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Breathe! Breathe!
February 12, 2012 4:23 PM   Subscribe

At 300 feet, the pressure is so extreme that your lungs shrink to the size of oranges and your heart beats at less than half its normal rate to conserve oxygen. You lose some motor control. Most of the blood in your arms and legs has flooded to your body’s core as the vessels in your extremities constrict. Vessels in your lungs swell to several times their normal size so they won’t be crushed by the incredible pressure. Then comes the really hard part. [Open Your Mouth and You're Dead]
posted by vidur (76 comments total) 38 users marked this as a favorite

 
Oh god no. Just...no.
posted by tumid dahlia at 4:28 PM on February 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


eeeek. gonna second tumid dahlia on this: just....no.
posted by easily confused at 4:36 PM on February 12, 2012


Jesus Christ. I'll pass on this activity.
posted by brundlefly at 4:40 PM on February 12, 2012


It's intriguing. Not that I'd try it, but still, pretty neat.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:42 PM on February 12, 2012


The most horrific thing about free diving is that shitty movie about the guy freediving and becoming friends with a dolphin or whatever.
posted by Uppity Pigeon #2 at 4:42 PM on February 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Axl Rose?
posted by mannequito at 4:44 PM on February 12, 2012


There's something about the ocean that makes whatever you're doing, the more stupid and egocentric and childish it is, proportionally more of a delight. I have no other explanation for yachting, or for the way I swim off beaches.
posted by Countess Elena at 4:45 PM on February 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't freedive competitively, but I go down to 30-40 metres fairly routinely. It's very peaceful.
posted by atrazine at 4:48 PM on February 12, 2012


The most horrific thing about free diving is that shitty movie about the guy freediving and becoming friends with a dolphin or whatever.

Un film du Luc Besson!
posted by Artw at 4:52 PM on February 12, 2012 [3 favorites]



The article does not say anything about why you die if you open your mouth.. I would guess pressure?
posted by lundman at 4:53 PM on February 12, 2012


The most horrific thing about free diving is that shitty movie about the guy freediving and becoming friends with a dolphin or whatever.

Ah, I thought you meant this tv show.
posted by jenkinsEar at 4:55 PM on February 12, 2012


That account of Risian swimming away from the rope is terrifying:
At 29 stories down, even in the clearest water, all directions look the same. And all directions feel the same—the water pressure makes it impossible to gauge whether you’re swimming up or down, east or west.
Is James Cameron still making 'The Dive'?
posted by unliteral at 5:04 PM on February 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Amazing.
posted by the young rope-rider at 5:04 PM on February 12, 2012


Their poor testicles.
posted by Burhanistan at 5:07 PM on February 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


I enjoy these features from Outside, thanks. This sounds nearly as terrifying as cave diving, and I say that as someone who's grown up in and around the water, and is quite good at holding my breath.

The death wish that impels some people, I dunno. I'm happy with a nice cup of tea and a fantasy novel that doesn't insult my intelligence too much, you know? I don't need EXTREME TEA.

One thing years of running has taught me is that pushing your limits is - whilst addictive - hurtful. Cause if you keep pushing you will hit the limit, sooner or later. In running, that's typically an injury more often than not, or maybe a spew at the finish line. I find the pain of not being able to run bad enough, if the limit is death... I got too much to live for; There is plenty of skill and challenge in not pushing your limits, despite the thrill. I push myself, to take pleasure without pushing, and I pity those who can't. It may sound patronising, but it's a very adolescent worldview, to my mind.
posted by smoke at 5:08 PM on February 12, 2012 [10 favorites]


Not just no, but hell no. That touches all my childhood terrors in a very exact way -- all you would need to add is a shark encounter and you'd have my perfect nightmare. I liked the article, but I will never, never try the sport myself.
posted by Forktine at 5:08 PM on February 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


Those first two paragraphs - that's how you open an article.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 5:08 PM on February 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


“I was swimming and…” She laughs and continues. “Then I just started dreaming!”

When I was a kid, I had this medical condition that caused me to black out repeatedly. I tried at the time to explain to others how it was almost addicting. Once you get used to the terror of the situation, it becomes this profoundly disconnected sort of dream, in my experience usually characterized by a complete euphoria. I never remembered anything about it other than that it was happy, so happy. It was too draining for me to ever do it intentionally, and evidently I don't have the sort of personality required to seek it out in this way as I'd never do anything like this, but I do wonder if this sensation is somehow a component of that desire.
posted by feloniousmonk at 5:13 PM on February 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


"[Open Your Mouth and You're Dead]"

My wife told me that once....
posted by HuronBob at 5:17 PM on February 12, 2012 [16 favorites]


Wow, fantastic article, vidur. Thanks. The link to Guillame Nery's "Free Fall" video is great, too.
posted by mediareport at 5:20 PM on February 12, 2012


“I was swimming and…” She laughs and continues. “Then I just started dreaming!”

