Eric Fattah – My 100 Meter Constant Weight Freedive

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Below the video and story behind Eric Fattah his North American record of 100 meters in the discipline constant weight. Eric set his goal of reaching 100 meters back in 2000. Now ten years later on April 27 during the Vertical Blue competition at Dean’s Blue Hole, Bahamas, Eric achieves his goal. This is a guest post by Eric Fattah describing what happened. But first watch the video. Thanks Eric for sharing!

Below is the account of the dive I sent to my friends the day afterwards. For background, I had set myself a goal of 100m in the summer of 2000 (10 years earlier). At this particular competition I did four dives: 90m attempt (turned at 77m), 90m attempt (made it), 100m attempt (BO from packing at the start), and 100m attempt (made it). My pb going into the competition was 92m. Below is the account, it is quite long:

April 27, 2010: 100m attempt #2

The final day of the competition had arrived. I slept relatively well, and any time I had an anxious thought about diving, again I told myself that I would not dive and focused on what I had already accomplished.

In the morning, I had an excellent oximeter test. During my packing test, my ability to pack was still marginal; my one attempt at packing resulted in a marginal samba — meaning my adrenal glands were still exhausted and/or my blood pressure was still low or both. I did my massage machine, and stretching, and packed up my stuff. On the drive to the blue hole, I was able to laugh once when we passed a spot on the blue hole road and Maggie commented that there must have been an accident since there were ‘car bits on the road.’ The fact that I could laugh at all was a major improvement over the previous attempt.

I geared up. It was an extremely hot day and once in my suit I could not stay in the sun — I immediately swam to the platform a full 45 minutes before my official start time. The swim cooled me off a bit. The previous day I had modified my nose clip to solve the problem that had occured on the previous attempt. I needed to test the modification. I quickly got hot while waiting on the platform so I did a brief drop to 15m for 1 minute to test the nose clip, and it worked beautifully. I had considered trying to breathe and pack in a vertical position (rather than face down), I tried that briefly and decided against it. Breathing vertically gives your blood pressure a boost since your legs are lower in the water (reducing the chance of a packing blackout), but my noodle-float was not buoyant enough.

The previous 100m attempt, I was a total psycho-emotional mess in the time before the dive. I had 10 years of ambitions, fears, concerns, doubts, and images in my body and mind. Today was much different. Even now, with just 30 minutes before the dive, I still kept telling myself that this is an added bonus. I can abort at any time, I do not need to do this. I have done enough already. That helped a lot, plus it seems that much of the emotional baggage had been ‘cleared’ during the first attempt (similarly with the 90m–too much emotional baggage on the 1st attempt (fail), and succeeded on the 2nd attempt). I even managed to smile several times as I waited for my start time — which reminded me of my 82m world record in 2001, when I also managed to smile (smiling before a deep dive is quite rare and difficult).

As I rested on the platform, several people including the photographer DeeDee and judge Linden offered me good luck and said they were sure I had it in me. I had decided not to do any warm ups at all, not even a dry static, to minimize any stresses to my body. William Winram was to dive before me, but he still had mucus in his sinuses, so moments before his dive he informed the judges he would not dive. This meant the official dive line would be silent, available, and free from any commotion. The weather was hot, the water was flat, and there was little wind. The physical conditions at the blue hole were ideal. I got in 10 minutes before my top time and set myself up on the official line. Everything was still and quiet. I had plenty of time, no rush at all due to Will not diving prior to me. I felt dramatically better emotionally. Physically, although I was still weak and exhausted, I felt okay. I told myself that the conditions are perfect, and if I can’t capitalize on this situation now, I may never be able to do so. I must do my best and try to go all the way. The only problem was taking my final breath and getting down. I needed to avoid a blackout from packing, which was what messed me up on the previous attempt. I knew from the morning that my body was still not able to pack to the limit, so I knew that the inhalation and packing would be the critical part.

