Introducing CMAS, a Beginner’s Guide to the Oldest Freediving Organisation in the World | Freedive Earth

Introducing CMAS, a Beginner’s Guide to the Oldest Freediving Organisation in the World

Little known amongst hard-core AIDA freedivers, The World Underwater Federation or Confédération Mondiale des Activités Subaquatiques (CMAS) is in fact a huge international conglomeration of 130 national federations across 5 continents. Far from being a fringe organisation in the world of underwater sports, you can think of CMAS as a cousin of PADI or SSI - they have a comprehensive scuba certification program, for example  - but they also certify and officiate all kinds of other (often bizarre-seeming) underwater sports and activities.

The History of CMAS

CMAS arose out of a meeting of delegates from 10 European countries and the USA in Brussels on 28th September 1958. It was officially founded a year later in Monaco, under the leadership of legendary subaquatic explorer and documentary film maker Jaques Cousteau. Prior to this, the main governing body of the developing sports of freediving, spearfishing, skandelopetra and so on, had been the Comité des Sports Sous-Marins, a stuff old branch of the International Confederation of Sports Fishing (CIPS), which was felt to be too narrow to include all the various underwater activities that were emerging.

With the development of the Aqualung, and the growth of competitive freediving, first under Raimondo Bucher and Ennio Falco then later Alberto Novelli and Americo Santarelli, divers needed their own organisation to cater for their needs. In this original form, CMAS ratified the now legendary exploits of Jaques Mayol and Enzo Maiorca, immortalised in the Luc Besson film, “Le Grande Bleu”, including the first dive below 100m, made by Mayol in 1976.


By the late 1970s, however, concerns about the safety of the sport of freediving had begun to grow, with doubts raised by the medical profession about the ability of the human body to withstand the demands of diving below 100m. After a couple of serious accidents involving high-profile divers, CMAS suspended all of its competitive freediving activities to concentrate on the other (very numerous) branches of its operation. The opening they left behind was eventually filled by AIDA, founded in 1992, on a mandate to standardise competition rules and improve safety. Following their example, CMAS resumed their ratification of freediving in 1995.

CMAS Specific Underwater Activities

Here’s a quick rundown of the underwater sports ratified by CMAS, watch this space for more in-depth… geddit?!

Apnoea - This is freediving (almost) as we know it, with the addition of disciplines like the “Jump Blue” in which athletes swim around a square track at a depth of 15m, and Speed-Endurance where distances of 100-200m are covered underwater as fast as possible, taking into account any rest required.


Aquathlon - Underwater Wrestling! Two opponents wearing mask and fins battle it out in a 5mx5mx5m ‘ring’, the winner being the first to remove a tag from their opponent’s ankle. There are 3 rounds, each 30 seconds long, with a minute in between - lung-busting fun!


Finswimming - Speed-swimming with fins. Traditionally the sport used only bi-fins, but the advent of the monofin in 1970, and its obvious superiority has meant that the majority of disciplines now use only this. Popular in Russia and Eastern Europe, finswimming consists of 4 disciplines: Surface (SF) using mask and snorkel, Apnoea (AP) in which the swimmer must keep their face in the water, Immersion (IM) where competitors use underwater breathing apparatus, and Bifins (BF). It’s very, very fast!

Underwater Hockey - Sometimes called Octopush, underwater hockey involves 2 teams of 12 wearing mask, fins and snorkel with rolling substitutions. The puck is weighted and propelled using a ‘bat’, shaped a little like a shoehorn. Goals are scored by propelling the puck into a metal tray (a ‘gulley’) at either end of a 25m pool. The sport is played worldwide with a biannual world championships.


Orienteering - Long distance underwater swimming. Competitors navigate a course up to 650m long in open water using a compass and distance meter, and must remain completely submerged throughout. Compressed air is allowed for breathing, obviously.


Underwater Rugby - 2 teams of 12 with rolling substitutions maul each other at depths of 3.5-5m for possession of a negatively buoyant water-polo ball. Goals are scored by depositing the ball into a metal basket on the bottom of the pool, usually defended by a goalkeeper lying on top of it. Described as “the only truly 3 dimensional ball game”, underwater rugby often resembles some kind of feeding frenzy but for the initiated, requires equal amounts of strength, agility, skill and breath-hold ability.


Spearfishing - Freedive-earth regulars will know all about this. Elastic or Gas-Powered spearguns, loaded by hand, a single breath and the biggest fish possible. CMAS officiate several national and international competitions each year, including the official world championships.

Sport Diving - Competitive Scuba diving! Athletes compete across 3 individual and 2 team disciplines including a 300m time trial, a night dive exercise in which divers wear a blacked out mask, an obstacle course and a timed search. This I would love to see.

Visual - Competitive Underwater Photography! Teams on SCUBA dive at the same saltwater site for 2 days taking photographs. Their results are judged by a jury of 7 people in up to 5 categories including: ‘fish’, ‘close up’ with or without a theme and wide angle with and without a diver.


Target Shooting - Pool-based spearfishing competition. Athletes compete by shooting at targets in 3 disciplines - Precision where the object is to get as close to the bullseye as possible, Biathlon where shooting is interspersed with short dynamic apnoea swims and Relay where teams alternate between swimming and shooting.


Strange though many of these disciplines might seem to the hardened freedivers among us, it’s important to acknowledge that CMAS has serious credentials as an Apnoea organisation, and has been there from the beginning. To many divers in Russia, Europe and South America in particular, CMAS is the freediving organisation. Look out for more on CMAS in the coming weeks. See you soon!

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