Safety is first concern for Apollo Beach dive instructor

Published on: August 15, 2013

Van Deman and Schmidt practice safety measures for breath-holding. Penny Fletcher Photo

Van Deman and Schmidt practice safety measures for breath-holding. Penny Fletcher Photo


Imagine holding your breath for 11 whole minutes. That’s the world record, according to Bill Van Deman, and he should know.

Van Deman is the president of the Florida Skin Divers Association, the past president of the Tampa Bay Spearfishing Club and has served as the Event Chairman of the Florida State Championships in both Spearfishing and Photography.

He is one of only five people in the State of Florida certified to teach the Performance Freediving International method that is taught to Navy Seals and Red Bull Athletes.

Van Deman has been an Apollo Beach resident for eight years but his family ties to South County go back much farther.

“My dad worked here selling houses when Andulucia and the houses on the boulevard down by the water were just being built,” he said. “We lived in Brandon when I was growing up and then I went to Purdue University in Indiana, where I met my wife Molly.”

Bill and Molly have one child, Drew, five, who is already learning water safety.

“Safety is the most important thing I teach. I get a lot of scallopers, people who go lobstering or stone crabbing and a lot who take underwater photography. I also get surfers who need to learn the breath-holding method because if they ride a 100-foot wave and go under, they can be underwater for three or four minutes.”

The surfers he’s trained are often professional, or the type of amateur that follows the waves.
“Maybe they go to some remote beach in Indonesia and surf when the surf’s up, and when the water is calm, they spearfish.”

Van Deman’s competitive team, Abyss Freediving, has gone to national competition more than once and currently has a father-son team competing in Rhode Island.

This is one of the top three teams in Florida and has been state runner-up two years in a row, and gone to nationals four out of the past five years.

He started his business, classes and team by first becoming certified through Performance Freediving International which can be viewed at  Freediving is basically skin diving deeper than 15 feet. A snorkel and 3 ½ foot fins are used as divers go down without scuba tanks (no oxygen) and hold their breath.

They are taught to go between 100 and 400 feet down, at about 1 meter per second, holding their breath for about 60 seconds to start, Van Deman said.

First he trains in the classroom, then in a pool, and then in the open water.

“I do classes on Friday evening, Saturday and Sunday, too, so people can get their certificate in a weekend if they want to,” he said.

He teaches in several counties and all around the Bay and currently does local pool classes at the Brandon Sports and Aquatic Center, 405 Beverly Blvd. in Brandon.

“There’s a real danger with kids — especially boys — from 18 to 24 because they may have the physical ability to do it without training and then find themselves in trouble because they don’t know the proper safety procedures.”

He keeps coming back to safety.

“Never dive without supervision. That means you shouldn’t be alone. Another thing is no one should wear anything that would weigh them down — keep them from floating.”

Too much gear or clothing can cause someone to drown.

“You should have someone watch you for 30 seconds after you surface from a dive,” he said.

Ill effects from an improper dive, or caused by other conditions, will show in the first 30 seconds after resurfacing, he added.

“When I teach, it’s about 30 percent technique and 70 percent safety and supervision,” he said.

“Many people take diving so they can be better fishermen,” he explained.

Spearfishing is a more ancient way of catching fish, and is very challenging. The fishing tournaments he enters are usually the type that call for so many (perhaps three) of each type named, which means you must learn the waters, how to hunt a particular fish and then bring them in before the clock runs out.

But more and more people are getting into diving just for the beautiful underwater photography that is available between what they could get snorkeling (just under the surface) and having to deep dive.

With freediving, either underwater still cameras or the new GoPro underwater video cameras can be used.

“There’s so much under water to get excited about,” Van Deman said. “People from all walks of life are getting really interested.”

Water sports can be done as a family, or with groups of friends as well as alone.

To learn more about Abyss Freediving classes, events and competitions, visit