This is why I abandoned a particular meditation involving breath retention. I'd just drift away and gasp and come back with no idea how long I hadn't been breathing. Beautiful when it happens and, yeah, addictive.
posted by cmoj at 5:21 PM on February 12, 2012


Yeah, I would take this out of the "sport" category and put it into "compulsion." It's awe-inspiring, but you know that everyone doing it either ends up dead (which is what happens when you keep "pushing the limits" of your body) or injured, if they don't come to their senses and quit.

I mean, I do get it in a small way; if you're good at something dangerous, and you keep getting awe and respect from others for doing it, it can become your life. And I've felt at various times that sort of deep down fatal curiousity to know just how far you could take some kind of dangerous activity. I can sort of understand not being able to stop.

But it seems like a dumb thing to die for.
posted by emjaybee at 5:21 PM on February 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Our species is capable of some pretty freaky stuff.
posted by humanfont at 5:23 PM on February 12, 2012


I'm impressed that the article did manage to avoid mentioning The Big Blue (which was a reasonably good film, BTW, far from "shitty").
posted by wilful at 5:23 PM on February 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


The whole article both fascinated and disturbed me. Also, did anyone else find themselves holding their breath as they read?
posted by dotgirl at 5:27 PM on February 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


But it seems like a dumb thing to die for.

Is it more dumb to die for eating too many doughnuts, smoking cigarettes or for working too long and driving tired.
posted by humanfont at 5:28 PM on February 12, 2012 [7 favorites]


I assume the bends aren't a danger because you're not down there for long enough?
posted by maxwelton at 5:34 PM on February 12, 2012


The whole article both fascinated and disturbed me. Also, did anyone else find themselves holding their breath as they read?

Yes, it is like email apnea, but not restricted to email alone. In my case, it is often metafilter apnea.
posted by vidur at 5:36 PM on February 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


I assume the bends aren't a danger because you're not down there for long enough?

Free divers don't breathe compressed gas which means that divers don't load up on nitrogen at depth.
posted by atrazine at 5:37 PM on February 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


Is it more dumb to die for eating too many doughnuts, smoking cigarettes or for working too long and driving tired.

Because these are my only two choices?
posted by emjaybee at 5:40 PM on February 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


What a captivating and compelling article. I find this sport/phenomenon absolutely fascinating, astonishing, and awe-inspiring. However, I do wonder about the potential for long-term brain damage.
posted by treepour at 5:40 PM on February 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Free divers don't breathe compressed gas which means that divers don't load up on nitrogen at depth.

According to the article, both carbon dioxide and nitrogen build up in the bloodstream at certain depths. It doesn't seem to matter if you're breathing from a tank or holding your breath.

Which brings me to the scariest part of the article for me. Knowing that after about 30 or 40 feet, water pressure is actually pushing you downward, this:
Before Risian’s dive and per the usual routine, his coach attached the lanyard on Risian’s right ankle to the line. As Risian turned and plummeted, the Velcro securing the lanyard came loose and fell off. ... Meanwhile, 250 feet below, Risian was diving farther down and farther away, oblivious to the problem. At 272 feet, he reached out to grab the metal plate, but there was no plate. “I couldn’t see any tickets, any plate, any rope, nothing,” he said. “I was completely lost. Even when I turned up and looked around, I saw only blue.”

At 29 stories down, even in the clearest water, all directions look the same. And all directions feel the same—the water pressure makes it impossible to gauge whether you’re swimming up or down, east or west.
This right here gave me a serious case of the heebee-jeebees. That is pretty close to my worst nightmare right there.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 5:44 PM on February 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


"I learned long ago that patience is the key to success in freediving,” he says. “You have to forget the target, to enjoy and relax in the water.”

Perhaps confusing enjoying/relaxing in the water with the 'euphoria' before blacking out is how some of these divers have died. Some even died in shallow waters (one died in a pool, training).

I've felt this relaxing/euphoria myself. Years ago at Waimea Bay (summer - no waves) I tried running along underwater carrying a heavy rock. I was only in ten feet of water, but after I really got the hang of it, I was happily running on and on -- feeling as though I didn't even need to breath.

