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Jacques Mayol - the dolphin man and the 100m limit

Watching the actions of free divers, their successive records, moving the bar with almost every competition, we can get the impression that the upper (or actually lower) limit does not exist. What is more, we cannot even imagine where it was a few years or decades ago, and what the beginnings of freediving looked like.
Published: November 3, 2011 - 11:58
Updated: July 22, 2023 - 06:47
Jacques Mayol – the dolphin man and the 100m limit

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Watching the actions of free divers, their successive records, moving the bar with almost every competition, we can get the impression that the upper (or actually lower) limit does not exist. What is more, we cannot even imagine where it was a few years or decades ago, and what the beginnings of freediving looked like.

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Jacques Mayol was born on April 1, 1927, in Shanghai, but as he showed during his life, borders, regardless of the context, did not exist for him. He lived in China, Canada, USA, Italy, Japan and the Bahamas.

In love with the sea, he devoted his entire life to communing with it. He was the first man to cross the depth of 100m while holding his breath. He did this on 23 November 1976.

It all started in 1949, when the first official record in apnea diving was recorded. Its author was Raimondo Bucher, who reached a depth of 30m. As is usually the case, a small stone led to an avalanche… The next record holders were two Italians: Alberto Novelli and Ennio Falco, who in 1953, dived to a depth of 43m. After them, the one who pushed the limit was also Italian – Enzo Maiorca, who in 1966 set the bar at the depth of 54m. And here comes the hero of our text – Jacques Mayol, who, descending to a depth of 60m, threw a spark.


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Thus was born a great rivalry between two completely different people who took a liking to this unusual discipline. Breaking Enzo Maiorci’s record gave birth to their rivalry, which lasted nearly 10 years and laid the foundations for Luc Besson’s cult film, The Big Blue. A great cast: Jean Reno and Jean-Marc Barr (in the photo on the right), cinematography and music (Eric Serra, Bill Conti), made the film timeless and a “must see”.

By 1975, Mayol had pushed his record to 92m! As he approached the magic 100m mark, he knew he could not let go and would return to be the first man to surpass that magic 100m mark using only his lung capacity and the experience gained from 15 years of training.

Everything was very meticulously prepared. A team of divers, doctors, and representatives of the CMAS diving organisation, and the Italian Underwater Research Committee took care of the depth measurements. The descent took place near the island of Elba. Mayol made the dive in 3min and 40s. At the age of 56, he returned once more to the depths, descending to a depth of 105m. This was his last attempt to break the depth record, after which the champion gave way to younger and hungry successors.

Jacques Mayol, was in love with the sea. He loved to unite with it, to feel in touch with nature. He was the first to introduce yoga as part of his freediving training, which he constantly improved. He was aware of his limitations, as well as the fact that there would come after him others who, by improving his training techniques and developing their own, would achieve depths far greater than he. Today the greats of the freediving world cross the 200m mark and it is only here that the struggle for the record begins.


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Another chapter in the life of the free diving pioneer was dolphins. He fell in love with them in 1955 when he came to work at the aquarium in Miami, Florida. Watching the dolphins, he began to learn how to hold his breath for longer and how to behave underwater. This is how Dolphin Man was born.

Homo Delphinus, is a book in which Mayol expounds his philosophy of life, theories linking man to the sea. Acknowledging himself as an explorer of life and the world, he takes us to different corners of it, trying to explore the bond between man and water. In the pages of Homo Delphinus, you will find everything the author has experienced over the years, exploring the secrets of apnea diving and communing with the sea and its inhabitants. It is a work in which he has encapsulated his life, while at the same time pointing out paths and opportunities that the reader can use to write their own story.

Jaques Mayol died tragically in Italy in December 2001.

Source: wikipedia.org

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About author

Tomasz Andrukajtis
Editor-in-chief of the DIVERS24 portal and magazine. Responsible for obtaining, translating and developing content. He also supervises all publications. Achived his first diving certification – P1 CMAS, in 2000. Has a degree in journalism and social communication. In the diving industry since 2008.
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