of their instructors. 

As each diver met their announced targets, it was clear that everyone witnessing this profound moment felt a sense of deep pride. Considerable time, work, and effort have been invested in cultivating the confidence and skills of this pioneering group, who are now spearheading the development of freediving in Nicaragua.

GET INSPIRED: Breaking Records at 60: Meet Freediving Legend, David Mellor

One competitor in particular captured our team’s attention: Santos Alexander Espinoza Pavone, better known as Alex. During our visit, this 26-year-old Nicaraguan locked in the 50-meter free immersion national record. It was evident that this was just the beginning for him. Thomas has been training Alex for almost a year now getting him ready for an upcoming competition in August. Conceptualized, planned, and soon to be launched, this will be the event that not only inaugurates the center within the broader freediving community but also highlights its athletic prowess from within. 

For this competition, Thomas has secured some of the best freediving experts in the world—from judges and doctors to safety divers—intending to draw as many top-level, global freedivers as possible while ensuring they feel comfortable competing here. And because of that, the pressure is on for the locals who are just getting their fins in the water competitively and the newly founded Freediving Nicaragua team. 

Fresh from his record-setting dive, Alex told us, "I was nervous going into today because this was my first competition. But now, having gone through this, I am motivated to train harder, perform better, and set higher goals for myself and for Nicaragua." His face lit with excitement after his triumphant performance. "There’s a lot of work ahead, but I am committed to giving my all. I have fallen in love with freediving, and I am going to work so so so hard." 

Meeting athletes like Alex and the other local competitors in this lineup, it was clear this group possessed a relentless drive and determination, fueled by the high stakes of their efforts.

Initially, the competition was capped at a 60-meter depth, but plans have expanded significantly for the upcoming mainstream event. "We did not open the center just to focus on recreational diving," Thomas explained. "We are prepared to go big to realize a vision that benefits not just us, but the entire community connected to the lagoon." Freediving Nicaragua is now equipped with an electric boat and other advanced tools to collaborate with the lagoon’s National Park. These new tools will enable the organization to pull things off in the short term—all with the long-term goal being to establish the lagoon as a renowned deep diving site.

When discussing long-term aspirations, Thomas was quick to mention leveling up the competition. "If we can develop these athletes even further, it opens the door for us to compete in neighboring Latin American countries, making high-level competition more accessible to our local athletes." And this prospect is particularly thrilling for Alex. Having hardly traveled outside Nicaragua, he expressed deep interest in leveraging his skills to explore the world, turning his passion into a gateway for international experiences and substantial personal growth. 

After a week of living alongside this exceptional group of people, all united by common goals, their passion and enthusiasm for the sport started to rub off on us scuba divers. 

We found ourselves invested in this team, admiring their resilience and dedication in the face of setbacks and challenges. It is difficult enough to build a venture and advance a dream in an environment with streamlined logistics. Now, imagine trying to do this on a remote lagoon on the fringes of Nicaragua, where even simple tasks can turn into week or month-long endeavors. It was commendable to watch this collective effort to make a dream come true.

As we said our goodbyes, we took away something much more significant than we expected from our time learning about freediving in Nicaragua. Yes, freediving teaches us to deep dive on a single breath, but it also helps many of us unlock untapped potential. It shows us how we can test our limits safely while embracing the calm that is required when facing new challenges. 

The lessons from Laguna De Apoyo resonate far beyond its tranquil waters, mirroring the patience and persistence needed in all aspects of life. In Nicaragua, we found a community united by the thrill of pushing boundaries and the serenity of achieving them—a group willing to go all in for a massive dream. 

Are you feeling inspired to go freediving in Nicaragua? Then reach out to Freediving Nicaragua and plan your next adventure today:




Andi Cross is an SSI Ambassador and lead of the Edges of Earth expedition, highlighting stories of positive ocean progress and how to explore the world more consciously. To keep up with the expedition, follow the team on InstagramLinkedInTikTokYouTube and their website