1. Rhapsody in Blue
For all the complex techniques required to succeed, the objective is remarkably simple: Go as deep as you can go on one breath and return to the surface without passing out or dying.
This is the point of freediving. At least the competitive point. And here in the Bahamas, 42 divers from around the world have gathered, like filings to a magnet, at a geological marvel called a blue hole, in this case a 660-foot elevator shaft of ocean water, to see how many stories they can plunge themselves down.
The competition, Vertical Blue, is the Wimbledon of freediving, summoning the planet’s best to battle in perhaps the most amenable freediving waters in the world. As the event’s founder, William Trubridge, who’s spent a lifetime scouring the earth’s surface for conducive spots to go deep, put it to me: “You could not design a better place for freediving if you sat down with pen and paper.”
But this is more than the pinnacle competition of a sport. Yes, the divers here devote their lives to the pursuit of record depths, but they also dedicate themselves to a novel way of interacting with this world and its oceans—and of being alive, of breathing. They come from Italy and Japan and New Zealand and Peru. They live and train in Sardinia and Okinawa and Cyprus and Tulum. They compete in the glorious depths off of Egypt and Turkey and Honduras and Greece. They prepare together, rent group houses on the road, often fall into bed with one another, and occasionally marry. They are specialized professionals but don’t really make any money; their sport hasn’t yet hit the big time. But no matter: To spend time in their midst is to begin to comprehend that they are after something greater, something sublime.
Freediving is, after all, a lifelong opportunity to radically reshape one’s body and mind in the process. In pursuing depth, humans must train their lungs and brains to unlock secret sources of clarity and strength and oxygen and potential that are hidden within the body. They are secrets that, once revealed, make the divers not just more effective at their craft, they argue, but more effective, conscious, skillful, and thoughtful as human beings. There is a shift in perspective. A global realignment within one’s consciousness. The look in their eyes when they talk about this thing…every diver who’s gone truly deep sounds like those rarest of individuals who’ve seen the earth from the moon, or died and been resuscitated.