It made me think that this is something I should never do alone.
posted by Surfurrus at 5:44 PM on February 12, 2012


Awfully glad intrepid folks do impossible things and report back about the experience. And writers capture it.

(I'm struggling to breathe myself, just now. *hack* *cough* *wheeze* *sneeze*
Imagining what risks EXTREME TEA might entail... and deciding to attempt an EXTREME NAP instead.)
posted by likeso at 5:45 PM on February 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


Beautiful story.
posted by mightshould at 5:49 PM on February 12, 2012


According to the article, both carbon dioxide and nitrogen build up in the bloodstream at certain depths. It doesn't seem to matter if you're breathing from a tank or holding your breath.

Nitrogen from the air in the lungs will be pushed into the bloodstream as you descend and the pressure inside the lungs increases. The last few metres of the ascent are usually slower to allow this gas to be recycled back into the lungs. Compared to compressed gas diving though, where you can be breathing gas at 4 bar for 20-30 minutes, the nitrogen load is minimal.

A much more dangerous risk with free diving is deep water blackout, this happens during the ascent when the pressure in your lungs falls and the O2 partial pressure drops too low.
posted by atrazine at 5:57 PM on February 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


They secure a safety line with velcro? I've gone hang gliding, and even there, the designers of the harness had the good sense to include loops for carabiners.
posted by LogicalDash at 6:03 PM on February 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


My husband likes to lay on the bottom of the pool holding his breath which freaks out me and the life guards at the local pool. I'm very glad we live where it's too cold to freedive.
posted by vespabelle at 6:08 PM on February 12, 2012


I poked around on the site a bit more after reading this article, and found this one about divers recovering a body from an underwater cave which seemed to be about equally terrifying and strange compulsions.
posted by lollusc at 6:09 PM on February 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


Oh, and ignore the teaser sentence underneath the title if you read the link I just posted. It has nothing whatsoever to do with ghosts, and is not even "nearly unbelievable". The only unbelievable bit is why people feel drawn to take such risks.
posted by lollusc at 6:10 PM on February 12, 2012


Metafilter is very good at linking to fascinating articles about sports I never ever want to have any involvement in and often have nightmares about.
posted by jeather at 6:53 PM on February 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


I don't have nightmares about free diving, of course, I have nightmares about drowning. Also about fires.
posted by jeather at 6:54 PM on February 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Don't need to go deep to die. Definitely don't do this alone, or try to learn by yourself.
posted by sammyo at 7:05 PM on February 12, 2012


After reading this tonight, I used about half the amount of water for the kid's baths as I normally do.
posted by procrastination at 7:13 PM on February 12, 2012


I've blued-out before - SCUBA diving. Visibility was poor and and I lost my landmarks. I have pretty good buoyancy control, so I was neutral in the water. I immediately pumped some air into my BC, and ended up floating up - which was to my left.

I can't imagine having that happen while free-diving. I've gotten lost underwater, gotten separated from buddies in low visibility, gotten split up on wrecks, dove in caverns and caves, done wreck penetrations, but the sheer guts and determination this sort of diving takes is something I don't apparently possess.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:19 PM on February 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I poked around on the site a bit more after reading this article, and found this one about divers recovering a body from an underwater cave which seemed to be about equally terrifying and strange compulsions.

Ok, I had thought the free diving article had touched all my childhood fears. But 927 feet deep in a cave? Dead bodies in the dark, and getting tangled in the rope? I'm sorry, but if you need me I will be in the corner, hugging myself and trembling.
posted by Forktine at 7:21 PM on February 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


The most horrific thing about free diving is that shitty movie about the guy freediving and becoming friends with a dolphin or whatever.
posted by Uppity Pigeon #2 at 4:42


I liked the movie, and from your description of the plot I am going to assume you didn't really watch much of it.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 7:29 PM on February 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah for real. The dolphins in that movie were no problem. It was Rosanna Arquette that sucked. Plus I don't think I have seen Jean Reno play a funny loudmouth in too many movies and he's totally awesome at it!
posted by SharkParty at 7:36 PM on February 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


Also I wonder if, upon hitting a certain depth, you just automatically start hearing fretless bass to let you know you are in a totally tropical situation.
posted by SharkParty at 7:37 PM on February 12, 2012


I Have No Mouth and I Must Swim
posted by cjorgensen at 7:41 PM on February 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I was amazed at the end of the article that Nery, the frenchman, was smoking a cig. Must be able to hold a bong hit for minutes.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 7:50 PM on February 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Forvthose who are interested, video of Michal Risian's dive mentioned in the article is here.
posted by googly at 8:02 PM on February 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Jesus, Lollusc's linked article is a horrorshow too. Especially the (spoiler alert) part where the writer describes Shaw's dying minutes as recorded by his helmetcam. Really gripping stuff, thanks for the link (and for the FPP link too).

