The first time I heard the term ‘shallow water blackout’ my family had already been freediving and spearfishing for 24 years. My 19-year-old son Robert had taken a course with FII and Martin Stepanek and started telling me about it. I waved my hand dismissively, “That happens to people who don’t know what they are doing. We’re experienced.” But three months later I got schooled in just how wrong I was.
My memories of the day we received that surreal phone call are so traumatic for me that I still break down and cry in the retelling of it. I can see the drink on the table on the back of our boat, the bright sunshine casting shadows on our deck, the stunned faces of our friends, and my mother-in-law holding her hand over her mouth and sobbing quietly after I related the news from that call. Our two sons had both blacked out when Robert tried to rescue his unconscious brother David on ascent from a 90 ft dive. There was lots of blood, the caller told me, and they were still trying to bring David around with CPR. Robert was not fully coherent. Coast Guard was coming. Fire Boat One was on the scene. They would let us know which hospital they would transfer them to. They were being placed on life support.
I leaned over a table for support because my heart felt like it was going to explode. I held my hand to my chest and told myself, “I can’t have a heart attack. I have to be calm because I can’t have a heart attack.” I took deep breaths trying to ease the pain in my chest but it didn’t work. It felt like a hand had reached inside my chest, clutched my heart, and squeezed hard. It wouldn’t let up.
This is a heck of a way to learn about the deadly risk of blackout from freediving and spearfishing. This isn’t the way I want others to learn about it. We were blessed when our sons pulled through and survived this horrific ordeal. But there are many every year who do not escape death after blacking out underwater. And it doesn’t have to be that way.
I founded DiveWise to equip freedivers and spearfishers with the knowledge they need to enjoy the sport safely. Check out the EDUCATION tab on this site and read through the articles. We have redoubled our efforts to bring more education and awareness to the spearfishing and freediving communities. This new site for DiveWise lays the cornerstone of the DiveWise mission. It will soon be even richer in content to enhance your knowledge base and help you to avoid a senseless death by providing you with the tools you need to manage the risks in this sport.