Take A Deep Breath

published in Jetstar, Nov 2013; with photo of Ai by Aaron Wong

“What foolhardy situation have I gotten myself into now?” I thought as I clung nervously to the bobbing float that had been set up in the middle of the Banda Sea. I shuddered, not from cold – the water was a comfortably warm 28ºC; but from the prospect that I might die.

An hour earlier, in a gung-ho mood, I had signed up for freediving at the Wakatobi Dive Resort, on a remote island off Sulawesi. Whilst scuba diving over several days, I had watched with fascination and envy, a lone freediver, unencumbered by clunky equipment, manoeuvering amongst the myriad of coral and fishes.

In Besson’s movie, The Big Blue, professional ‘No-Limit’ competitive divers, used a weighted sled, accelerating rapidly down hundreds of metres and then inflated a balloon to propel themselves back to the surface.

Ai Futaki, my instructor assured me that with no records to break in recreational freediving or ‘Free Immersion Apnea’, all I had to learn was effortless breath holding. I would to pull myself down a rope. I was in good hands, after all, Ai is a Guinness Book of Record holder for “The Longest distance swam in a cave with one breath, with fins for 100m and without fins for 90m.” Tanned and diminutive, Ai radiated calm and confidence. But why did I have doubts?

I thought of mountaineers who related that getting to the summit was only half the journey. If I were to make my goal of 10 meters down, would I have enough air and composure to resurface?

“Forget your ego!”, Ai snapped me out of my doomsday thoughts. “Breath holding is only about 60 seconds. Besides, I will be alongside you all the way”.

Clinging onto the float, I begin the yoga breathing that Ai taught me – to maximize my lung capacity and also quiet my mind. I descend. First attempt – my low density mask fills with water. Second attempt – I forget to equalize. Third attempt – I want out, before I drown. On my fifth attempt, with slow pulls down the line, I make it to the bottom.

Exhilarated, I notice the unearthly quiet of my darkened surroundings with sun rays streaming through the water. Batfish swim by nonchalantly. I even forget I’m holding my breath. Too soon, Ai signals for me to ascend. I obey.

Back on the bobbing float, I’ve never felt more alive. So close to death.

Where to do it