A Brief History
On November 23, 1976, Frenchman Jacques Mayol became the first free diver (no scuba or other source of air) to reach the incredible depth of 100 meters.
Born in Shanghai, China, Mayol was 49 years old at the time of his (then) record dive. At age 56 he bested this effort with a free dive to 105 meters. An accomplished free diver, Mayol had many records over the years to go along with his bench mark dive in 1976. He had met fellow free diving pioneer Enzo Maiorca, and the 2 men had a friendly rivalry, setting new records along the way. Maiorca had been the first diver to reach 45 meters unaided in 1960, illustrating the incredible increase in record depth in only 16 years.
The 1960’s and 1970’s saw an enormous increase of interest in the feats of these free divers, although divers had competed with each other for depth and endurance underwater since antiquity. Before diving suits, scuba gear, diving bells and the like, divers that could go deeper and stay below longer could gather the most sponges, conchs, pearls (oysters) and other sea treasures. Called “apnea,” the art of hold ones breath in conjunction with deep diving now has 11 recognized competitive categories.
The current “no limits” record is 214 meters depth by Herbert Nitsch of Austria. The women’s record is held by American Tanya Streeter at 160 meters. In 2009 Stephane Mifsud of France held her breath underwater for a mind boggling 11 minutes and 35 seconds, while Goran Crolak of Croatia managed a swim of 281 meters (distance, not depth) under water using swim fins in 2013.
Unfortunately, Mayol took his own life (hanging) at age 74 in 2001. He had helped develop the “octopus” regulator for scuba divers, and along with Maiorca was the inspiration for the 1988 film by Luc Besson, The Big Blue.
Question for students (and subscribers): How deep do you think you could dive and still surface alive? How long can you hold your breath underwater? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
Besson, Luc, dir. Le Grand Blue: The Big Blue (Director’s Cut). South Korea. DVD.
Mayol, Pierre and Patrick Mouton. Jacques Mayol, l’homme dauphin. Arthaud, 2003.