Surf Safety: The 4 Best Breath Holding Courses for Big Wave Survival

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Surf Safety: The 4 Best Breath Holding Courses for Big Wave Survival

More often than not, when pushing the limits it’s our boards that we are breaking. However, we sometimes find ourselves precarious situations questioning our very own survival after a long hold down or caught up in an unexpected change of conditions. When it comes to tangible items, we can easily insure our surfboards against accidents and damages. Our bodies on the other hand, are not so easily repairable when depleting them of their oxygen levels. 

A review of 4 of the best big wave breath holding courses you can take:

  1. Big Wave Risk Assessment Group (AKA B.W.R.A.G.)
  2. Ocean Warrior Course
  3. Surf Apnea: Survival Breath Hold Training
  4. Performance Freediving International

1. B.W.R.A.G.

Formed by big wave chargers, Danilo Couto and Kohl Christensen who  a put together an expert group of surfers to support a growing population of surfers intentionally putting themselves in harms way, with many not having knowledge of basic risk management and safety skills.

The core team is now made up of Couto, Christensen, Pat Chong Tim, Brian Keaulana and champion surfers and water safety experts, Greg Long, Gabriel Villaran, Ramon Navarro and many more. B.W.R.A.G. offers one and two day courses, Level 1 and Level 2 (advanced) respectively. Courses are conducted in a mix of classrooms, pools and ocean environments. 

The group addresses:

  • Ocean Risk Management
  • Surf Spot Analysis
  • Emergency Action Planning
  • CPR & AED
  • Mindful Breathing & Energy Management
  • First Aid
  • Water Rescue
  • Safety Equipment

The above include:

  • Trauma Support and Intervention
  • breath hold training
  • Heavy Water Protocols
  • Water and Jet Ski Rescues
  • Surf Culture, Values and Traditions

B.W.R.A.G continues to expand its offering globally with courses provided in California, Hawaii, the Azores and Australia.

2. Ocean Warrior Course

Launched by big wave surfers Mark Visser and Shane Dorian the Ocean Warrior Course has been developed as a program that anyone and everyone can have access to. Their online courses teach breath holding techniques underwater preparedness. Having the funds and time to commit to a multi-day course is not always an option, OWC, provides online tutorials with the intention being targeted around  learning how to increase a surfers breath hold while minimizing panic. World renowned free-divers William Trubridge and Ant Williams teaches:

  • Breathing Recovery
  • Surf Specific Swim Techniques

Visser and Dorian provide:

  • Large Wave Surfing Tips
  • Surf Experience

Keaulana provides a detailed approach to:

  • Water Safety
  • Rescue
  • >How-to’s Focused on Single and Two Person Rescues
  • Rescue Techniques
  • CPR and First Aid Procedures

Entry level courses are a nine week program with the advanced running 18 weeks long. Once you’ve purchased a course, the license allows you to watch the course without a concern for an expiration date. 

3. Surf Apnea: Survival Breath Hold Training

The Surf Apnea Breath Hold course is a dedicated 1-day survival breath hold course consisting of:

  • Theory sessions
  • Breathing techniques
  • Dry statics (breath holds on land)
  • Wet statics (breath holds submerged)
  • Ear equalisation
  • CO2 static table
  • 3-wave hold down simulation
  • Rescue and revival
  • Apnea walking
  • Theory exam

Upon successful completion of the course you will have held your breath for over 2 minutes, endured a 3-wave hold down simulation and passed an exam which earns you your certification. A large benefit to the Surf Apnea course is that it is 1-day and offered throughout the world.

Surf Apnea breath holding courses are provided in:

  • South Africa
  • Australia
  • U.K.
  • Indonesia
  • Czech Republic
  • Slovenia
  • Philippines
  • Singapore
  • Austria
  • Morocco
  • Menorca, Spain
  • Mexico
  • Greece
  • St. Helena
  • Netherlands

4. PFI: Surf Survival

PFI (Performance Freediving International), famously known for one of the premier free-diving certification programs has extended it’s offering to a Breath-Hold Surf Survival Course that is specially designed for big-wave surfers, kayakers, and other aquatic specialists. 

The course teaches:

  • Basic Breath-hold Skills
  • Breath-hold Propulsion
  • Safety and Problem Management
  • Basic Life Support Skills When in Remote Areas

The program further helps to develop your breathing techniques for both situations:

  1. Only having minutes to prepare for a breath-hold
  2. Only have a split-second before a wave pushes you underwater

You’ll learn how to feel contractions and becoming comfortable with the urge to breath or grasping for air feeling. You’ll learn to understand the psychology of stress and also the physiological responses that create it. The course teaches how to maintain, valuable breath-hold and comfort skills to survive a 60-foot fall off a big wave or a drop off a waterfall in your kayak. Students are partnered up for safe and effective training in preparation for the upcoming season or next extreme adventure.

Topics covered by the PFI Breath-Hold Surf Survival course are:

  • Safety & Problem Management for big surf or hazardous water conditions


  • Breath-hold Concepts and Physiology
  • Breath-hold Training (Apnea)
  • Breath-hold Stress Training (Hazardous water condition simulations)
  • Gearless Underwater Propulsion Techniques
  • Psychology of Stress
  • Breath-hold Training Programs

Additionally, whether you’re surfing big waves or catching a few rays on the beach, it doesn’t hurt to have the skills to help save someone else’s life when they are most in need. 

The American Red Cross offers a great mix of CPR Training courses and certifications in just about every town across the country. Their programs have been designed to fit your way of life. You can take classes online, in-person or a  blended version of both on the weekdays after work or the weekends. The Red Cross offers world-class instruction, no matter which type of course you take, you'll gain the skills and confidence required to perform these crucial life-saving procedures no matter what environment you find yourself in whenever it's needed. And, regardless of what big wave survival course you choose, choosing any will add confidence to your surfing and increase your chances of surviving a seemingly unsurvivable situation.

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