Deep: Freediving, Renegade Science And What The Ocean Tells Us About Ourselves, by James Nestor
At first it was difficult for me to share the astonishment and shock James Nestor expresses upon his initialisation to the world of freediving. I’ve been a fan and admirer of it for years. Ever since I was a kid I dreamed of swimming deeper and further, the ocean being the ultimate gateway. When there was no ocean around pools, lakes and rivers served me just fine. Up until a a few years ago I could hold my breath easily for more than two minutes. I used to go to the bottom of five meter pools and just lay there until I was forced to go back up and suck on that ugly teat of life. But up I went because I new that all I had to do was take a deeper breath and I could go back down to my tranquility. Of course, the deepest part of pools was usually under some diving board area. Before I could get enough tranquility someone would always come over to me and ask that I stop what I was doing because I was in the way of those wanting to use the diving board. Safety, rules, regulations come first, eh? I would nod to the local-yocal policing-person–you know the type: the person in a public place that can’t mind her/his own bidness. In the back of my mind I would tell that person to fuck-off, hoping, wishing, that fireworks would burn out of his ass. Then, for shits & giggles–and for my exit from tranquility–I’d take a deep breath, find my way to the bottom of the pool, close my eyes and slowly crawl along the edge, away from the diving board area, up the slope to the one meter swimming area, the whole time following the ocean that is the lie of my mind.
When I was a kid we used to camp along the Indian River Inlet in Rehoboth, DE. The inlet was a great place for fishing because of how it was artificially maintained. Huge boulders and rocks lined the inlet making it both a home and a hunting ground–besides providing access to the ocean. The constant turbulence of seawater being exchanged from the Atlantic and the brackish water from the Indian River Bay made it a lazy fisherman’s dream. There were times you could cast a line with a worm rig and within minutes you’d be reeling in Tautog or Black Drum. But there was a catch to fishing there. Those fancy lures and hooks would get caught on the rocks of the inlet. You were guaranteed to lose rigs. You could hear the fisherman at times cursing the rocks. Which brings me to my first scuba experience.
My stepfather started scuba in the mid to early sixties. He owned all his own gear, including regulator and tank–stuff that looked like it was right out of an early Bond movie. I’d strap on that tank, throw the mouth piece of the two stage regulator hose over my head and started sucking. “Breath normal,” he’d say. “And don’t leave the rocks.” I filled my mask with spit, wipe the glass, and then covered my face. I wore thick plastic gloves so that the hooks wouldn’t pierce my skin and strap-on sandals to protect my feet. Other than that I wore a bathing suit. I would submerge myself without fins–because I wasn’t supposed to swim anywhere, just pull and/or walk along the boulders a few feet under the surface. I’d go under and in a few minutes return with a handful of perfectly useable and sellable fishing rigs. I paid for a lot of rides and cotton candy at Ocean City, MD, boardwalk that summer by selling those rigs. Cool.
It took twenty-five years before I would strap on scuba gear again. My better-half, who was already a master diver when I met her, was skeptical (as all Germans are) when I told her that I would gladly get certified to go diving with her. Part of her skepticism was that it took her, even after getting certified, about fifty dives before she felt comfortable at depth. Within a few days, in the middle of late winter in Germany, I got my scuba certification–diving in a lake in Hessen that was almost frozen. Needless to say, I quickly proved my diving worthiness. It’s like riding a bike, I said. But there’s one problem. Now with more than a hundred dives behind me, having experienced places like The Red Sea, Bali, Thailand, etc., I have to admit that something is missing. Every time I get in the water with that tank strapped to me I know that there is something else out there. Something more. Something more tranquil.
The thing is, when I dream about diving–and I dream about it all the time–I never dream that I’m wearing an aqualung. I dream of freediving. Heck, even when I walk our dog I hold my breath for as long as I can–thinking about how soft ocean water feels on my skin. When I walk through forests I don’t see trees and leaves and green. I see an ocean vastness where I’m condemned (for all my crimes) to walk on its floor with my feet. So I shut my eyes and start mis-echolocating and bumping into trees. Indeed. Bumping into trees while dreaming about oceans. It’s my dog’s laughter that makes me open my eyes again.
James Nestor has written a stunning, beautiful book that I didn’t know I was lusting to read for a long, long time. When I read about Natalia Molchanova dying recently during a practice freedive I became a bit obsessed with trying to understand not only the mechanics of freediving but the emotional attachment that so many have to it. Even though I’m only a muggle (scuba diver) and not a magician (freediver) I think I can understand what these people feel–not only at depth but the longing to be in the salty-sweet bosom of The Big Her. Mr. Nestor answered most of the questions I had regarding this sport. Also, Nestor, without condemning the sport, makes it quite clear why freediving as competition is probably not worth the danger. In recent years there have been too many deaths. Yet something drives people to compete and dive further, deeper, deeper. I get that.
Nestor saves the day, though. The way he articulates the beauty of freediving, the importance of the ocean on this (our) blue planet or some of the science behind how sperm whales communicate, is worth every word. This is one of those books that I got through in a matter of hours and the whole time regretting that the reading would eventually come to an end.
Rant on. -Tommi (a freediving dreamer)