James Nestor is the author of Deep: Freediving, Renegade Science, and What the Ocean Tells Us About Ourselves. He also has written Half-Safe and Get High Now (Without Drugs), and his work has appeared in a variety of publications, including Outside and Men's Journal. He lives in San Francisco.
Q: You write that your interest in freediving began when you were assigned a piece for Outside magazine. Did you know right away that the topic would become so important to you?
A: When I went to Kalamata, Greece to cover the world freediving championship, I knew next to nothing about freediving: I hadn’t seen anyone do it and certainly hadn’t done it myself.
What I saw out there absolutely blew my mind. Who knew humans were capable of diving 200, 300, even 400 feet on a single breath of air! I came back home to San Francisco and needed to know more. Deep grew out of that curiosity.
Q: One of the concepts you explain in the book is the Master Switch of Life. How does it affect people's ability to dive deeper into the water?
A: Something amazing happens the second you put your face in water: the heart rate lowers about 25 percent its normal resting rate, blood begins flooding from the extremities into the core, your mind enters a meditative state.
The deeper you dive, the more pronounced these reactions become, eventually spurring a whole-body transformation. We turn into deep-diving animals. And what’s amazing is that these reflexes only occur in deep water, and that we are all born with them, just many of us will never feel them kick in. We are, quite literally, all born to dive deep.
Q: You write, "I begin to wonder: If we've forgotten an ability as profound as deep diving, what other reflexes and skills have we lost?" What were some of the more surprising things you learned as you researched this book?
A: Oceanic animals must rely on “extra senses” to navigate, communicate, and sea in the cold, black, pressurized underwater environment. Whales and dolphins use something called echolocation, a form of sonar, to find their way around and to track down prey; sharks and other animals use magnetoreception, a kind of internal GPS with which they can attune themselves to the subtle energy of the earth’s magnetic field.
We too have these “extra sensory” abilities, we’ve just forgotten how to use most of them. Deep is, partially, about relearning this ability, and redefining human potential.
Q: The book's chapters take the reader deeper and deeper into the water. How did you come up with this structure for Deep?
A: It just seemed like the natural trajectory. As my research progressed, I kept wondering what else was in the ocean, and so I kept digging deeper until I reached the bottom of the deepest ocean.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: Sleeping, mostly. The deadline for this book was very aggressive and it almost killed me. My goal has been to try to rest, but it hasn’t worked out too well. I’m currently recording the audiobook, which should be out in the next few weeks.
I’ve spent most of the last few months touring with the book; it’s been an incredible experience meeting so many people who know so much more than the ocean and our connection to it than I do.
I’m also freediving more now than I ever did while writing the book. This wasn’t just a one-time thing I’ve explored to write a book about; it’s now become such a huge part of my life. That was the real blessing of writing this book: being introduced to this world and all the amazing people working within it.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb