I take my final breath and then pack extra air into my stretching lungs. I need to get in as much as possible because my lungs will soon be compressed down to one-ninth the size they are here at the surface. This final breath can also cause problems if done improperly – I don’t want too much of a good thing, even if that good thing is air… —World record freediver Mandy Rae Krack
What is Freediving? It’s essentially deep snorkeling: swimming underwater on a single breath of air. Most of the world’s freedivers do it recreationally, to take pictures or get their dinner. I was drawn to it for the challenge and competitive thrill.
When I enter the water to start prepping for a world record dive it is all about the breath. Slow breaths not only help relax and focus but they are done in a manner that helps induce bradycardia, a slowing of the heart rate. This is big, as a fast heart beat means I will use too much oxygen and that could ruin the dive and cause a blackout instead of a world record.
I lie on my back and breathe slowly with long exhalations. Then with one minute remaining I breathe slightly faster to help get rid of excess CO2 while still oxygenating. Even these breaths can cause problems, though — do too many or breathe too deeply or quickly and it could also cause me to black out.
On the actual dive I am fully focused on the technique that will get me from the surface to 88 metres and back again. Nothing else is allowed in my mind. I do allow a brief moment of joy after I grab the tag at world record depth. “Yes! I am deeper than anyone else has ever gone!” Then it’s back to technique, as I am only halfway there.
Upon returning to the surface I don’t feel starved for air. In fact, after just six breaths I am able to remove my goggles and nose clip, give a sign with my fingers to signal to the judges that I am OK. No panting, no gasping for air.
Even at 88 metres below the surface, deeper than anyone has ever been on a single breath, never have I ever felt like the lack of breathing was scary or limiting. The cessation of breathing is voluntary and welcomed, a challenge that I accept. It allows me to become more like a dolphin or a whale, to explore the underwater world in a way very few people ever will. For a freediver, the lack of air means freedom.
Mandy Rae Krack holds twelve national and seven world records and currently lives in British Columbia with her husband and daughter. She offers freediving instruction to anyone interested in building up a one-breath relationship with the big blue.