Freedive Spearfishing Black Out- Ben Choi

On Sunday October 12, I blacked out while freedive spearfishing. I was coming up from a 71ft dive during which I had shot a mangrove snapper. My dive time was 1:12. I had done a surface interval of 4 minutes before this dive. We had been diving that depth (~65’) most of the day chasing those mangrove snapper. Everything about the dive felt comfortable to me. I didn’t feel any more fatigued than I normally do when coming up from that depth after shooting a fish. As I hit the surface, the last thing I remember is exhaling. The next thing I remember is my buddy Sterling shaking me and not being able to speak because my mouth was full of water.

I had my reservations about posting this video online. But after some encouragement from my close friends and dive buddies, I am posting this so that the spearfishing community can learn from this incident. The lesson I want people to take away from this video is that a black out can happen at any time. It doesn’t have to be a 100’ freedive. It doesn’t have to be a 2 min dive. It can happen on a routine dive that you’ve been doing all day. We all know the risks that are involved in our sport. The only way to mitigate these risks is to implement a good safety system with a buddy watching you every dive.

I never thought that a black out would happen to me. I always thought that I wasn’t diving deep or long enough for a black out. But the fact of the matter is, you never know when it’s going to happen. Thankfully, I had Sterling there to save me. He did exactly what a good dive buddy should in this situation and had my head out of the water in a matter of seconds. If he hadn’t been around me, and if we hadn’t been buddy diving, I probably wouldn’t be here to tell the story.

You can do everything right in a dive and black out. I didn’t stay too long. I didn’t go too deep. I didn’t drink the night before. I got plenty of rest. I have been running 3-4 miles every other day and was in good physical shape. I drank two bottles of water on the way out. I had a surface interval 4x my dive time. After consulting with some freediving instructors, I have realized that my breathe up wasn’t optimal and that instead of purging (which I thought I was doing), I was hyperventilating on my breathe up.

I hope that this video will make the spearfishing community a lot more aware of just how easy it is to black out and how critically important it is that we dive with a good buddy system at all times. I really want the next generation of young freedivers to take note of this. You may think that it will never happen to you, but it hits you like a ton of bricks when you realize that you could have very easily died that day. Stick with your buddies. Keep an eye on them when y’all are diving. Don’t be so focused on out shooting them, or getting a trophy fish that you lose sight of them. Competition between friends is good, but everyone making it back home safe is a lot better.

I welcome your thoughts and comments on this video and I hope that this reinforces the need for an attentive buddy system while spearfishing. Feel free to share this with your fellow spearos and let’s get a constructive discussion going about how to dive safer and get everyone home to their loved ones.

Turn up the volume when playing the video.

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