Deep (James Nestor)

Deep: Freediving, Renegade Science, and What the Ocean Tells Us about OurselvesDeep: Freediving, Renegade Science, and What the Ocean Tells Us about Ourselves by James Nestor

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“In a world of seven billion people, where every inch of land has been mapped, much of it developed, and too much of it destroyed, the sea remains the final unseen, untouched, and undiscovered wilderness, the planet’s last great frontier. There are no mobile phones down there, no emails, no tweeting, no twerking, no car keys to lose, no terrorist threats, no birthdays to forget, no penalties for late credit card payments, and no dog shit to step in before a job interview. All the stress, noise, and distractions of life are left at the surface. The ocean is the last truly quiet place on Earth.”

I only heard of freediving 3 months ago. It appealed immensely to me.

I love the marine world; my second dream job was to be a marine biologist. Snorkelling in Tioman when I was 13 allowed me to see this whole new world; but I could only remain at the top. Scuba diving when I was 23 allowed me to touch it; but at the price of headaches and clumsiness. So when I experienced the freedom of swimming with humpback whales with nothing but a swimsuit and fins, I was sold: I had to learn freediving.

I swim far better than I run. So it is little surprise to me that we are more amphibious than we knew we were.

But reading Deep jolted me sharply out of my enthusiastic idealism. Stories of how normal it is for competitive freedivers to bleed and/or blackout spooked me. And I have already bought my ticket to Philippines and paid a 50% deposit for my freediving course.

My consolation is that I am diving to 20m rather than 100m. And I will be swimming with a school of sardines. Not a school of sharks, or a pod of sperm whales. That comes later.

Nestor combines a journalist’s eye for story and an academic’s attention to research in a compelling piece on the dangers, mysteries, and (perhaps most of all) allures of diving and the deep. Whether he is describing the sinking dread of waiting too long for competitive divers to surface, the vibrant weirdness of hadal sea life, or the serenity of being helpless in an unlicensed self-constructued submarine beneath 2000ft of seawater – his words grip you.

Reading this before my trip was probably a godsend. I am more aware of the risks of freediving. But I am also more aware of its draws. The whole book rings with his disapproval of egoistic competition, sharply contrasted against his passion for the marine world, and his marvel at the human body’s amphibious potential.

Ultimately, his message is this. We have limits. Discover them, but respect them. Don’t break them.

“I took a breath, grabbed my nose, upturned, and dove down to join them. I saw Guy Gazzo first. He was hovering in zero gravity, his fingers interlocked behind his head as if he were napping on an imaginary chaise longue. Schnöller stretched out fully beside him, spinning in lazy horizontal circles like a thrown baton. Below them, some seven stories from the surface, Prinsloo and her beau, Marshall, swam double helixes around each other until they all but faded away into the shadows.

What are we? I thought to myself. And with every breath I hold, I still wonder.”

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3 thoughts on “Deep (James Nestor)

  1. Welcome to the Philippines! By “swimming with a school of sardines”, do you mean your course is in Cebu? From somone who tried out freediving, don’t worry about the blackouts and barotrauma. Although they’re part of the sport’s philosophy of pushing yourself deeper into the ocean (and into yourself), there are plenty of safety precautions around.

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About Mel

I dreamt I was a whale.