Park Tae-hwan, South Korea’s legendary swimmer and Bu Tae-yi, a Jeju Haeneyo in her 60s had a competition where they tried to see how long they could hold their breath underwater for.
The video below was taken in October, 2008 in an indoor swimming pool by Korean Fashion brand, Basic House.
In the video, the two are seen sitting on the floor of the swimming pool, holding their breath, looking at each other playfully sometimes.
And the result? Jeju Haenyeo won! While Park could hold his breath for about three minutes and three seconds, the Jeju Haenyeo was able to stay on the floor holding her breath for a couple more seconds after he surfaced.
While the swimmers and divers hold their breath in very different situations, it is nonetheless impressive that Jeju Haenyeo learned from only observation, constant practice, and adaptation to changing conditions.
Park Tae-hwan is one of South Korea’s most famous swimmers, an Olympic gold medalist, and world champion. He has four Olympic medals, five world titles, and 20 Asian Games medals.
He is best known for his impressive range and versatility, as he is able to compete at international level in 100-, 200-, 400- and 1,500-meter freestyle.
Jeju Haenyeo or diving women are well known for diving in deep waters and they hold their breath for up to two minutes at a time. The most highly skilled haenyeo can stay underwater for more than three minutes at a time. They never use any supplemental breathing devices.
In her book “Jeju Haenyeo: Stewards of the Sea,” Anne Hilty said that “this is due not to any extraordinary features of Jeju women genetically, but to the divers’ early adaptation and frequent practice over many years, resulting in an enhanced cardiopulmonary capacity as well as swimming ability,”
She continues to say that “Mentally, they must control their minds against greed for self-preservation, and adopt vigilance in regard to the continuous changes and irregularities of the sea. They maintain a map of the seabed in their minds and an almost visceral knowledge of the marine environment”
Dubbed as Asian Amazons or Sea Goddesses, Jeju haenyeo are a symbol of the strong spirit and perseverance of Jeju women.
“We go to the otherworld to earn money, and return to the earthly world to save our kids,” said Hong Kyung-ja, chief of the fishing collective of Hansu village.
She added “We hold our breath, go into the cold water and raise our kids…. And we are brave and we survive.”
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