Meet Mario Fernandes, a freediving athlete from Goa. By recently achieving four national records in Israel with AIDA (International Association for the Development of Apnea) which was founded in 1992, the world organisation for breath-hold diving, he helped placed India on the map of freediving, . The endurance of one’s lungs is put to the test in the adventure sport of free diving. It involves going to the depths, underwater as long as possible without using a breathing equipment. It is an extremely dangerous sport, but Mario finds it rather relaxing. He describes it as, “When you emerge, it’s like you are born again”.
Constant Weight with Bi-Fins (CWTB): 45m
Free Immersion (FIM): 40m
Dynamic with Bi-Fins: (DYNB): 86m
Static Apnea (STA): 4 minutes and 29 secondsNational Records set by Mario Fernandes
Mario lived a very simple life, with the ocean as his backyard and freediving as his dream. Mario is the third of five children, all of them were raised by their mother while their father was away at work in Qatar, working hard to make ends meet. His love and admiration for the marvels of nature were instilled in him by his parents. His love for the ocean only increased once he eventually began exploring the ocean on his own. He soon began working as a volunteer for Green Cross, a Goa-based wildlife rescue team, and has since assisted in the preservation of local reptiles and marine life.
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I leave with you a few highlights from our interview with Mario, where he describes Freediving from his POV.
As a free diver, what excites you most?
- The Pressure That Our Bodies Withstands Underwater Could Injure Us On Land: The mammalian diving reflex (MDR) kicks in the moment you deep your face into the water. Your heart rate drops up to 54 beats per minute (approximately a 25% drop). The blood that was flowing to your extremities is redirected to the core and the electrical impulses into your brain become softer. These responses only occur in water and are the reason you are able to survive the pressure exerted in the underwater world. Such extreme pressure on land would injure or even kill us, but not deep in the sea.
- The heart of a freediver beats exceptionally low on a deep dive. In fact, some divers have recorded a heart rate of as low as 10 beats per minute. Well, that’s a rate lower than a coma patient’s and
- physiologically, a heartbeat this slow can induce unconsciousness, and yet, during freediving, it doesn’t (if done properly)!
- Free-diving Is A Quiet Sport: Free-diving is silent, making it one of the most intimate ways to explore and connect with the marine world.
- Infants Are Better Freedivers Than Adults: newborns can comfortably hold their breath below the surface of the water for more than 30 seconds, which is more than most adults can. They will instinctively begin breast stroking and open their eyes. This ability is only lost when the baby learns to walk.
What inspired you to get into free-diving?
With the ocean in my backyard, I always wanted to know and learn more about the ocean and its rich diversity, I learned to scuba dive in 2013. It was here when I met many freediving athletes who inspired me to explore Freediving. Like Jacques Yves Cousteau said: “The best way to observe a fish is to become a fish.”
What does your training process look like before events?
A free-diver must be mentally resilient to exertion, pain, and intensified effort in extreme conditions as well as to the potential threats to health and life. The pressure is high mentally and physically.
A big part of the pre-event training is to relax the mind, stay focused on enjoying the process with safety, and stretch the body to also relax and stay flexible. My diet is very strict and it helps me maintain my physical and mental balance.
It is alone time, to stay connected with my inner self.
Do you have any best/worst free diving moments?
The best of course, is achieving the national record.
No real worst moments except sometimes given the diet I’m on, it’s horrible to be around someone eating your favourite indulgent food.
Do you have a favorite free-diving style?
YES, My favourite free-diving style is Free immersion(FIM) this discipline is similar to constant weights no fins(CNF), the difference in free immersion is diver uses the rope pull and goes down.
Where are you mentally during a deep dive, what are its biggest challenges?
I go into a meditative state, tap into a part of me with happy memories and find solace. The biggest challenge in Freediving is equalization.
What exactly does it feel like, to explore the ocean without breathing equipment?
It’s the closest you get to experiencing life like a fish. It’s fun, exciting, relaxing, and yet at the same time scary, challenging and overwhelming.
Do you have a favourite place to free-dive?
Hanifaru Bay in Maldives. The jewel of the UNESCO biosphere reserve, the place where – during this season – the world’s largest groupings of manta rays can be seen. This is also the place for whale shark spotting. Freediving with these peaceful ocean giants is an unmissable experience.
You’ve made your mark in the sport by setting four national records in-depth and time. You achieved these in May 2022 when you participated in the AIDA (International Association for the Development of Apnea) event. How did that make you feel?
Confident to want, to make and break more records. But on a serious note, it is a great feeling to live my dream and put my country on the map of free-diving at last. I hope with my experience I can get many more athletes from India to challenge my record and set new benchmarks for India.
What is your advice to upcoming free divers?
Remember safety first. Explore and push your potential but don’t keep a number stay tuned to your heart and mind. In the end, the competition is just with yourself. You should always only aim at being a better diver than you are already.
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