Venture into the deep with freediver James Nestor at Thursday’s Vail Symposium event |

Venture into the deep with freediver James Nestor at Thursday’s Vail Symposium event

A freediver approaches a blue shark.
Fred Buyle | |


What: Vail Symposium’s Unlimited Adventure Series — “On a Single Breath: Freediving” with author and freediver James Nestor.

When: Thursday. Reception starts at 5:30 p.m., with presentation at 6 p.m.

Where: Donovan Pavilion, Vail.

Cost: $10 donation.

More information: or 970-476-0954.

As you descend into the ocean, you will eventually reach a point — at about 35 or 40 feet — where buoyancy reverses. Instead of fighting the pull up back to light and air, your body begins to be pulled into the depths. That strange “doorway to the deep” is one of James Nestor’s favorite places in the world.

“It’s one of the most amazing depths and experiences,” said Nestor, a writer, freediver, explorer and author of the book “Deep: Freediving, Renegade Science and What the Ocean Tells Us About Ourselves.”

Nestor grew up in California and is a longtime surfer, so he was no stranger to the ocean when he went to cover the World Freediving Championships in Greece in 2012. However, what he saw at the competitive freediving event was unlike anything he’d ever seen.

He was simultaneously horrified and fascinated by what he saw the freedivers doing — essentially holding their breath and going as deep as they could into the ocean without any special equipment. While he left the experience thinking that competitive freediving was reckless and dangerous, he soon met other freedivers who were more interested in exploring the ocean and experiencing the depths than how many meters deep they logged before blacking out.

“I had never seen freediving before, and it completely blew my mind. I thought it was silly that people were using this incredible ability just to compete. Luckily, I was able to meet some people who used freediving in a more philosophical aspect,” he said.

Soon, Nestor learned the sport and art of freediving himself and became a convert. In “Deep,” he not only explores the experience of freediving as he takes them chapter-by-chapter through the ever deeper depths, but points out the sport’s potential for exploration.

Because the ocean is so unknown to us (it is less explored than both the moon or Mars), it is truly one of the last frontiers, and freediving is one way we can discover its secrets, he says.

Nestor visits Vail Thursday with a multimedia presentation for local audiences. He took some time to chat with the Vail Daily about his mind-bending experiences, the unknown depths and just how long you can go without breathing.

Vail Daily: What is it that you love about freediving, and tell us about how you discovered the sport?

James Nestor: My exposure to it was through competitive diving, and I thought, ‘These people are crazy.’ I saw people who had to be resuscitated, people coming up with blood on their face. But the diving itself looked beautiful.

Then I hung out with these other people, and for them it was about swimming with whales and dolphins and understanding the potential of your own body. It is completely liberating — there are no selfies, no Facebook, no cell reception down there. You leave your troubles on the surface.

I think about it all the time, and when I travel, (I) bring my dive kit with me. It’s completely opened up new possibilities for exploring.

VD: When most people think of freediving, they think of it as an extreme sport, one that has been in the shadow of the death of Nicholas Mevoli, (a New York freediver who died in 2013 trying to set a freediving record). How are you seeking to change that?

JN: People hear about competitive diving, and the one person people are familiar with is the one person who pushed it too far. Recreational free divers do it for fun or research, but they don’t get attention because they aren’t dying. It’s typical media BS.

In Europe, freediving is huge. They have freshwater pools used for freediving. People do it responsibly. You listen to your body. It’s a safe thing to do as long as you approach it safely.

VD: So tell us a little about what you’ll be speaking with Vail audiences about.

JN: I’m going to be revealing some of the points in the book — how we share some of the reflexes and special senses with animals that live deep down there. We have some of these senses as well.

I also have a lot of videos about freediving, and we’ll talk about ocean exploration. I can’t talk about ocean exploration without talking about freediving.

VD: What makes freediving such a valuable tool for ocean exploration?

JN: Freedivers have access to animals in a way that no one else in the world can. Scuba equipment and submarines scare the animals and fish. But when you go down without the equipment, the dynamic changes, and they approach you. It’s the most amazing thing to go down and just be part of the environment.

Oceanography institutions won’t allow their scientists to go freediving. You can do some valuable research on the deck of a boat, but not much. It’s only the do-it-yourself guys who are freediving for research purposes.

Luckily, now they have gotten some attention and are starting to work with researchers to collect data for the real scientists.

Assistant Managing Editor Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2927 or at Follow her on Twitter @mwongvail.

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