Nick Mevoli: The diver who died doing what he loved

Story highlights

  • Nick Mevoli died Sunday while freediving in the Bahamas
  • Mevoli had hoped to reach a depth of 72 meters
  • He lost consciousness after he surfaced
  • Friends pay tribute to "the best" diver in the U.S.

He was the all-action American daredevil who was loved by all that knew him -- but Nick Mevoli's premature death after an ambitious dive has hit the freediving community hard.

"You don't meet many people like Nick," his close friend Grant Graves told CNN. "He was the best diver in the U.S. -- the best.

"He was one of a kind," added Graves. "I'd known him for two years and judged him too -- and he was the best."

Shock and sadness are the two overriding emotions which have surfaced since the man considered to be one of the best freedivers in the world lost his life while doing the thing he loved.

The 32-year-old Mevoli, who lived in Brooklyn, New York, had hoped to reach 72 meters (236 feet) with one breath of oxygen without the assistance of fins.

When he surfaced, he flashed the OK sign, before losing consciousness soon after, organizers said. William Trubridge, who organized the nine-day tournament canceled the event following Mevoli's death.

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Mevoli was going for a record at Dean's Blue Hole in the Bahamas. At 202 meters (663 feet), it is considered the world's deepest blue hole -- an underwater cave or sinkhole -- in seawater.

Freedivers are extreme athletes, descending more than 100 meters -- the equivalent of a 30-storey building --without using an oxygen tank.

At that depth, the diver's heart rate begins to slow, their blood vessels shrink and their lungs compress to the size of oranges under the huge force of water pressure..

The night before Mevoli died he sat and spoke with Graves.

For both men, free diving was an overriding passion and they spent countless hours together talking through their dives, their lives, what lay ahead and what lay below.

"Nick was one of a kind. He was an incredibly passionate and driven man -- but he was also kind with it," added Graves.

"He was very sensitive and deep but he had this pitbull-like tenacity about him.

"We had lots of deep conversations. With diving a lot of it is about the mental aspect."

Mevoli, who was born in Florida, worked in the television industry while he pursuing his freediving hobby in his spare time.

After making his first foray into competitions in 2012, he claimed second place at the inaugural Caribbean Cup in Roatan, first place at the Deja Blue tournament in Curaçao, and a silver medal in constant no fins at this year's AIDA Depth World Championship in Greece.

In May, Mevoli became the first American man to dive down to 100 meters with a single breath -- an achievement which brought him a third national record.

"When he did mess up then he'd get really angry at himself and he was harsh on himself," said Graves.

"He was a guy who was very much in the moment. He wore his heart on his sleeve in a balanced way.

"He could feel very deeply but would always manage to put that to the side when diving. He was so focused."

Photographer Lia Barnett worked with Mevoli at the Caribbean Cup in Honduras earlier this year.

"He was just an all round good guy," Barett told CNN.

"He was very altruistic. He cared about others a great deal and did a lot of volunteering and was much loved by everybody."

According to Graves, Mevoli's death is the first to occur in competition in 21 years.

"We are very sad to report that earlier today Nicholas Mevoli (USA) tragically lost his life after a CNF dive to 72m," said Vertical Blue, which organized the competition, in a statement on its website.

"He was conscious when he surfaced but then blacked-out more than 30 seconds later. Emergency procedures were followed and despite receiving immediate medical attention, he failed to regain consciousness.

"At the moment we are all extremely shocked and saddened and trying to establish what happened. His family has been informed and all our thoughts and prayers are with them.

"Competition freediving has an enviable safety record but the sport can never be risk-free, something understood by all freedivers.

"We will give more details as soon as they emerge."

Vertical Blue, the competition organizers, paid its own tribute to Mevoli.

A statement on its website read: "At the end we honored his 32 years with a white-water celebration that echoed the celebrations of his many incredible dives."

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