Drowning is one of my greatest fears in life. Imagine my surprise when I learned in 2015 that the average human being can hold their breath for nearly two minutes naturally – without preparation, training, or risk of injury. With proper training, that number can increase by 50% – 100% or more! For me, that training started with the Waterman Survival Course under the guidance of Freedive International Instructor Joe Sheridan.
Drowning is something we can all relate to, even if we’ve never found ourselves pinned underwater with our lungs buckling for oxygen. Just this week I found myself standing in the safety of my own home, drowning in the tasks I felt piling on top of me. Miles away from the nearest body of water, I was immersed in the kind of panic, fear and confusion that must come with drowning in water. In that moment I thought of Joe and my time in his course. Humble, kind and helpful, Joe is a master of slowing the world down and maximizing every breath.
Static Apnea is defined by the International Association for Development of Apnea (AIDA) as the practice of holding one breath underwater for as long as possible. While many of us may not be able to imagine this skill being useful, professional watermen around the world would disagree. Big wave surfers often find themselves held under large waves, unable to swim to the surface for minutes at a time. Spear fishermen, freedivers, boat crews, and coast guard rescue swimmers are regularly put in a position where they are submerged without oxygen, slave to the power of the ocean. In those moments, a cool head and confidence in your capacity for apnea is the deciding factor between life and death.
Joe taught me how to interpret my body’s reaction to oxygen deprivation. I learned to differentiate between the feeling of too little oxygen and the feeling of too much carbon dioxide – two very different scenarios. With the first, you pass out and your body fails to function. With the second, your body may be uncomfortable but it remains fully functional. The value in this lesson transcends water safety and brings powerful truths to how we can live our lives.
When we feel overwhelmed by life – by the demands of work, school, personal goals or family – we can find confidence in knowing that we are far from drowning. The same two minutes that allow a pro surfer to find his way out from under a crushing wave also allow us to break free of the immediate anxiety we feel during life’s most stressful moments. When outside pressures reach their peak we can pause, trust our resilience, and know that the moment is temporary. The wave will pass over and our next breath will bring clarity. From there, we can find our way back to shore.
Drowning is preventable. Water is not the threat; fear and panic are the true villains that steal life. While Joe has given countless watermen confidence in their breath, I encourage all of us to let his teachings bring us peace of mind – in and out of the water.