Davide Carrera at the entrance of Dean's Blue Hole. / DAAN VERHOEVEN

The thrill of freediving in the Bahamas

Nerja-based Davide Carrera has just entered the record books, descending 123 metres without oxygen at Dean's Blue Hole, a mecca for divers, at the invitation-only Vertical Blue Dive competition

MATIAS STUBER

Pull, pause, exhale, pause, silence and more silence. One last breath, compressing the rib cage to the maximum, for eight seconds, until his lungs fill with enough air. This is how freediver Davide Carrera is able to survive the next almost four minutes without breathing.

Carrera, who is 47, is among the best freedivers in the world. He doesn't take anything but risks when he goes diving and when asked what the first breath after surfacing tastes like, he answers: "It tastes like life".

The Italian has been based in Nerja for several years, where he goes out every week with his boat and trains in the depths of the Alboran Sea. He has dived in practically every sea on the planet and has just been in the Bahamas, where the mecca of all freedivers is located: Dean's Blue Hole, which is over 200 metres deep and has a diameter of 30 metres.

National record

From above, Dean's Hole resembles an amphitheatre of rocks overlooking a lagoon that glows a deep turquoise colour. And there Davide, who already held several national records, has just achieved another at the Vertical Blue Dive competition, descending without oxygen to a depth of 123 metres, and in just three minutes and 21 seconds.

The Vertical Blue Dive is considered the Mecca of freediving. It brings together the 37 best freedivers in the world, and participation is by invitation only.

Davide was one of those privileged few. He is one of the fastest freedivers in the water, able to spend almost four minutes underwater without breathing. In his first dive he managed to descend to 120 metres, but he had set himself the goal of reaching 123 because the record for an Italian diver stood at 122 metres. "At this point, a metre is the world," he said.

Freediving is a highly competitive sport. It is about rankings, personal bests and world records. Davide first competed in 1996, making him one of the oldest competitors.

Diving so deep without oxygen means extreme exposure to the world around you. You have to deal with the descent, with the water, with your body, with your mind and with your own limits.

Panic, Davide points out, is a diver's worst enemy. That is also why he stresses the importance of knowing how to control the tensest moments that can occur during a dive, such as the urge to want to breathe when you are underwater: "Fear manages itself. It is not that difficult. What happens is that most people reject fear. When fear comes, people tend to run away. Fear has to be experienced in order to overcome it little by little."

Calculated risk

Although he talks about "calculated risk" there is still room for error. The pressure generated deep below the surface causes the lungs to become more and more compressed and smaller the deeper the diver descends. The deeper they go, the greater the risk of injury. Lack of oxygen can lead to fainting. That is why every freediver is accompanied by safety divers. But they don't start working until a depth of 33 metres.

Everything that happens below the surface is monitored by camera and divers are attached to a cable. If the judges, from above, see anything unusual, they are able to intervene.

However, despite the risks, it is still considered a relatively safe sport. In 20 years of competition only one freediver has died and that was because he became ill while diving. "Freediving is suitable for everyone. Once you start it is like a journey. To progress you have to work on yourself, not only on a physical level, but also a lot on a mental and emotional level," Davide stresses.

He explains that at 30 metres the air in the body compresses so much that the body goes into something like "free fall". He drops like a stone while his heart rate slows down. The reward, at 123 metres below the surface, is a view that only a few people in the world are privileged enough to enjoy.