“Halfway between an edge-of-your-seat thriller and a tragedy” – The Times
On 17th November 2013, at Dean’s Blue Hole in the Bahamas, Nick Mevoli became the first competitive freediver to die during a professional event, whilst competing at Vertical Blue. Journalist Adam Skolnick was there on that fateful day and was inspired to write a book on the tragedy and the events that led up to and followed it. In his 2016 book ‘One Breath: Freediving, Death and the Quest to Shatter Human Limits’ he surpassed his goal with flying colours. In it he explores not only one of this niche sport’s darkest days, but also the life of Nick Mevoli and the psychology behind what drove him to push himself to the very limit. It is a fantastic read that shines a light on one of the most incredible yet least understood sports, in addition to exploring the lives of those that compete within in it.
The beauty of this amazing book is not just the insight it gives you into a sport that very few people know anything about, but also the very human stories behind it. In it we follow the life of Nick Mevoli, from his troubled childhood and rebellious teenage years in Florida to his life as an actor in New York and finally his unprecedented and unorthodox rise in the world of freediving. With quotes and stories from the people closest to Nick we are able to see how his pain and determination to reach new heights (and depths) pushed him to the brink and eventually led to his death. Additionally through the lives of other top competitors and record-breakers, as well as behind the scenes stories from freediving competitions across the world, we are also shown what it takes to compete and succeed in this most unique sport.
However as much as Nick’s tragic death was a symptom of his psychology, it is also a tale of physiology. Due to his unique rise to the top of his sport and desire to improve as quickly as possible, he also pushed his body to the limit and exposed what can happen when you go beyond it. Thankfully Skolnick is able to expertly explain the complex physiological phenomena and issues behind freediving, including – oxygen saturation, equalizing at pressure, the mammalian dive reflex, narcosis, black outs and the often ignored lung squeezes, which allows the reader to fully understand what is happening at all times. He also goes on to explain how Nick’s death exposed very serious problems in both freediving and its organising body and how his passing has ultimately changed the sport forever.
All in all ‘One Breath’ is an exhilarating tale of psychology, physiology and ultimately humanity, that will leave you on the edge of your seat and fully take your breath away.
This review is the seventh in our new Marine Madness Book Club! At the beginning of every month we will be releasing a new review of an ocean inspired book and encouraging you to let us know what you think in the comments and via social media. To find out more visit the Book Club page here.