The Folly of Depth Records

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The Folly of Depth Records

Sat, 28/11/2020 - 20:10

As the international diving community has recently come to witness, a scandal surrounding Ahmed Gabr’s world record for deepest scuba dive has surfaced. Was it faked? Some accusers, who have opted to remain anonymous for reasons I shall not comment on at this point, have alleged that his record dive was faked, and to that end, have presented to the public a quite comprehensive compilation of evidence in support of their case. The documentation was compelling, but the jury is still out.

The question that remains with me is, “Why?” What is it about these depth records that is so alluring? Why risk one’s life and limb to attain it? Why would anyone go to such great lengths as to fake a record, if that was indeed what Gabr did? Status? Peer recognition?

I am sorry, but there is nothing to be proud of here; rather, there is something to be ashamed of. It is folly. It serves no useful purpose. Worse still, it sets a bad example, or creates a norm in which such pursuits are socially acceptable or even laudable.
But they are not. When the criteria for success is just to make it there and come back alive, preferably without injury, it is nothing but a game of Russian roulette. The boundaries get pushed by the next person in line, attempting to break such records. And so, the cycle repeats until someone dies or gets seriously injured. Nothing is gained or learned.

I therefore call upon Guinness World Records (which adjudicated, verified and acknowledged Gabr’s record) to cease in doing so in the case of deep scuba diving records, on the same grounds that food-eating records—say, where you stuff your face with as many hamburgers as you can force down in an hour—are no longer recognised: They put peoples’ lives, or health, at risk.

Also, quite recently, we have discussed the circumstances surrounding the untimely death of the filmmaker and activist Robert Stewart, a case that remains partially shrouded in the fog of legal proceedings, which are still ongoing as this issue goes to press. What seems evident from documents and testimonies, which I have had access to, is that Stewart had a penchant for pushing the envelope, perhaps out of impatience and a drive to accomplish what he set out to do.  

Going back in time, I ended up revisiting other cases, including the sad ending of Robert Palmer, who was a leading technical diver in the 1990s and one with a rock star appeal and status in his day. He was known for his teaching credo, “Attitude keeps you alive.” Yet, he was last seen on a dive in the Red Sea descending past 120m (400ft) on air, after which, he disappeared. What drove him to ignore his own teachings? Pride? Defence of his guru status?   

Do we ever learn? There seems to be a common denominator for these three cases—I call it “testosterone poisoning.”  

In diving, it can be just as deadly as an addiction to adrenaline.

Be mindful and stay safe.

Peter Symes,
Publisher and Editor-in-Chief