I deliberately ‘under-breathed’ during my countdown. Doing so can reduce the chance of a blackout during packing, but increases the urge to breathe during the dive. With 20 seconds left before the top time, I inhaled and packed a bit, and was immediately overwhelmed by light-headedness. I then waited for an eternity still holding my breath, then I tried to pack more. After a few more packs the light-headedness came again rapidly. I had a fraction of a second to react, otherwise a packing blackout would overwhelm me. Despite not even doing half of the total air packing, I ditched my snorkel and bolted below the surface, and sprinted down to 10 meters while crunching my abdominal muscles and trying to force blood into my head. Only by getting down fast could I compress the air in my chest and relieve the pressure on my heart and arteries which causes the packing blackout. It worked. My vision began to return around 10 meters. I slowed my descent and then considered my situation. I had managed to get down, although I had already held my breath near 40 seconds just trying to avoid the packing blackout. My lungs were not even close to full, I probably had 8.5 litres instead of 10.5L. It was at that moment that I considered the spirometer tests I had done on the other athletes; I found that many of the deep divers (115m+) were diving with 8L or less. So I told myself if they can do 115m on 8L, I can do 100m on 8.5L. It was at that moment that I made the firm decision to go all the way down, and see what would happen on the way up.

So, down I went. The 30m alarm went off, and I tried doing my mouthfill technique. I got a mouthfill but not a full one. I realized that my lungs, being much smaller than usual since I had inhaled less, prevented me from getting a full fill at this depth. I should have filled my mouth earlier (26-27m) to compensate, but I had not considered that. I was worried that I did not have enough air in my mouth to equalize my ears to 100m. Nonetheless, it was too late anyway, so I started sinking. During the sink phase, I forgot to properly extend my legs, so I sank more slowly than I should have. I knew I had a long trip from 30m down to the 70m alarm, and it seemed to take very long… Finally the 70m alarm went off. I had an urge to breathe, but it was manageable. Now I had to sink from 70m to 95m when the next alarm would go off. That phase seemed to take an eternity. My mouthfill was running out and I began to worry that I would not be able to equalize my ears to the bottom — hilarious, since normally I am the king of equalizing, and thus it was ironic that with my lungs less than full, and filling my mouth too deep, I ended up in this situation. Nonetheless there was still enough air. My chest became very crushed, again more so than normal due to less air in it. I had some heart palpitations on the descent — very unnerving and a sign that my body was wasted. My entire chest had that ‘pending arrythmia’ feeling that sometimes accompanies me on deep dives when my body has been taxed too far. Everything was telling me to turn around, but I would not.

