Want to try freediving?
James Nestor takes a freediving lesson.
ON THE FINAL NIGHT, THE DIVERS, coaches, and judges gather on the beach for closing ceremonies. Strobes and spotlights glare from an enormous stage, Euro pop blasts from a DJ booth, and a crowd of a few hundred dance and drink beneath a night sky sequined with stars. Behind the stage a bonfire rages, heating the bare, wet bodies of those who couldn’t resist one last splash.
The winners are announced. All told, the divers broke two world and 48 national records. Competitors also suffered 19 blackouts. Trubridge won gold in both constant weight no fins and free immersion.
“Risian is the real winner here,” says Trubridge, sipping a beer beside his wife, Brittany. Behind us, every 20 minutes or so, an enormous video screen shows the chilling footage of Risian’s tetherless dive, which was recorded on underwater cameras. At the end of the video, the crowd cheers and Risian, who’s had a few, rushes to the stage to take a bow. Dave King, the diver who suffered the horrific blackout just two days ago, walks through the crowd with the British team, smiling and seemingly in perfect health. Néry, in quintessential French style, is smoking a cigarette.
“There is such a strong community here,” says Hanli Prinsloo, drinking a cocktail by the bonfire. “It’s like all of us, we have no choice. We have to be in the water, we’ve chosen to live our lives in it, and by doing that we accept its risks.” She takes a sip. “But we also reap its rewards.”
I begin to understand her point. Freedivers have access to a world that the rest of us see only from the surface—from boats, surfboards, and airplanes 36,000 feet up. It’s safe, where most of us are, but it’s also isolating: we can never know the ocean’s true wonder, power, strength, or beauty. The real mysteries of nature are revealed to those who reach farther, push harder, and go deeper.
For freedivers, access to the hidden universe that covers 70 percent of the planet is worth the price of admission—blackouts, ripped larynxes, and all. And blood? What’s a little blood when you’ve made it to the other side?