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September 2014    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Vol. 29, No. 9   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Getting Into Deep

a fascinating read about freediving and big-animal behavior

from the September, 2014 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

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"Scuba diving is like driving a four-by-four through the woods, without your widows up, air conditioning on, music blasting . . . You're not only removed from the environment, you're disrupting it. Animals are scared of you. You're a menace."

When writer James Nestor heard this from a freediving researcher, he didn't disagree. After all, he writes, "The constant gurgle from my scuba regulator scares everything around me; it's like I've gone bird watching with a leaf blower strapped to my back. And the wetsuit, tank and knot of tubes around my body prevent me from even feeling the seawater." With that in mind, Nestor overcame his fear of freediving, learned to go long and deep, and produced a fine new book, Deep; Freediving, Renegade Science, and What the Oceans Tells Us about Ourselves, that any active or armchair scuba diver will surely relish.

To tackle his own fear of freediving, Nestor studies under Hanli Prinsloo, the South African national record holder. Freediving, she says, is more than just holding your breath, it's a perception shift -- don't kick down the doorway to the deep, slide into it. By following her techniques, he begins his first day by holding his breath for under a minute and, by the end of the day, for more than three minutes. We follow him to freediving competitions, where, at 40 feet, the ocean begins pulling you downward, at 150 feet you enter a dream state, at 250 feet "the pressure is so extreme your lungs shrink to the size of fists, and your heart beats at less than half its normal rate," and at 436 feet, a diver's chest compresses from 50 inches to 20 inches....

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