After the 95m alarm, I equalized again and looked up to see the same eerie dark bottom plate with the light blinding me, just like on the 90m dive. The only difference was that I was more narked this time, and when I grabbed the line and reached to the plate, and felt around like a blind man, I could not find a tag. But I was determined — I would stay as long as necessary to find a tag, despite that every second at this depth would worsen the narcosis on the ascent. I felt around, swung my hand around the perimeter, felt something but missed it. I moved to another spot, felt something and grabbed it. It was a tag. I put it on the velcro on my leg, pulled on the line, and started up. Later upon watching the video I found I had spent EIGHT seconds at 100m trying to get the tag! Once I did a few strokes and had some upwards momentum, I did have a remarkable series of thoughts. It was still pitch black and I felt weird beyond belief from the narcosis, but I smiled and with an incredible feeling of relief told myself that my 10 year journey has finally come to an end — YOU DID IT — I told myself, and the emotion was hard to describe, intermixed with the drunken feeling you get when diving so deep. I knew I had less air in my lungs than planned, but at this point, for me, the outcome was never in doubt. Not for a moment did I doubt that I would make it to the surface and be okay. I knew the ascent would be weird, dreamlike, and impossibly grueling and exhausting — I knew my legs would fail over and over and I would have to stop for long periods to rest them — I knew all that — but I knew that I would make it eventually. I just had to do it. With that last thought I just went to it, and had very few clear thoughts after that. Somehow, and remarkably, I did manage to keep count of the monofin strokes — aiming for 61, which I calculated would get me to the surface based on the 90m dive. Ultimately I lost count around 71 strokes. My legs failed over and over, and I had to stop and rest, but I never felt fear nor panic, I just waited for some seconds and resumed the ascent. According to the X1 my legs first failed at 58m, and then around every 10m thereafter. When the 50m ascent alarm finally went off, I wasn’t really listening for it, so it didn’t have much effect on me, and I was still quite narked. Finally I saw the safety freediver in front of me around 30m. I was still mentally sharp and was very happy to see the safety diver. I knew I was close now, it was almost a done deal. The clarity of my thoughts encouraged me. I stopped dead as my legs failed, and the safety diver (Brian), nearly grabbed me, uncertain of what I was doing. I started again, stopped, started, and finally I saw the edge of the blue hole, which meant I was at 7-8m. I looked up, saw the platform, broke the surface, grabbed the rope, took three or four breaths, then quickly removed my goggles and nose clip, looked at the judge Linden and said ‘I’m okay!!’, almost with a bit of surprise in my tone. In fact in terms of mental clarity I felt about as clear as after the 90m dive…. But I still needed to produce the tag, and many divers had been losing the tag. I could only hope that the tag was still attached to the velcro on my leg. With some fear I reached into the water and felt for it…. and it was there! I removed it from the velcro and raised it into the air, and I heard a ton of cheers (including Maggie’s piercing cheer from shore!) I was clear enough to feel joy, although I had so much acid in my legs that I was still gasping and gasping for breath. The judges gave me the white card (approval), and more cheers erupted. I smiled. The official Suunto D4 gauge read 100.3m in 3 minutes 22 seconds, fully 12 seconds longer than the time I had announced — due to sinking less streamlined, wasting 8 seconds looking for the tag, and stopping many times on the ascent… The next thing I knew, William Trubridge came over to the line (he was next), so I had to vacate to allow him access. I swam and fetched my mask, carefully putting the tag into my mask box (as to not lose it). I swam to the O2 decompression line, and Maggie shouted for a picture from shore. She snapped a quick photo. I wanted to descend to breathe from the scuba oxygen at 5m, but I was too out of breath and we had limited oxygen. I could not hyperventilate while on the scuba regulator as doing so would waste oxygen. I gasped hard for 30 seconds to try to catch my breath, then descended on the oxygen. As I hung there at 5m breathing the oxygen, I was alone, and finally able to consider my accomplishment. In the final hour, against all odds and despite a failing body, and despite lungs that were not even full, I had pulled of my dream depth after 10 years of trying, in official conditions, with tons of videographers and judges and spectators — and I even had air to spare upon surfacing. I had become the 12th person in history to register an official dive of 100m or more. I felt a great sense of accomplishment as I breathed the oxygen. Yet, I was still feeling totally exhausted and my body was still very stressed. I would probably enjoy it even more later on, I thought, once I am more recovered. I exited the water and several divers congratulated me. Maggie filmed me as I gave my account of the dive. Many photos later, I had changed into my swimsuit, and was suntanning on the beach. We had bought a conch salad, but I had no appetite. On earlier competition days I could at least eat after the dive, but today my appetite did not return even after the dive.

We flew home the next day. Upon arriving at home at midnight Vancouver time (3am Bahamas time), we entered our house only to find Andrew, Roberta, Matt, Pete, Tyler and Linda awaiting us with a MIDNIGHT surpise party!!! They had balloons, and posters they had made themselves, as well as a cool snorkeling fin painted with 100m and congratulations messages. It was one of the best moments of my life, and I would like to say a huge thank you to my friends and family for supporting me through this long journey…

Interestingly, when I set myself the dream-goal of 100m back in September of 2000, I had imagined what it would be like. For some reason, I always had an image of a massive lightning storm happening overhead during the 100m dive. Ironically, the night before the 100m success, there was a huge lightning storm on Long Island. The entire month I had been there, there had been no lightning at all.