The Adrenalist

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The Depths of Human Endurance



Freediving World Record – 88m without fins from william trubridge on Vimeo.

SCUBA diving and snorkeling are fun pastimes for the vacationing adventurer. They’re both pursuits that transplant the diver to an alternate reality where gravity and breathing are put on hold as we take a peek into where amphibious beings reside. We aren’t supposed to be down in the water like that, our bodies aren’t designed for it, but a small cadre of people refuse to let the limits of our biology hinder their curiosity about how far they can go.

These people are free divers, and unlike SCUBA or snorkeling, it’s not a comfortable pursuit; although, you’ve probably practiced some of the hallmarks of free diving when you go bobbing for pennies in the deep end of your family’s pool.

That’s because competitive free divers rely only on their breathe control and a courage to explore the very depths of human endurance to compete against others, but also against themselves.

Right now there are two bodies that oversee competitive free-diving: AIDA and CMAS. Within those governing bodies there are various disciplines of competitive free diving. In a pool there is Static Apnea, which is a timed breath holding (AIDA, world record holders: Stephane Mifsud 11min 35sec; Natalia Molchanova 8min 23sec) Dynamic Apnea with Fins, which is underwater swimming for distance. And Dynamic Apnea without fins. But, it’s not the pool records that really draw in the adventure seekers since there’s an antiseptic element to using a pool during a free drive (see also, diving for pennies). This set of pool competitions is a distant cousin of the underwater walking record.

No, the real free divers use the Ocean or a lake to see who can go further down into the unknown black; So far under the water’s surface, the sun is lost under the layers of water.

These are strictly depth dives, and divers have to weigh a multitude of side-effects called “reflect mammalian diving reflex” when they plunge sometimes over 100 meters under the surface of the water. The reflex is what keeps the divers alive–and it accounts for the danger in the pursuit.

When diving to extreme depths, there’s usually a drop in heart rate, known as “reflex bradycardia” as the pressure from the water squeezes a divers blood vessels. That blood vessel shrinkage is known as “vasoconstriction,” and it means the bodies blood stream is directed away from the limbs to benefit the heart, lungs and brain. Also, a bodies spleen will contract, releasing red blood cells carrying oxygen. A “blood shift” also occurs where blood plasma fills up blood vessels in the lung and reduces residual volume. If this didn’t occur a human lung would shrink from the water’s pressure and wrap into its walls causing permanent damage to the lungs after about 30 meters (95 feet).

Not only will the body adapt to allow divers more capacity to go to ever-increasing depths, but when divers surface, they have to battle the “bends,” or decompression sickness from surfacing so fast.

Within the depth dive competitions there are other disciplines like pool competitions and then depth dives (parenthetical contains the governing organization and world record holder).

Constant Weight Apnea: the athlete has to dive to a depth following a guide line that he or she cannot actively use during a dive. The competitor cannot drop or use weights during the dive, but both bi-fins and monofin can be used to augment the speed of the dive. (AIDA, Herbert Nitsch, 124m; Sara Campbell 94m)

Constant Weight Apnea Without Fins: The same as Constant Weight but monofins and bi-fins aren’t allowed. This is also the youngest discipline in free diving; it’s been recognized by AIDA International since 2003. (AIDA, William Trubridge 101m; Natalia Molchanova 62m)

Free Immersion Apnea: This branch allows a diver to use a guiderope to help pull the diver down or up, but weights are still not allowed. (AIDA, Herbert Nisch 120m; Molchanova 85m)

Variable Weight Apnea: A diver can use a weighted sled for descent, and when the diver is returning to the surface they can use the guide rope or Fins. (AIDA, Herbert Nisch 142m; Annelle Pomp 126m).

No-Limits Apnea: A diver can use any type of breath-hold diving to their depth and return to the surface, as long as something objective measures their distance. A weighted sled is generally used to get down, and a inflatable bag generally brings these divers to the surface. (AIDA, Herbert Nisch 214m; Tanya Streeter 160m)

The Jump Blue: Unlike the depth dives, this is when an athlete descends and swims as far as possible in a cubic form of 15×15 meters. (CMAS)

The competitive diving disciplines have pretty strict standards for record setting, but that means there’s a concrete account of how far we’ve molded our bodies into underwater conduits of energy and propulsion.

Constant Weight Apnea without fins is my favorite because it’s just a diver descending and ascending on their own. They have to  That’s IT! William Trubridge holds the record at 101 meters, or a little over 331 feet. It means Trubridge has gone deeper under the water’s surface than any human in recorded history. He is able to maintain buoyancy, propulsion, breath-control and lung power at the same time. It’s the only way to stay alive.

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