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Meditating in the depths

Meditating in the depths
/ MIGUE FERNÁNDEZ
  • The practice of apnea is becoming better-known and one of the best in the world at diving without oxygen lives in Nerja. Davide Carrera can descend more than 100 metres on a single breath. Only two or three people in the world have the ability to do that

Davide Carrera inhales and exhales intently. His ribcage rises and falls as if it were plasticine. His custom-made neoprene fits like a second skin. He applies some soap so his feet can get into a giant carbon fin that brings to mind images of a mermaid.

It's summer in Nerja and the clock says it is 10am. The anchor has just connected with the seabed and the zodiac, which has room for six people, floats calmly on a day that could almost have been ordered from a catalogue. The first beachgoers are arriving and a pattern of coloured sunshades starts to appear on the sands.

From the sea, the shore now seems quite distant. Davide concentrates and compresses his lungs for the last time before relaxing for ten seconds. He drops into the water and floats, face up. He stays like that for several more minutes. When his concentration reaches its peak he turns his face 45 degrees and disappears into the depths of the sea.

The seconds tick away. Two minutes pass before he emerges on the surface again.

Davide practises apnea, the most natural type of diving there is. It consists of descending to great depths with no type of assistance, without breathing. He recently set a new Spanish record in an international competition in Honduras, by diving down to 122 metres. There are only two or three people in the world who could do that.

Davide, who could be described as the Messi of apnea, has lived in Nerja since 2016. Until then, he had always been a nomad. If it wasn't Sardinia, it was a beach in Thailand. If he wasn't living in Hawaii, he was spending a few months in the Caribbean. He also tried the Balearics, but couldn't find anywhere like the home he has made in La Axarquía.

"I ended up buying a small piece of land, so that's a sign that I want to stay here," he says, with an Italian accent.

A fairly ambitious snorkeller could follow him to a depth of ten metres. A sports diver, properly trained, to 40. At a depth of 70 metres, the pressure compresses Davide's lungs to one-eighth of the size they are on the surface. With every metre he drops down, his heart rate slows and the blood vessels in his arms and legs constrict.

Suspending respiration causes several reactions in the body. One is an increase of carbon dioxide in the blood. At a certain point in the descent, the natural stimulus of wanting to take in air is activated. Davide describes it like wanting to sneeze or a sudden cough. The diaphragm contracts and the brain starts to send signals which he needs to know how to control.

"That's a critical moment, but you can train your mind to suppress the most basic instincts. Our bodies can do a lot more than we think they can," he says, emphasising the psychological factor in this. Meditation, yoga and a healthy diet are also part of his routines.

Dangerous?

Apnea diving, says David, who was born in Turin, is seen from outside as an activity which is much more dangerous than it really is. He is accompanied by several divers every time he does it. They go down about 20 metres when he starts to ascend. That is where the risk is high. In addition to the spent oxygen, there is the difficulty of dealing with the decompression. If he doesn't handle it well, he is guaranteed to pass out. Panic and adrenalin are the antichrist of apnea.

Davide is 45 and he has been through some critical situations. He knows what it is like to lose consciousness in the water or for half his body to be paralysed.

"Accidents happen when you force yourself too much. It's important to read what your body is telling you," he says, recognising that youth and ego have sometimes been to blame in his past.

Controlling breathing is another key. Divers who practise apnea use a technique called buccal pumping. Once they feel they have inhaled as much air as they can, they manage to push five more litres into their lungs. When they do it, they look like fish gasping on the shore.

There are limits to apnea, but they keep changing. Years ago, any doctor would have said it was impossible to dive more than 40 metres without a tank. Jacques Mayoral and Enzo Maiorca, two pioneers in apnea, corrected that supposition, metre by metre. In 1976, Mayoral became the first person ever to break the 100-metre barrier.

If you ask Davide if he believes he has gone as far as he can go, he shakes his head. This summer he plans to carry on training in Nerja. If someone comes along and tries to beat his record, he wants to make sure he is ready for them.