All of these techniques and training methods carry with them a significant risk to one’s safety. Exceeding the limits of oxygen deprivation can lead to loss of consciousness or even to death, while extended exposure to pure oxygen carries its own set of risks. Hyperventilating can cause you to pass out, and there is evidence that suggests buccal-pumping can actually cause your lungs to rupture.
It is for these reasons that freedivers rarely practice breath-holding unsupervised, or in or around even shallow water; after all: when you’re blacked out, it doesn’t matter how deep the water is.
The jury is still out on whether repeated bouts of extended apnea is hazardous to your brain in the long term, but it should still give budding breath-holders pause to know that death is not unknown to freediving.
The sport’s last major loss occurred last November, when 32-year-old Nicholas Mevoli died while attempting a record-setting free-dive of 236 feet. He was underwater for 3 minutes and 38 seconds, and while he returned to the surface by his own power, he lost conscious shortly after surfacing and was pronounced dead soon thereafter.
Studies that predict future performance in competitive diving claim that there’s still a ways to go before the physiological limits of the sport are met, noting that current training methods and strategies suggest that duration can be prolonged still further.
Divers, themselves, suggest the ultimate limit, unaided by oxygen, will be 15-minutes. AIDA’s official statement claimed that Mevoli’s death was the first in more than 20 years of its competitions. Given the pursuit of that 15-minute barrier, and other, more extreme diving performances, it’s hard to believe that his will be the last.
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