The Secrets of The Worlds Greatest Freediver – GQ Magazine

During my time in the Bahamas, I bump up against the edges of this family. For example, while waiting for Alexey to wake up from a nap one afternoon, his housemate Arnaud Jerald (the new Constant Weight Bi-Fins world-record holder until Alexey breaks it five days later) insists on making me an omelette and salade. He is from Marseille, has been at this house near the blue hole for a month, training and taking pictures. He has grand designs for his life in the sport, a plan to excite more high-end sponsors into supporting freediving. He just signed with Richard Millemaking him one of the few freedivers to ink an endorsement deal with a luxury-watch company. He shows me some underwater photos that his partner, Charlotte, had just taken of him in a polo walking on the edge of the blue hole, like it was the surface of a distant planet. He wants would-be sponsors to see what's possible with divers in the picture.

At a waterfront restaurant one night, sitting at the bar and reading a book, I find myself surrounded by a third of the field of divers. There are groupings that I relish. Pods of nationalities. Clusters by age. A married couple. A couple that might like to be married. I count off the countries represented in my midst: Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Chile, Turkey, Italy, Slovenia, France, Tunisia, and Mexico. On the beach each day are competitors, of course, but there are also mothers and fathers and sons and daughters. While a Czech diver pursues records, her young daughter snorkels in the shallows. The son of an Italian national-record holder is well on his way to matching his father's tan. There are babies, too, like I've never seen in the water. Naked little infants squawking in the waves. You come this far for this long, everyone comes with.

Alexey was as talented as anyone alive at shrinking the focal length to practically zero. It was his great gift. The thing that made it possible for him to go deeper on one breath than anyone.

At the restaurant, I help Turkey's top female diver, Sahika Ercumen, find some fish on the menu that isn't fried. She's known Alexey since they were teenagers, since he had hair, she says, smiling. 2006, Tenerife. Natalia was there. We were kids, and now he has a baby. They came up together, live in their respective corners of the world, but then, a few times a year, there are events like this one, with this family, where, Ercumen says, it's just about making these memories together. Ercumen had COVID last year, was terrified about how it would react with her asthma, what it would do to her lungs. Over the course of her six dives, she set five new Turkish records.

All gratitude for the annual family reunion is owed to William Trubridge, the founder of Vertical Blue and one of freediving's all-timers. Alexey would ultimately break three of the four world records in the competitive depth disciplines at this year's Vertical Blue, but the fourth is still held by Trubridge, in his specialty discipline, Constant Weight No Fins. No Fins is considered the purest of the dives, as it most resembles the sort of purpose-driven plunges that humans have been taking for thousands of years, to spearfish, to scoop sponges and pearls, to explore the ocean.

Raised in New Zealand, Trubridge moved to Long Island, not far from Dean's Blue Hole, in 2006, to train. Since then, freediving and Vertical Blue have experienced a rapid evolution. By 2010, he had built a world-class competition. Then, in 2013, in just its sixth edition, tragedy struck. An American diver named Nicholas Mevoli experienced a pulmonary hemorrhage caused by barometric pressure and died at a medical center near the blue hole. Still nascent by the standards of most organized sports, freediving has a growing infrastructure in place for better education, better training, and safer competition. When I ask Trubridge what prior accounts of freediving tend to get wrong, he thinks for a moment, then says the sensationalism of it: Some people have only focused on the coughing up blood, the blacking out. That is part of it, sure, and that's a risk that is there. But it's like auto sports: If you were to just focus on the crashes, you wouldn't be telling the story in full.

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The Secrets of The Worlds Greatest Freediver - GQ Magazine

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