Aim down, don’t breathe water
My interest in freediving found its genesis in my love of spearfishing. In 2008 my wife and I ended a trip around the world on the island of Oahu where she enrolled in law school and I endeavored to set down roots on an archipelago I’d long viewed as heaven on earth. I’d always been a surfer first and foremost, but, finding myself surrounded by warm, crystal clear, water rather than the freezing cold murkiness of California I started paying attention to what lay beneath the surface. Riding waves was still my focus but the long flat Summer months provided ample time in which to begin the slow, often frustrating, process of learning to kill fish underwater on a single breath.
Spearfishing and freediving suffer from a dearth of literary sources from which one can wring any sort of knowledge. Of those that exist, many rely on an understanding of physiology which further exploration of the sport has rendered obsolete, others are merely out of print and, as a result, what few copies remain for sale are often prohibitively expensive. Lacking any friends or family who could guide me through the process of learning safe methods of diving and I was reduced to spending countless hours online, pouring over every forum or website in search of new information that would enhance my diving technique and watching video after video in order to learn how to properly stalk and kill fish.
A lifelong familiarity with the ocean, combined with a youth spent mired in competitive swimming, bred in me a type of hubris that dictated I could learn this all on my own, no need to seek out a mentor or training. I was regularly diving alone, seeking to prolong my bottom time and swimming further offshore every day in my search of deeper water and bigger game. The fact that I survived those first few years is somewhat miraculous, too short intervals between dives and climbing into caves without a spotter had become a daily occurrence. An eventual loss of motor control while diving alone in sixty feet of water near Waimea Bay finally taught me my folly, struggling to remain afloat while spots flickered in vision and my tingling arms and legs wouldn’t respond to my control. I needed some proper training. While the danger of freediving is part of its appeal I want to die an old man in bed, not inhaling water on my way to becoming a part of the food chain.
Well aware of my predilection for risk my wife had become increasingly concerned about my well being, finally suggesting (by which I mean demanding) that I enroll in a freedive course. It would help me increase my depth and bottom time, as well as, hopefully, teach me proper technique so she would be less concerned about receiving a phone call saying someone had fished my blue-hued corpse from the Pacific. She found a class that was being offered in Honolulu, somehow scraped together the money to pay for it (we were broke at the time), and sent me on my way.
Which is how I first met Kurt Chambers. I’d been aware of his existence for some time due to internet tales of his spearfishing exploits, regularly shooting fish at what is, for most, SCUBA depths. I knew he had a reputation for being a little reckless in his own diving, but all reports from his former students led me to believe that he’d be the perfect teacher. I wanted someone who would encourage me to push my limits, no coddle me in a warm embrace and a “good job for trying” mentality.
By the end of the three day course I’d more than doubled my personal best for depth, hitting 130′ before an inability to equalize my mask forced me to turn for the surface. I was also able to do a static breath hold of 4’10”, no where near any sort of record, but far longer than ,r previous record. He taught me safe methods of breathing up, how to recognize symptoms of hypoxia, how to overcome the physical discomfort which presented no danger but had, until that point, been a barrier to my progression as a diver, and walked me through an in depth understanding of our body’s reaction to pressure and apnea. I ended the course a far better diver and, more importantly, one that was orders of magnitude safer.
Kurt comes across as a rather intense fellow. He carries himself like a person possessed of a confidence that can only be built through a constant effort to overcome fear and excrutiating physical discomfort. His constant eye contact and serious demeanor can be a little intimidating, but as an instructor he is patient and kind, providing constant encouragement and helping students overcome the types of mental block which are a common barrier to progression.
Kurt Chambers grew up in Galveston, Texas and moved to Hawaii in 2003. He was freshly graduated from the University of Texas with a bachelors degree in Molecular Biology and recently enrolled in a graduate program at the University of Hawaii. He had no real plans for his degree, nor did he have any particular desire to live in Hawaii. “I missed the deadlines for the all the graduate schools in my last year at UT because I didn’t care and the only school I could still apply to was University of Hawaii. So I gave it a shot, I got in, and that’s the only reason I moved here.”
At the time Chambers was competing in triathlons, a hellish swim/bike/run combination that attracts a certain kind of masochist. He had some success, regularly finding himself on the overall podium, until retiring from racing in 2007 as his love of freediving took center stage.
You’re based out of Kona, right?
Home base is Kona, but I offer classes on all the islands. I’ve fallen into the routine of spending half my month at home, chilling and training and so on, and the other half jumping the islands, where in a two week span I might hit Maui, Oahu, and Kauai.
What made you choose to settle down on the Big Island?
Kona is regarded as kind of a hallowed place for competitive freediving in the freediving community . There’s been a history of competitions and training there and it’s the most favorable island for diving, with Kona, specifically, being really good for deep diving. There’s the really deep drop off close to shore, typically calm conditions…
There’s a pretty big freedive community on Big Island…
There is a scene for freediving on Big Island but many folks, even throughout Hawaii, don’t even know about it because it’s still a pretty small. It’s less than twenty, you know, hardcore competitive line divers. But others around the world actually do know about it, so throughout the year we’ll get visitors from elsewhere in the world that know to dive at Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau. That’s where we have a bunch of lines set up and every week, every Sunday for at least, like, ten years now, there’s a group of freedivers who gather there at that bay to train. So a lot of freedivers from around the world come just to join us and train there. It’s been drawing more and more divers from around the world.
It seems like the guys from Europe get a lot more support when it comes to competition…
I’m not really sure how lucrative it is, or how well divers from somewhere else are supported. I would guess that some of the really strong countries, like France and Italy, that have a really long tradition and history of freediving may, probably do, support their athletes and things like that. But I still think freediving is really still quite small even internationally and there’s not as much support elsewhere as we might think. So American freedivers can’t cry too much about, you know, not getting helped by the government or something like that, because I don’t think that’s the case. I think it’s just for the love of the sport elsewhere too. But, you’re right, there’s certainly way more opportunities for competition over there, profit for sponsorships and things like that, than we have here.
