The history of humans under the sea has little connection to their history above it. Apnea diving or freediving is the oldest and most primal form of human underwater activity. Thucydides (460-395 BCE) writes of frogmen and combat divers who did battle in the Peloponnesian War. The divers of antiquity, who discovered the absurd secret of a fascinating and otherworldly realm of creation in which reason could no longer triumph over nature’s dangerous caprices, were in fact the very first space explorers. Menacing stillness, darkness, and the unbearable pressure of water received them in the depths. Compared to scuba diving, freediving is now a small, specialized scene. In competitive freediving, ever-longer apnea or breath-holding times, and greater depths and distances, are sought through targeted training, which requires disciplined mental and physical practice. What exactly happens to humans under such extreme conditions often remains unexplained by science and medicine. And after the almost-complete exploitation of the earth’s oceans, this lack of knowledge seems to be the last remnant of our erstwhile dread of the underwater world. It is the fascination and simultaneous contagiousness of temporarily surrendering oneself to the deep blue sea through personal passion that leads to new mental and physical human accomplishments both underwater and in general. This fully applies to Austrian freediver, Herbert Nitsch, “the deepest man on earth.” Though he never acquired a diver’s license, he has set 33 world records in all nine apnea disciplines. He can fill his lungs with 15 liters of air and hold his breath for over nine minutes. In 2012, Nitsch broke his own world record by descending to 253 meters (830 ft), a depth at which even diving watches break. His record remains unbroken, but it led to severe personal consequences. Nitsch suffered multiple strokes, was paralyzed and briefly in a coma, and then had to gradually regain his memory and painstakingly relearn to write, speak, and walk. Yet his will to survive brought this Vienna native back from all that, for he had learned one thing: to never give up.
DER KONTERFEI 039