Take a deep breath. How long can you hold it before the urge to breathe takes over? 30 seconds? A minute?
How about eight minutes?
American freediver Brandon Hendrickson defied the laws of human biology in the Cayman Islands this week to set a new national and continental record, holding his breath for a staggering eight minutes and 35 seconds.
Hendrickson completed the feat during the Deja Blue freediving competition, which has drawn some of the world’s best underwater athletes to the Cayman Islands.
The divers in this competition have adapted their bodies to the life aquatic, enabling them to reduce their heart rate, withstand oxygen deprivation and stay below the surface to reach seemingly impossible depths and times without coming up for air.
Even among this crowd, Hendrickson stands out. His record beat the previous best for anyone in the Americas in an International Association for the Development of Apnea (AIDA) competition.
“I’m really stoked. I have been working on that for a few years,” he said after emerging from the pool at Coconut Bay villas in West Bay, where the “static apnea” event is taking place.
Hendrickson, from Kansas City, had fasted for 18 hours before the record attempt and said he would celebrate with a big breakfast.
“It was rough going,” he admitted afterward. “I was getting contractions after about five minutes, but I had my mind set on the goal and I just tried to stay with it as long as possible.”
Hendrickson is not the only athlete performing record-breaking feats that to ordinary swimmers and snorkelers seem impossible.
Several national records, including those for the Cayman Islands, have tumbled in the opening days of the competition.
Caymanian technology consultant Richard Collett, who took up freediving seriously in September, has set three new national records.
He hit 168 feet on a single breath in the Free Immersion event, where divers pull themselves down a rope to depth. He also hit 168 feet, another record, in the constant weight event, fin-kicking to the depth.
In a separate pool discipline, he swam more than four lengths under water without fins to set a national record of 106 meters.
With two days to go in the competition, he hopes to break records in other disciplines as well, including the breath-hold.
He came close, when he held his breath for more than six minutes on Tuesday, but blacked out after hitting the surface – a risk all competitive freedivers run as they push their bodies to the limit.
Collett said he had been training six days a week in advance of the competition.
“This is my first tournament and it is quite nerve-racking,” Mr. Collett said. “It is one thing hitting those depths in training, but when the pressure is on and your heart is pounding, it is a different matter.
“It is all about being able to relax under pressure. I am enjoying this opportunity to compete and go for these national records, but hopefully this is just the beginning for me.”
Kirk Krack, founder of Performance Freediving International, which has been organizing the competition in the Cayman Islands for 14 years, said it is the “Ironman of freediving” because it challenges athletes to compete in six different disciplines.
Competitors accumulate points based on the depth of their dives and the length of their breath-holds.
He said safety divers, including technical divers on rebreathers, were on hand to ensure competitors could “explore their potential” in a safe environment.
Any diver attempting a long breath-hold risks temporary black out from oxygen deprivation.
The best divers, said Krack, are those who can manage their limited oxygen supply effectively and reach the surface in full control of their mental processes.
“It is about the economics of supply and demand. When you take your breath, you maximize the oxygen supply to your lungs and to your muscle tissues. Then it is about how you manage the demand for that oxygen throughout the breath-hold or throughout the dive.”
The tournament continues all week and is running parallel with the first Cayman Open National Championship, which has drawn 10 competitors to take part in the first local freediving tournament.