After the first two questions every freediver gets asked, how long can you hold your breath? And how deep can you go? The next question is usually why?
It’s not an easy question to answer but in another way it’s simple. Why indeed? It’s not exactly the adrenaline junkie high of wing suit flying or free climbing but I think all these extreme sports have a common thread. Part of it is certainly the possibility to connect with nature and experience the beauty of marine life and seascape. To swim with large creatures like dolphins, mantas, sharks and whales is a reward in itself and one I have been privileged to experience.
But the bigger part I think is connectedness, the feeling of really living, of being more alive in that moment than in many years of life before this. I think this connectedness is universal but is always seen or felt in endeavors of this type or in nature. The climber at the top of the peak, the kayaker at the end of the rapids, the wing suit flyer or base jumper when they finally deploy the chute and we all breath a sigh of relief. These are extreme examples but I only use them to illustrate the point. You probably get the same feeling when looking at an ice clear star studded night sky or sunsets that could only be painted in colours available to an almighty higher intelligence, like the ones we get on the west coast of Ireland here.
When not looking at the beauty around me or if diving deep just on a line in blue water, I usually close my eyes. So, diving blind may not sound appealing but it’s incredibly relaxing once you get into it. The hangs I sometimes do at depth are intense but in a really subtle way. It’s usually a slow descent using my arms to pull down to about 10 metres or so. Then I turn round and hold on to the rope. At this point I should be neutrally buoyant, so not rising or falling. With my head now right way round I wrap my arms around the line and close my eyes. When I am very relaxed my head falls to one side. I can feel my heart rate getting slower, slower and slower. The pressure at this depth is there but not uncomfortable, just a gentle squeeze. It’s as if the whole world is gone or doesn’t exist. Trance like, dream like, there is nothing else involved in that space. Just me and the universe. I am part of it and it also is an equal part of me. If I do slowly open my eyes at any point all I see is the melancholy green of my beloved Atlantic or the intense vivd Blue of the Red sea if in Egypt. But mostly they stay closed. Its incredibly difficult to put the sensation into words. You can feel a great bright white light of energy, but you don’t see anything. You feel energised to bursting point with life but, also relaxed. Think of the film Avatar when they connect with the earths energy force. That’s it, that’s the connectedness, a brief glimpse of the “meaning of life” for the junkie without having it explained. The mystery still remains. Like a dream you knew you had and it was good but you only remember fleeting parts of it.
After a few minutes of this bliss the body’s signals take over and just can’t be ignored any longer. Contractions of the diaphragm are becoming stronger and the urge to breathe is becoming overwhelming, but a big part doesn’t want to go back. A big part wants to stay there. Surrounded by this serenity who would want to leave it? As Jacque Mayol says in the Big Blue “you have to have a good reason to come back up”. Fortunately I have several good reasons to come back up.
Not least is the desire to take that first breath again and prepare to go back down. That’s the why.