Joe Dean Lewis

Summer 1981- Grand Cayman Island (as told by Joe Dean Lewis) My survivor story takes place in the warm, clear waters of the Caribbean. My best friend Lance and I were working on a dive boat off of Grand Cayman Island, when the accident occurred. For two years prior we had trained extensively to become the best freedivers/ spearfishermen that we could be. To increase our lung capacity our regimen included running, swimming underwater laps, blowing up balloons, breath holding at the deep end of the pool, and freediving to ever increasing depths off the coast of Southern California. We had heard of SWB from Lance’s dad Ron, a championship spearfisherman from back in the day, who had experienced it while diving alone off of Catalina Island, luckily for him he awoke on the surface with his weight belt off and snorkel still in his mouth. Being young and invincible we continued to push the limits of breath holding; going deeper and deeper, staying under longer and longer, all the while employing the extremely dangerous practice of hyperventilation. The Caribbean’s crystal clear waters made it even more tempting to reach greater depths, and not until the accident did we realize how many times we had put ourselves in potentially deadly situations. The day I blacked out I was trying to beat my personal record of 85 ft. and decided to try a 100 foot freedive. Before attempting such dives we would go through a routine of mental and physical relaxation, taking deep rhythmic breaths that would speed up right before the descent; hyperventilation to the point our faces would tingle! After reaching 15 feet or so your weight becomes negative and you start to descend quite rapidly and effortlessly. I reached the 100 foot mark then made the u-turn for my ascent; looking up from that depth is very humbling to say the least. At 50 feet I knew that I could make it but it was going to be close. Anxiously I reached the surface and cleared my snorkel, then everything went black, next thing I remember I’m coughing up sea water and Lance is calling out my name. He later recounts that as soon as I cleared my snorkel I started to sink like a rock; if not for his assistance I would have died, no doubt. That day we both learned a valuable lesson and decided not to push ourselves to those extreme limits, and to never freedive alone. We obviously made some cardinal mistakes concerning SWB for many years, and are both very lucky; we still enjoy spearfishing to this day, but always follow the golden rules:

1) Never hyperventilate 2) Never dive alone 3) Never push yourself to unsafe limits 4) Never make breath holding a competition