Photo Credit: Joseph Crawford


🕔May 01, 2017

Gripping the rocky edge he calculates and times his entrance into the temperamental water. Remembering the last time he was here, he scans the shore-breaks and jutting coastline to hypothesize what lies below.

Fins are mandatory to have a chance against changing currents and potential riptides. Without the aid of scuba equipment, he’s reliant on his own mental strength and lung capacity. “You become highly aware of your breathing; it changes from being automatic to self-regulating,” says underwater photographer and recreational freediver Joseph Crawford. This way of breathing feels unnatural at first, but quickly becomes an addictive, nurturing practice. “With time and focus, you learn to control your mental state so you don’t panic,” Joseph explains.

Bobbing at the surface to a rhythmic swell, salt water peels off his forehead. Like a needle injecting anaesthetic, the cold infiltrates his jawbone, shooting down the curvature of his spine. A slow tread of water to calm his breath, his adrenaline, and his mind. Deep belly inhales of oxygen, pausing, and long releasing exhales of unwanted carbon dioxide.  Filling every fold of his lungs so that when he’s ready, he can spend as much time as possible below the surface. And with one last relaxed inhale he crosses the boundary of above to below. His heart rate slows as the rhythm of the surface waves are no longer dictating his every move. The groundswell rocks back and forth as he begins to descend.  “And then you feel nothing, no waves, no movement, just a sense of unknown.” Joseph explains.  The blood rushes from his extremities to his core as he enters the depths of the darkness. His muscles relax from his shoulders to his toes allowing him to glide with an eel-like ease into the meditative sound chambers of another world.

Time slows down in the secluded underwater world where the terrain is jagged. Silence wraps around the freediver as he explores the underwater architecture made up of cracks, caves and crevices. “You’re engulfed by this intimate experience—between you and the ocean,” says Joseph. Leaving calmer waters, a cloud of white passes above as waves begin to break. The glassy ceiling turns to a series of geometric lines pulling and suspending the thick-skinned freediver before he makes a break for the surface.

Learning to relax your muscles, to slow your breathing, and to surrender to the sea is not only a mental challenge but an ontological experience.  One second you’re surrounded by barren sea beds scattered with sea urchins, the next you’re sinking past kelp forests dancing in the waves while your thoughts of the other world are left floating at the surface.  

— Allison Smith

Editor's note: the best way to check out our No Words photo essays is to pick up a copy of the magazine itself. If you can't get your hands on a physical copy, you can view the magazine digitally here: https://issuu.com/northword/docs/05-06-2017--web