Books read (all or part of) this week:
Deep: Freediving, Renegade Science, and What the Ocean Tells Us About Ourselves by James Nestor
We all know that I naturally pick up any book about the ocean, whales, sharks, squid, octopuses, waves, etc. So, no surprise that I read James Nestor’s forthcoming book, Deep: Freediving, Renegade Science, and What the Ocean Tells Us About Ourselves. I didn’t know anything, really, about freediving before I read this – and any preconceived notions I might have had were firmly smashed.
“In freediving, the ego is a deadly goad.”
The sport of freediving involves diving into the ocean as deep as you can on one single breath. That’s pretty much it. There are several categories of diving – some with fins, with weights you drop, a weighted sled you ride to the bottom. The purists use nothing – no fins, weights, ropes – just a big ‘ol breath. (The current world record-holder is William Trubridge at 331 feet.) The dramatically-soundtracked video above is of freediver Guillaume Nery diving into Dean’s Blue Hole in the Bahamas. Nery definitely subscribes to the more respectful, introspective, philosophical side of freediving, even if he’s a competitor. Granted, there’s certainly a subset of freedivers out there who are in the sport for the competition, the world-records, and the fame, such as it is. There are also plenty of fools out there who push their unprepared bodies and minds far beyond their limits, essentially breaking themselves trying to dive deeper. But there’s a far more harmonious, meditative element to diving without air to the bottom of the sea – and this is what the takeaway from Deep is.
Here’s some of what I learned:
The ama have it right, I think – and their story seemed to resonate more with Nestor as well. There’s no secret to diving like this, you just have to have the presence to retrigger that reflex that allows you to go deeper. Unlocking that reflex, flipping that Master Switch – that’s the tricky part. Convincing your mind that it won’t kill the body to dive down to 300 feet. Whew.
Nestor certainly writes with a journalist’s eye – until he reaches that point where he starts wondering about his own Master Switch. (This happens almost immediately, while covering a freediving competition for Outside magazine.) He then really hits a rhythm and this becomes more of an obsessive quest to unlock the secrets of the deep and figuring out what our place is down there. His inherent, inquisitive human nature takes hold and we’re right along with him, swimming with huge whales, freediving to the point where gravity drags you deeper, riding in a homemade submersible to unfathomable depths. I just found it all so fascinating that we have this innate ability to hold our breath and dive deep that most of us are not aware of. “What are we?” Nestor asks on the last page. Deep-swimming mammals, I guess. Freediving, master switches, blue holes, sperm whale clicks – it all kind of scares the hell out of me. But part of me wants to try flipping that switch to see how deep I can go….