Obviously, Nick was a much more talented freediver than i am, but when i say “I am Nicholas Mevoli”, i mean that Nick and i were similar in our approach to freediving. He had a passion for water, a joy for being in water, and a love for our freediving community, combined with a certain tenacity to go deeper, get results. Passion and drive often go hand in hand, and Nick and i both have let our egos dictate our dives at times. Forcing an equalization or riding our ears just to get to that damn plate, get that stupid tag. In retrospect, it’s never worth it, a dive tarnished by painful ears or bloody spit. It is always wiser to turn early. Wiser, and endlessly more frustrating. Those of us who knew Nick as a freediver knew his anger when he had to turn early, the shouting at himself afterwards. The charming, funny sunshine boy turned momentarily into a thundercloud. I saw it happen 3 times at Vertical Blue, and empathized. Twice he turned early, once he rode his ears, and i understood his frustration. At competitions it’s lovely to be there surrounded by friends, and it’s wonderful to dive in good conditions where everything is taken care off, but at a certain point, you expect yourself to perform, get it right, get a record.
That’s ego diving. Ideally, you dive till your body says ‘turn’, because you ran out of air to equalize or because you feel tension you can’t get rid off. You let your relaxation and shape of that day dictate your depth, and if that happens to be the bottom plate, that’s nice, if not, ah well, dive another day. But ego diving is different: depth is dictated by the plate. It’s stupid, of course -i’ve set 6 national depth records and none of them made any difference to my life whatsoever. A PB won’t make you a better person. The only thing this goal orientated diving does is put you at risk of injury; in my last 3 national record dives, i’ve squeezed myself, determined to get to the bottom. I got the record, yay, and also got some serious questions of ‘what the hell am i doing?’ while i’m spitting blood in my bathroom. I saw Nick going through the same thing, struggling with his ego.
You are Nicholas Mevoli
As a safety diver i’ve done dozens, if not hundreds of rescues since 2006. After the first couple of BO’s you relax into it -yes, they look horrible, but they always come around and they’re fine afterwards. They had a nice dream, usually. Black outs don’t bother me anymore. But what bothers me more and more the longer i do this, are squeezes. The first bad one i saw, where the athlete didn’t cough up specks of blood but had orange foam oozing from his mouth, worried me because it took him so long to recover. Even after he was breathing and somewhat conscious, it was still a good couple of minutes before he seemed to function independently. In the beginning i thought it was that combination of a squeeze and BO that was serious, but then i started seeing people who made their dive, were conscious, but seemingly not recovering, even after minutes on oxygen. That worried me, also because we had no protocol: how long do you need to recover after a squeeze? I saw people diving deep the next day after a squeeze. And the more i payed attention to it, the more i saw the signs: little coughs, rattling breaths, people spitting into their hands and then putting the hand underwater so not to show, ashen complexion still 10 minutes after a dive. It isn’t just an occasional problem, it is very prevalent, and the current attitude seems to be one that’s too cavalier “Oh, just take a day off.”
I think squeezes are more serious than that. Yes, maybe if you just do something stupid like looking up at the plate and have a little speck of clear blood in your spit, you might have a tracheal squeeze and maybe that’s no worse than a nose bleed. Maybe. But really, when you have rattling breath and you cough up a blob of mucus-y blood, don’t you think that requires more than a day off? Maybe also a different approach to your diving? Maybe your body is saying it’s not quite ready for this? After my last one, i stopped competing for a while, till i had adapted to depth. I’m still adapting. I’d love to compete again, but my ego is still probably gonna write checks my body can’t cash. And i see it all around me; there are no numbers on this, of course, but from informal conversations i’ve had with people it seems that almost 75% of competitors show, at some point, squeezes or squeeze-like symptoms.
So what can we do? Somebody suggested banning competitive freediving. I think he is an idiot. The problem is not competition, the problem is squeezes, and squeezes are an individual, attitude problem. It’s counter-productive to regulate it with rules: people will just try and hide it more. It’s a legal nightmare to have doctor’s tell you whether you’re fit to dive after a squeeze, or sign you off -what if the dive goes wrong, are they then responsible? In the end, it’s up to the athlete. The first line of safety is always the athlete themselves, not a counterweight or a doctor or a lanyard or a safety diver. The athletes themselves are the ones who should be educated and cultured into an environment where caution is more dominant than ego. Right now the attitude seems to be more pool based, summed up by the Australian motto “Harden the f*** up”. That attitude might work in the pool, but it is dangerous in depth, where the opposite applies: you should soften the f*** up. There should be no ego in the ocean, you should either melt into her or turn early -with ego comes conflict and a conflict with the ocean is one you will lose. You will burst an eardrum or you will squeeze.
On November 17th, we horribly awoke to the fact that this is not a minor problem: it is a deadly problem. Nick most likely died of a squeeze. A fit, young man, diving to a depth that is well within his normal range, wasn’t as relaxed as he should have been and instead of turning, let his ego take over. Most of us have been there, it could have happened to any one of us.
We are Nicholas Mevoli.