Profile Series: Eric Fattah

Your Name: Eric Fattah

Nationality: Canadian

Age: 26

Accomplishments in freediving:

I think I have made five great accomplishments.

I think my greatest accomplishment for freediving was to help promote freediving in Canada. When I started freediving in July 1998, there were only two other freedivers in Western Canada. I didn’t know they existed, and neither of them were very active. Now freediving is very big in Canada and our teams are among the strongest in the world.

I think my second greatest accomplishment was writing an elaborate document on equalizing, which has benefitted many freedivers.

I think my third greatest accomplishment was developing a new equalizing technique which allows effortless inverted equalizing to 120m.

I think my fourth greatest accomplisment was to discover a diet for my body that consistently allows me to stay conscious in very low levels of oxygen.

I think my fifth greatest accomplisment was developing the hypothermic diving system (HDS), which, along with the special diet and new equalizing technique, allowed me to dive to -88m in constant weight (and hopefully will one day take me to -100m).

Why did you become involved in freediving?

I always liked snorkelling when I was young, and I loved staying underwater as long as possible. Unfortunately I could not equalize my ears, even though I knew how to perform the valsalva technique. My ears are quite tight, so the valsalva just doesn’t work for me. In July 1998 I discovered a web page describing the frenzel technique, and I learned it in seconds. Suddenly I could dive as deep as I wanted, with only air & fear as limiting factors. I remember watching Mayol’s 100+m video on TV in 1983, and, now being able to equalize, I quickly found a ‘freediving records’ page on the internet. I was only interested in constant ballast and ‘unassisted’ records. At the time the constant weight record was -75m by Pelizzari, and I was surprised to find that there was no unassisted category (until 1999 when FREE was formed). Immediately I wondered how long would I need to train to break the 75m.

How often do you train?

Although I work full time, I train 3-4 evenings a week in the gym, and two days a week in the ocean, on the weekends. No pool training. I also do some yoga and chi-gong, but those esoteric arts will only become truly necessary when we approach the real human limits. Currently we are not even close to the human limits.

What is a typical day for you in your training routine – without divulging any special techniques that you don’t feel comfortable revealing

My gym workouts typically involve supersets on my monofinning muscles, followed by about an hour of hard cardio. In the ocean, my training is one max depth dive per diving day. I strongly believe in deep water training. Diving deep in the ocean every week has allowed me to make countless dives over 60m. This is the only way to develop comfort at depth.

Do you have any special dietary needs or preferences that you feel helps your training? Do you have any recommendations regarding this topic?

I have done a great deal of experimentation on diet, and I discovered that diet plays a huge role in your body’s ability to retain consciousness in low oxygen. For example, with a proper diet, blackout is still possible, but samba is impossible. I discovered the ideal diet for my body, but this is not necessarily the correct diet for anyone else.

Where do you mainly train – i.e.; pool, open water, etc

I only train in the gym and the ocean, and occasionally in lakes. I stopped pool training around March 2001. I don’t like chlorine, and my monofin is too sharp to use in the pool without hurting other swimmers. Interestingly, I don’t do any apnea training unless I am training for static. The only times I actually hold my breath are during my pre-dive warmups, and during my actual dives.

What is your favorite discipline in the sport of freediving?

My favorite is constant weight, followed by unassisted, followed by free immersion, followed by static.

What is the most memorable dive or attempt that you have had – positive or negative

My worst experience was also my greatest performance, diving to -88m in constant weight on July 29th, 2001. After our discovery of the HDS (hypothermic diving system), suddenly there seemed no limit to my oxygen supply. We kept trying for deeper depths until the 88m dive, when I (probably) became the first diver to suffer from narcosis induced neuromuscular failure (which I have coined NINMF). During the 88m dive, I was ascending, and I became totally paralyzed at 53m, for approximately 6 seconds. Being unable to move, I thought I was going to die. I eventually made it to the surface successfully (after 3:16), without assistance, and, upon reaching the surface, I recovered perfectly, because oxygen was no longer the limiting factor. It took us weeks to figure out what had happened. In the hypothermic diving system, we take advantage of the huge thermocline, by inducing hypothermia during the deep part of the dive. Because the blood is acidic, the body does not go into thermogenesis, and thus the basal metabolic rate drops by about 40% due to the hypothermia, allowing for constant weight dives of up to 4 minutes. However, the 4 minute dive is almost unattainable because the diver will suffer NINMF for the following reasons. Because the body is hypothermic, and the water is totally dark, and the CO2 in the lungs is high, the nitrogen narcosis is as bad as a no-limits dive (or worse). The hypothermia increases the blood shift, so there is almost no blood in the legs. This also extends the dive time because now the legs deplete their myoglobin right away and use anaerobic metabolism. Because there is no blood in the legs, the legs become extremely tired, very fast, no matter how good the condition of the diver. As the legs become extremely tired because of the cold and blood shift, it is still possible to move them, with extreme concentration. However, the narcosis (for the above reasons) is so much higher than usual that no clear concentration is possible. So, the mind is unable to think clearly enough to move the legs, despite the fact that the legs still have the ability to move. Paralysis is the result. Unfortunately, the narcosis is so bad that when I suffered the paralysis, my mind was so far away that I didn’t even realize anything was wrong. Once paralyzed, the heart is still beating, and eventually fresh blood enters the legs, and the legs become easier to move. Or, if the diver can somehow concentrate despite the narcosis, he may be able to continue moving his legs despite the lack of blood in them. When a solution to this problem is found, then -100m in constant weight will be possible in water with a huge thermocline.

What advice would you give to someone who might be interested in the sport of freediving?

Four pieces of advice: 1) always dive and train with a buddy 2) don’t assume pool training is necessary 3) practicing to hold your breath doesn’t make you a better freediver 4) find your own way-don’t assume that a a technique is the best one, just because good divers use it

What do you do outside of the sport?

I work full time as an electrical engineer. Interestingly, I didn’t take any time off for my 82m record attempt. I worked all week, including the Friday, and did the record on Saturday. Outside of work & freediving, I enjoy tennis, skiing, yoga, chi-gong, and running.

Cliff Etzel

Cliff is the former Freediving editor of DeeperBlue.com. He is now a freelance journalist and film-maker.

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