Herbert is known to be an independent thinker and pioneer in freediving. His freediving techniques, equipment and training methods are innovative and controversial, yet they have proven to be very effective and efficient.
He has always been interested in physics, aerodynamics, hydrodynamics, and in figuring out ways to freedive and train in the safest and most efficient way. This reflects in both the use of his own body as well as in the use of equipment and safety measures for freediving.
He brought many novel ideas to the freediving scene, which meanwhile have become standard uses in the sport. After inventing and introducing the neck weight in 2001, he was the first freediver to set world records in both the dynamic apnea and deep diving disciplines with it. He also set many world records with his invented pipe mask.
Neck weight Pipe-mask Monofin
In addition to creating new equipment, Herbert was the first to set freediving distance and depth world records with the monofin which he introduced into the freedive scene.
Herbert was the first to make a decompression stop and slow ascends during various depth disciplines. He was also the first to re-descend after a deep dive with pure oxygen to offset any possible symptoms related to decompression sickness.
No Limit Sled I No Limit Sled II No Limit Sled III
Because Herbert always believed that the traditional No Limit sleds (with one tank and one liftbag) were very unsafe, he introduced the double lift-bag, out-of-water counter weight system, electric counter weight, multi engine electric winch, and various advanced No Limit sleds with multiple safety, back-up and override systems.
For all his No Limit world records, Herbert used a self-designed and novel equalization technique which includes a so-called EQUEX (equalization extension tool). During his first two No Limit WR (in 2005 and 2006), the equex consisted of balloon in a funnel to hold the balloon.
For the subsequent two No Limit records (2007), the EQUEX consisted of a large size plastic Coke bottle with holes in the bottom and with a hose attached to it from the top.
During his last WR, Herbert used two large plastic Coke bottles with their bottoms glued together. The cap facing downward was taken off to allow the water to be forced out by the air from Herbert's lungs at the first stop during the descent.
The EQUEX made from a large pastic Coke Bottle
During a No Limit dive, when descending on one breath, Herbert stops at about 10-15 meters / 31-49 feet and blows all his air into the Coke bottle, thus pressing out the water in it from the holes at its bottom. He uses reverse packing to empty his lungs. This precious air in the bottle is used for equalization of the middle ears and sinuses to allow diving to greater depths.
Herbert is a trained airline pilot and has worked as Captain for Tyrolean Airways for 15 years. Prior to that he worked as Co-Pilot for owners of private planes and business jets. Since 2010, Herbert has focussed fully on freediving.
Being an avid sailor and windsurfer from an early age onward, Herbert feels at home above sea level on the oceans too. His father, Gerhard, owned a Lagoon 42 catamaran for many years, and together they ventured the Caribbean seas.
Over the past years Herbert has skippered additional large monohuls and catamarans. The most recent boat he skippered was an experimental 64 footer zero-emission solarpowered catamaran.
“Freediving” is diving underwater for as deep or as far as possible on a single breath of air. Of the eight freediving sporting disciplines, the deepest and most extreme is “No Limit”, which uses a sled to descend and a buoyancy device to ascend. Only six freedivers dove beyond 170 m (560 ft), during which two died trying. Herbert, as only person so far, also dove beyond 700 ft and 800 ft.
Austrian Herbert Nitsch is the current freediving world record holder and “the deepest man on earth”. This prestigious title was given to him when he then set the world record for freediving at an incredible depth of 214 meters (702 feet) in 2007 in the No Limit discipline. He surpassed this world record with a No Limit dive to 253.2 m (830.8 ft) in 2012.
FREEDIVER HERBERT NITSCH
PIONEER, EXPLORER, INNOVATOR
AIRPLANES & YACHTS
Herbert can hold his breath for more than 9 minutes and has set a total of 33 world records. 32 of these are in all of the 8 recognized freediving disciplines – unrivaled achievements in the freediving history. Herbert has set an additional world record in the traditional Greek freediving discipline Skandalopetra.
