The Disappearing Act: Geometries of free-diving

Sara Malou Strandvad, Tracy C. Davis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


This collaborative interdisciplinary essay explores how competitive freediving (observed at Vertical Blue 2015 in Long Island, The Bahamas) challenges commonplaces about performance by perforating the edge zones of beach and sea, air and water, surface and depth across horizontal and vertical planes. Competitive freediving, which combines the regimentation of a rule-bound sport with the grace and self-mastery of yoga, disturbs and defies paradigms of the limits of human endurance and the precarity of life through its paradigmatic physiological effects on body and mind. The paradox of the striving athlete and the fully relaxed freediver makes this an unusually challenging pursuit. The necessity for managing a single inhalation for the duration of the dive and ascent invites a superficial resemblance with other sporting performances, but the effects of breath-holding makes the physical feats incommensurable. The sea intensifies the challenge of gravitational force and atmospheric pressure with each vertical metre traversed. This necessitates intense physical as well as mental discipline, but how the latter is achieved—and experienced—varies considerably among those interviewed for the essay. Freediving is fundamentally a disappearing act. On the surface there are all the trappings of a sport (timekeepers, medics, coaches, supporters and spectators) that provides a lively mise en scène, but the vertical dimension is where the performance is achieved. Here, the surface world's preoccupation with reason and judgement, which seeks to optimize divers' achievements while regulating their authenticity, is at odds with freedivers' proprioceptic experience of depth.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)125-137
Number of pages13
JournalPerformance Research
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 3 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts


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