My closest brush with diving death was at 25 feet (lol) in the Red Sea, when my diving partner panicked, stripped off his weight belt and blew to the surface. He apparently breached like a porpoise. Scared the bejeezus out of me when he went for it.
posted by jackbrown at 8:36 PM on February 12, 2012


If I had been born with a better body I think it would be 50/50 that I would end up doing something like this. In the past I have remained without breath for for a few ticks shy of 2 mins and came close to forgetting to breath, it ends up being very calm and mentally quiet. Mind you this is not 'in motion', so I have zero illusion of being able to do free diving, and on top of that there are other medical concerns that would keep this body from doing it... in another lifespan with a different meat glove? Possible
posted by edgeways at 8:42 PM on February 12, 2012


video of Michal Risian's dive mentioned in the article is here
Poor Sara Campbell, the look on her face when he pops up in front of her. Priceless.
posted by unliteral at 8:50 PM on February 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


Also, did anyone else find themselves holding their breath as they read?

Oh Jesus now this article is crosswiring for me as some terrifying literary mashup with Chuck Palahniuk's "Guts" and I cannot develop that thought because there is horror and then there is my mind shorting out at the edges.

Inhale.
posted by nicebookrack at 8:50 PM on February 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I read this a couple days ago and thought it was such a great article I should post it but I could not hold my breath long enough to post it. I am not even kidding, every time I started to think about the article I'd stop breathing. (This is also why I sometimes have to leave the theater or pause the DVD during slo-mo underwater sequences.)

I'm glad someone with better breath/fear control than me posted it. *shudder*
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:20 PM on February 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


video of Michal Risian's dive mentioned in the article is here.

Can I just say, as someone who knows little of this sport and nothing of the specific details of Risian's dive beyond what was mentioned in the article: fuck that guy in the yellow who watched the diver's lanyard come off, shrugged instead of trying to swim down and stop him before he dived to his death, then when the diver miraculously survived by finding another rope, said, "That's a DQ."

No, DQ you, you big DQ! You're disqualified at life!
posted by The Tensor at 9:24 PM on February 12, 2012 [9 favorites]


The Tensor: Lawrence Lemieux, an olympic sailor, quit his race in the 1988 Olympics to go back and make a rescue. The jury of the International Yacht Racing Union unanimously decided that he should be awarded the silver medal (the position he was in when he went to the aid of the Singapore crew). That's an athlete! That's a sport!
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 9:42 PM on February 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Can I just say, as someone who knows little of this sport and nothing of the specific details of Risian's dive beyond what was mentioned in the article: fuck that guy in the yellow who watched the diver's lanyard come off, shrugged instead of trying to swim down and stop him before he dived to his death, then when the diver miraculously survived by finding another rope, said, "That's a DQ."

I don't understand the specifics of this, but the article had this to say:
Before Risian’s dive and per the usual routine, his coach attached the lanyard on Risian’s right ankle to the line. As Risian turned and plummeted, the Velcro securing the lanyard came loose and fell off. The safety divers saw it floating, unattached, and rushed down to stop Risian, but he was already gone, 100 feet deep.
posted by vidur at 9:54 PM on February 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


LogicalDash: They secure a safety line with velcro? I've gone hang gliding, and even there, the designers of the harness had the good sense to include loops for carabiners.

Maybe it's intentionally weak? A diver could force-break a safety line with velcro if it was tangled or stuck, even if they were panicked or had poor motor control.
posted by Mitrovarr at 10:54 PM on February 12, 2012


“I remember diving one day, to maybe 60 feet, and lying down in a sea garden, relaxing, meditating, watching all the life and just being part of the environment,” he says. “Not having to breathe for a minute or two. It was just the most amazing and peaceful feeling you can imagine.”

At this point, I briefly thought, "Oh, yes, I suppose that's understandable--" before my lizard brain kicked in and viscerally reminded me of that terrifying feeling of being underwater, out of breath, and desperately trying to reach air. Hell, I have never actually been in a position where I was in serious danger of dying this way, but those small moments where I got disoriented while swimming in the ocean, or stayed underwater a bit too long were quite enough for me. It's fascinating and amazing that people willingly and happily free dive, but holy shit, it is just a disaster waiting to happen.
posted by yasaman at 11:53 PM on February 12, 2012


I think it's kind of fucked up that everyone, including Risian, openly celebrated his brush with death.
posted by LogicalDash at 6:00 AM on February 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Burhanistan: "Their poor testicles."

