We've all done it - burst to the surface gulping air like a guppie. Certain that our lungs were about to burst after getting help down for the proverbial 10 count after a heavy wipeout. Such a kak feeling. Kakker than kak.
So imagine how lekker it would be if you knew you could have a few spare breathes on hand in an emergency. It would let us revel in the underwater cartwheels and sinus cleansing instead of the inky fingers of fear starting to extend into the deep recesses of our minds after the 3rd involuntary 360 along the bottom.
Ou's started frothing earlier this year when news came out of a company in S.Korea called Triton doing crowd-funding on Indiegogo that claimed to be developing a revolutionary mouthpiece that would let you breathe underwater like a fish. Seri-ass. That's what their lil write-up claimed.
A kind of artificial gills that extracted oxygen in the water through a filter with holes smaller than water molecules, combined with a powerful micro compressor which compresses and stores the oxygen and allowing you to keep breathing happily. Sounds good, doesn't it!
Luckily not all the internet masses are easily duped, and quite quickly a stack of questions about the veracity of the design arose. Cos let's be honest, although Mr Bond got it right in 007, it's a concept that has eluded the world’s top scientists and military contractors for decades. And let's face it, oxygen extraction from water ain't easy peeps.
Using a standardized table of oxygen solubility, one can derive that fresh water at sea level contains about 9.1 mg/L of oxygen at room temperature (0 .0091 grams)
A human adult uses around 617 grams of oxygen per day at rest. That breaks down to 0.42 grams per minute. (obviously this varies lank depending on what you doing).
So if you divide 0.42 by 0.0091 you get about 46.1. That’s how many liters of water you’d need to process per minute to provide enough oxygen to support a person just chilling out.
After getting hammered with a bit of basic science the Triton peeps had to change their tune a bit and ended up refunding the nearly $900,000 on Indiegogo they'd raised. But they still saying their product works, despite a few lil white lies supposedly to protect their IP. Watch this space I guess.
Damn, woulda been great to have a lil gadget to give us that extra breathe when needed!
Turns out there is an option on the market, albeit a lot more unwieldy than the Triton. A company called “Spare Air” has been around for a while and offers the smallest redundant SCUBA system available with enough air to get you to the surface in an out-of-air emergency.
Their website looks like it's a throwback to the 90's, and the claims that “Tow-in Surfers love the Spare Air Xtreme Sport. In the severe conditions of tall curls and awesome tubes, the difference between life and death may depend upon your ability to get an extra breath…”
Right - they probably need some help on rewording that - but despite the dorky description do have some big waves guys that are using it.
Santa Cruz hell-man Shawn Dollar swears by it - “It’s psychologically really tough to use,” he says. “Because you have to exhale all your air to clear the regulator. So if it’s broken or has been leaking or whatever, you’re fucked.” But so far, so good. Shawn’s fallen in the bowl on a couple of 20-footers (“Standard,” he says), and used it without trouble.
Shawn's not taking any chances - he couples the Spare Air with the Billabong V1 inflatable vest. "I'll use the Spare Air first, and the V1 only if the Spare Air doesn't work for some reason and I have to get to the surface immediately. It's like the backup plan to the backup plan. But it's important to mention that I have a jet ski with a Santa Cruz City Lifeguard, Brook Goddard, watching over me, as well. I don't know if I'll paddle out to Maverick's anymore without a Spare Air and inflatable suit. Some things that have happened were so sketchy, to go back and surf those waves without this stuff just seems stupid. That's why I wear it: for when things go wrong."
What's the V1 all about? Big wave legend Shane Dorian suffered a serious wipeout at Mavericks, and was keen not to add his name to big wave surfers who have drowned doing what they love. He phoned up wetsuit designer Hub Hubbard and co-designed one of surfing’s greatest safety inventions: the Billabong V1 inflatable vest.
Working with Mustang Survival Corporation, Billabong integrated a heavy duty, inflatable, polyurethane bladder into the back of one of their full body wetsuits. A large zippered pocket on the back of the wetsuit contains the bladder, which is attached to both an inflator and CO2 cartridge positioned between your shoulder blades.
A pull cord runs over your shoulder to a handle on your upper chest. With a quick tug of the cord, the airbag inflates, bringing you quickly to the surface and crucially keeping you face up.
So some spare air plus a lift ride to the surface seem a pretty good combo!
Although it does raise some ethical debates in the big wave world about letting ou's get out there in conditions they have don't have the ability to handle - but think they can cos of the false sense of security safety devices can give.
Still, I reckon most of us would be pretty happy with a lil gizmo that would allow us the back-up of that much needed extra breathe in hectic wipeouts. Cos who doesn't wanna enjoy the underwater train ride instead of looking for the first exit!
I remember Duncan Scott's words when I was on a breathe holding course given by Hanli Prinsloo years back, when asked about his experiences in huge surf and how to avoid the inevitable panic of getting held down for ages, "Just think happy thoughts" he said.
Happy thoughts peeps!