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TV Review: Netflix's Deepest Breath

Alessia Zecchini descends to the deep with just one breath
Alessia Zecchini descends to the deep with just one breath Alessia Zecchini descends to the deep with just one breath

The Deepest Breath, Netflix

The Deepest Breath, similar to Sky’s 100-Foot Wave, asks the viewer to consider if they would risk their lives for their passion. 

Free diving is a potentially deadly extreme sport where contestants risk everything to go deeper and win competitions. 

There’s a direct read-across to surfing, where kids started out doing tricks in three to 10-foot waves but now an extreme version of the sport has grown where full-time athletes circumnavigate the globe following storms and monster swells. 

The largest wave ever surfed (recorded that is) was 86-feet at Nazare in Portugal where the power of the Atlantic meets a 5,000-metre-deep canyon just off the coast. 

The regular 60-foot-plus waves draw big wave surfers from around the world and leave many seriously injured. 

While surfers seek the adrenaline rush of gliding down from the highest point of the sea, free diving tests the ability to get as far below the surface as possible on a single breath. 

It requires enormous mental powers as divers relax their muscles and brains, and succumb to the dark depths. 

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Free diving also started out as the simple pleasure of viewing the sea without artificial breathing, but competition and professionalism has driven divers to dangerous depths. 

The top free divers now dive down to more than 100m and risk passing out before they return to the surface.  Safety teams hover around the last 20m and can intervene and bring the competitor to the surface if they lose consciousness. 

However, tragedies still occur and The Deepest Breath recalls one. 

Tragic safety diver Stephen Keenan
Tragic safety diver Stephen Keenan Tragic safety diver Stephen Keenan

Alessia Zecchini was a child prodigy in Italy who was so good that the rules were changed to stop her competing until her 18th birthday. 

When we meet her she’s a professional free diver trying to break the women’s world record. 

She was willing to risk her own life to succeed but couldn’t put all the pieces together until she met Irish safety diver Stephen Keenan. 

Keenan had been travelling the world trying to find his place in it, before free diving clicked as his calling. 

He helped her to new depths, and they fell in love in the process. 

The Dubliner’s story is told through his father because he isn’t around to tell his own story anymore. 

After setting the world record, Zecchini wanted to dive though ‘the arch’ at a notorious spot off Dahab in Egypt. 

The notorious 'Arch' off the coast of Egypt
The notorious 'Arch' off the coast of Egypt The notorious 'Arch' off the coast of Egypt

Keenan has previously run a diving school at the site and was determined to help her. 

The treacherous underground tunnel had taken many lives, but the pair were determined they were going to succeed. 

Unfortunately, they didn’t.  

A mistiming meant the couple didn’t meet at the appointed rendezvous point (Keenan was the safety diver) and Zecchini wandered off in the wrong direction. 

By the time he found her, she was passed out and drowning and he used his last air to save her, sacrificing himself. 

It was a gut-wrenching end to an outcome the documentary was hinting at from the beginning. 

Alessia and Stephen fell in love after meeting at a free dive competition
Alessia and Stephen fell in love after meeting at a free dive competition Alessia and Stephen fell in love after meeting at a free dive competition

The vast majority of us would never consider a past-time or sport which might end our lives.  

However, risk taking is part of life. We avoid some at all costs, such as covid, and partake in others routinely, such as car travel. 

But while we may casually think free divers and big wave surfers as crazy, without them humans would not have advanced as we have. 

The ultra-competitive adrenaline junkies were the Portuguese sailors who set sail into the unknown and discovered much of the known world, the divers who discovered the bottom of the ocean and the pioneers of flight.