Don't worry. As they ascend they grow to the size of bowling balls.
posted by Splunge at 6:23 AM on February 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


JAMES NESTOR reports on the amazingly fit, unques­tionably brave, and possibly crazy people who line up for the ultimate plunge.

Possibly?

King is in the hospital. Nobody knows for sure, but the rumor is that the pressure tore his larynx, which is fairly common on deep dives. A minor injury, they say.

I have seen enough laryngeal injuries to know that for the most part there is no such thing as a "minor" injury there. You need an intact larynx to breathe (among other things) unless you have a tracheostomy. After reading this I can see some of those people doing just that, though, if it will help them go deeper.

Finally, the cave diver mentioned above was the topic of this FPP, which includes the Outside article and other links, and another post about cave diving and its dangers is here.
posted by TedW at 7:40 AM on February 13, 2012


For the divers, do their ears pop? With tanks, the pressure from the tank equalizes the pressure in your lungs and sinuses, but without that equalization, how do their ears not flat out rupture from the pressure so far under?
posted by I am the Walrus at 8:24 AM on February 13, 2012


According to the article that's one of the things they have to do themselves as they descend.
posted by Splunge at 9:39 AM on February 13, 2012


I started reading this last night, and I had to stop partway through because I had an adrenaline spike like I think I've never had just from reading words. I was holding my breath, my heart was pounding. These are the craziest damn fools I've ever heard of.
posted by KathrynT at 10:11 AM on February 13, 2012


Can I just say, as someone who knows little of this sport and nothing of the specific details of Risian's dive beyond what was mentioned in the article: fuck that guy in the yellow who watched the diver's lanyard come off, shrugged instead of trying to swim down and stop him before he dived to his death, then when the diver miraculously survived by finding another rope, said, "That's a DQ."

Someone immediately dove after him. You want guy-in-yellow to dive after him with no safety equipment himself? It's a competition. Why would you think guy-in-yellow would be able to reach him?
posted by benbenson at 10:17 AM on February 13, 2012


So they bounce sound off the divers to do the sonar...
Why not have the divers have something making a sound that can be picked up and tracked? Or am I missing something obvious?
posted by edd at 1:35 PM on February 13, 2012


For the divers, do their ears pop? With tanks, the pressure from the tank equalizes the pressure in your lungs and sinuses, but without that equalization, how do their ears not flat out rupture from the pressure so far under?

The space between your outer ear and your inner ear is filled with air, and connected to your sinuses with the Eustachian tubes. Those tubes are usually closed, and they will close up completely under pressure, so you have to equalise continuously or your eardrum will burst. The easiest technique to equalise is to blow against a pinched closed nose, this is the valsalva manuever, unfortunately this requires quite a lot of air and is hard to use for deep diving free divers who don't have access to ambient pressure breathing gas.

A more advanced technique is the Frenzel which requires conscious control over your epiglottis and hard palate.

Basically you close the epiglottis to isolate the mouth+nose from your lungs, open your hard palate so that pressure can travel from mouth to nose, then click your tongue backwards like a piston so that the pressure rises, pushes open the tubes and equalises your middle ears. It's as hard to learn as it sounds.
posted by atrazine at 2:16 PM on February 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Is that the noise that Felix Unger makes in the Odd Couple?
posted by Splunge at 2:34 PM on February 13, 2012


Someone immediately dove after him. You want guy-in-yellow to dive after him with no safety equipment himself?

What seemed weird to me was that the yellow guy knew what had happened, but didn't say anything until he was directly asked. One of the others said something like, "What's that line floating there?" and he said all nonchalant, "His velcro came off", and THEN the other guy dived after him. It seemed like quite a few seconds were lost that might have made a big difference, if yellow guy had alerted them immediately, or dived himself as soon as he saw what had happened.
posted by lollusc at 3:16 PM on February 13, 2012


No thanks. I'm going to opt for competitive hitting myself in the head with a hammer. Seems safer and I'm not much of a swimmer.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 5:56 PM on February 13, 2012


BMEzine is two doors to the left
posted by LogicalDash at 6:32 PM on February 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Reminds me of the harrowing short story "Through the Tunnel."
posted by Rhaomi at 11:16 AM on February 19, 2012


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