On June 6, 2012, Herbert dove to 253.2 m (830.8 ft). During the No Limit sled-dive, well after having reached the planned depth, Herbert temporarily fell asleep due to nitrogen narcosis and consequently missed the planned one-minute decompression stop on the same breath-hold. At the surface he was alert and asked for a mask to return back underwater to recompress on pure oxygen, which is a standard after-dive safety feature to further off-gass. But it was too late.
While decompressing underwater, Herbert felt he onset of DCS (decompression sickness). He incurred severe DCS (type 2) which would eventually result in multiple brain-strokes. It is interesting to note that DCS symptoms occur after a dive and in serious cases can take up to 24 hours to appear. He arrived comatose at the hyperbaric chamber and his future did not look good.
With a prognosis of remaining a "wheelchair-bound care-dependent patient", he dismissed himself from longterm facilitated care, and took his healing into his own hands. Two years later, against all odds, Herbert is training and deep-freediving again
He is the first and only freediver to dive beyond 180 m (590 ft) in four consecutive sled-dives dives (No Limit, 2006, 2007, 2012) and the first freediver ever to reach 100 m (328 ft) without fins or sled (Free Immersion, 2003). Herbert took a break from competition freediving in 2010 to focus solely on the No Limit discipline.
Unlike other elite freedivers Herbert is self-taught. He is a pioneer in every way.
He developed his own freediving techniques over the years, a methodology that largely differs from the traditional styles. He brought many novel ideas and innovations to the sport, that meanwhile have become common elements in the current freediving scene.
High safety standards and detailed planning are always part of every dive Herbert makes. Herbert was an airline Captain for the Austrian Airlines Group for 15 years, a profession where check-lists and worst case scenarios were his daily routine
Unlike other elite freedivers Herbert is self-taught. He is a pioneer in every way. He developed his own freediving techniques over the years, a methodology that largely differs from the traditional styles. He brought many novel ideas and innovations to the sport, that meanwhile have become common elements in the current freediving scene.
This risk-avoiding and high-security attitude helps him to achieve his ambitious goals within freediving. Furthermore he is keen about every technical detail and design of his equipment. He designs and produces highly innovative gear with hydrodynamic shapes and lighter materials.
Herbert´s motives are about the unknown, about crossing physiological boundaries, achieving goals that seem beyond the limits; overcoming mental challenges; and exploring, understanding, controlling and fine-tuning his own body and its bodily functions (heart rate, blood pressure, blood distribution, oxygen intake and consumption, understanding energy efficiency, etc.).
Very little scientific research has been done so far on the physiological effects of freediving, especially as deep as Herbert is diving. His lung volume has been measured to be 10 Liters (2.6 Gallons), which Herbert can expand to 15 Ltr (4 Gal) with a special technique called “packing” or “buccal pumping” (healthy adult males have a lung capacity of 6 to 7 Ltr or 1.6 to 1.8 Gal).
In December of 2013, Herbert proudly joined the Ocean Advocacy Advisory Board of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, who is active in protecting the ocean's wildlife and environments. He is also a well-sought after lecturer world wide for corporations (banks, pharmaceutical companies, airlines, events, etc.) and for the general public.
Print and TV media world wide have covered Herbert’s freediving adventures. He has graced the pages of Red Bulletin, Men’s Health, GQ, Playboy, ESPN, Spiegel, Apnea, Deep, Tauchen, Stern, Paris Match, L’Equipe, HOME, Profil and many others.
He has appeared on various TV shows and documentaries for CBS 60 Minutes Sports, BBC, ORF, ZDF, ARTE, RedBull and Stern TV.
Commercial partners included Breitling watches, Hyundai, Landrover, Shell V-Power, Coors Miller Light, SeaBob scooters, Canon cameras, Trygons freedive equipment, FilmOne productions, SeaCam underwater housing, UK-Germany underwater housing.
His unique freediving career started with a single coincidence. In the late nineties, while Herbert was on the way to a scuba dive safari, his diving equipment got lost somewhere in transit. So Herbert went snorkeling instead of scuba diving during the entire vacation. There Herbert discovered his natural talent for freediving very quickly. He was fascinated by the nature of this sport and was progressing fast. After freediving for ten days only, he was 2 m (6.5 ft) short of the Austrian National record.