This is one of those books about a niche activity that you don’t have to be interested in to appreciate. Freediving — a sport whose aim is to plunge as deeply underwater as possible with just a single breath — is the kind of high-risk adrenalin pursuit featured in documentaries that come with tense backing music and a gravelly voiceover. It’s also a sport that attracts very particular personality types, which makes for some off-the-wall drama.
Written by seasoned US travel journalist Adam Skolnick, this is no great work of literature but rather offers a privileged window into one man’s tragic story, while shedding light on an obscure sport that tests the limits of human endurance.
At depths of 100ft, a diver’s organs compress, natural light vanishes and one mistake can kill you — like Nicholas Mevoli, one of the sport’s brightest stars, who died when he attempted to set an American record at the Vertical Blue competition at Dean’s Blue Hole in the Bahamas in 2013.
The book examines Mevoli’s nerves of steel, his spiritual take on life and, in the end, his sudden demise. It also leads readers through the dark otherworld of the human mind. In short: this is a vicarious thrill that you can enjoy in a little over 300 pages and unless you read it in the bath, you don’t even have to get wet. Just remember to breathe.
One Breath: Freediving, Death, and the Quest to Shatter Human Limits by Adam Skolnick, is published by Cosair, RRP: £20
Published in the Jan/Feb 2016 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)