William Trubridge on Monday accomplished what had long been regarded as an impossible feat: swimming to a depth of 100 meters, or 328 feet, on a single breath and with only hands and feet for propulsion.
The New Zealander did not use swim fins; he wore no weights and required no heavy sled during the descent. Nor did he use an inflatable airbag to swiftly reach the surface after his dive.
Rather, he set a new unassisted freediving record and achieved the historic 100-meter mark -- previously attained only in an assisted manner, with weighted sleds and airbags -- while wearing only a thin wetsuit and displaying remarkable power of mind over body.
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"It's different than when you use sleds and airbags," Trubridge said of a his dive, made at Dean's Blue Hole in the Bahamas. "Because when you turn around at 100 meters and start swimming back to the surface with just your hands and feet, it can be a little bit daunting because of how much water you have over your head."
A diver cannot always see the surface at 328 feet. It's more than three times deeper than what's considered safe for recreational scuba divers, who must ascend from any significant depth at a painstakingly slow pace to avoid developing embolisms in the bloodstream, associated with breathing compressed air.
Trubridge held his breath for 4 minutes, 10 seconds, from start to finish. In reaching 100 meters he matched a depth first attained by a freediver in 1976, when Jacques Mayol completed his dive using a weighted sled and inflatable airbag. Mayol's exploits were legendary. The Frenchman was portrayed in the 1988 adventure movie "The Big Blue," which delved into the obscure sport of freediving.
Trubidge's accomplishment, however, reveals how far breath-hold diving has evolved, and to what extreme the human body and mind are capable of coping. At 100 meters, lungs fill with blood as a natural means of preventing their collapse. The heart rate slows to the point where a diver can become disoriented, feeling either sleepy or euphoric.
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"So you need to stay focused with all of those things going on," said Trubridge, who has dominated the unassisted category of breath-hold diving since achieving 80 meters for a then-record in 2007.
Trubridge, an instructor at the Vertical Blue Apnea Academy in the Bahamas, named his long-planned endeavor Project Hector and was trying to raise awareness for Hector's Dolphins, diminutive mammals that are endemic to New Zealand and face the threat of extinction, largely because of indiscriminate fishing methods and pollution.
The freediver requests that anyone interested in learning more about the dolphins visit the New Zealand Whale and Dolphin Trust website.
-- Images of William Trubridge en route to 100 meters and back at the surface are courtesy of Paolo Valenti and Igor Liberti, respectively