Hopefully, with the instruction I’m, and others, are doing we’ll just develop more of an awareness of it here and create more competition and training opportunities. Because I don’t see why we shouldn’t be producing world champion freedivers out of Hawaii, considering how favorable this place is for training. I hope that, maybe, we can make that happen.
Are a lot of these guys coming from places where they’ve gotta focus more on pool stuff, like distance and static, because of the environment?
There’s freedivers throughout the world that live in places that are the complete opposite from Hawaii, or, at least, pretty different. The water’s cold, it’s uninviting, it’s not clear. You know, there’s actually a lot more divers in Canada, or in the UK and places like that, than in the United States. So for them it’s like the ultimate vacation to come to a place like Hawaii to spend time training and doing the kind of diving that they dream about, stuff we get to do year round and may even take for granted.
Nearly twenty years ago, when I was a skinny little sixteen year old in a pair of speedos fruitlessly trying to cruise for girls at a swim meet, I came across a bulletin board to which was attached a crinkled newspaper clipping about a man named Francisco “Pipin” Ferreras. A Cuban born freediver who’d in recent years set a number of records in the No Limits discipline (in which a weighted sled is ridden to depth and an inflated bag used to rocket back to the surface) Pipin had drawn the attention of a “team of scientists” who’d studied his body’s reaction to depth and hypoxia, hoping to understand what set this man apart and allowed him to reach depths which common wisdom dictated were impossible to survive.
According to the article, scientists, “might want to consider reclassifying Ferreras as a marine mammal,” due to the physiogical changes his body underwent as he dove. Upon submersion his heart rate would begin to drop, the blood vessels in his extremeties would constrict- forcing blood to his heart and brain. His spleen would release red blood cells, and at extreme depth his body would undergo a blood shift, wherein the lungs and thoracic cavity fill with blood plasma, keeping the organs from being crushed.
I was decades away from discovering my own love for freediving, but at the time I was fascinated by this aquatic superman. My own life revolved around the water, swimming laps each day before and after school, spending every free moment in the ocean in pursuit of an ultimately failed dream of becoming a professional surfer. I was quickly distracted by some nubile young thing in a one piece swimsuit, but I never really forgot the tale of this magical seal man, this atavistic throwback to our ocean born progenitors.
Of course, now we know that there was nothing magic about Pipin, outside of the drive for excellence and that je ne sais quoi that is a hallmark of any pioneer. We all have the potential to reach the depths, doing so is just a matter of training and desire.
One of the things I like about freediving is how accessible it is to the average person with minimal training or experience.
You’re actually touching on probably one of the most fascinating aspects of the activity of freediving which is that human beings, by our genetics and evolutionary history, actually have a predisposition to freedive. This is something I talk about in class, we all share the mammalian dive reflex with the aquatic mammals just based on the idea that some sort of predecessor of mammals had an aquatic existence, developed all sorts of capabilities that help with freediving, probably gathering food in the ocean, and we’ve retained them. So, no matter how inexperienced or unhealthy any human being is, we basically have found that we all share the adaptations that help us with breath holding and freediving, once you subject that individual to the right kind of stress. Breath holding, pressure, things like that. It’s just really cool to realize that, no matter if you have no ocean experience, you actually do have the capability to hold your breath for three or four minutes, to dive to a hundred feet.
There’s certainly going to be obstacles to realizing that potential, such as learning how to equalize your ears, remaining mentally calm under discomfort, but I’ve seen total beginners learn to, in a matter of days, do things like hold their breath for five minutes, dive to a hundred feet. It all clearly shows that we do have this predisposition and that’s a cool thing.
Something I’ve always been curious about- you’re without a doubt the most active instructor in Hawaii, but you operate independently from any of the large certification companies. Why no association with any of the bigger schools?
I did take a lot of training from other schools here, and I even went through some instructor training with them. And I have to give them credit, their curriculum, their organization and all that, is excellent. It really is a great service that they’ve developed and provided for us all. But after many years of kind of playing with everything I learned from them I just realized other ways of doing things. In some cases more efficiently, or I felt certain things they teach are just too much for the recreational diver here, so I basically had to depart from being associated with them because they wouldn’t like if I wasn’t teaching all the elements exactly as they believe in them. But, here I am, a couple years later, teaching it my way and the results seem to be the same. I haven’t had any accidents in teaching hundreds of students and I think I have made the curriculum a bit more efficient so it takes less time and is a bit cheaper for students.
My whole philosophy, when I started teaching, is that all divers deserve to take these classes, that they all want to, but they’ve always been prohibitively expensive and require too much time and require a trip to Kona or wherever. So I basically tackled all those obstacles as much as I could to make the classes far more accessible. The schools probably don’t like that because I’m taking away business but they have to agree that I’m helping with our shared goal of making divers safer in general. Anybody who gets the training is a lot less likely to have the type of accident we worry about so much, so at least I’m doing that, even if I’m competing with them now.
How many classes do you run in a month?
I hate to go back and tally them up but I feel like I’ve been teaching… five or six in the last month or something. So it’s a lot. It used to be something like two in a month, but now it’s very typical to have at least four, if not six or something like that.
I’m kind of surprised to hear that, but I guess free diving’s pretty hot right now.
Well, I mean, these are small classes too. Even if it’s like, six classes, it could be no more than thirty people for the whole month, which is not that many divers. But, yeah, it’s great for me. All I am is a opportunistic instructor, I don’t really arrange these beforehand and hope people sign up. I only arrange them when people ask for them directly. I just try to be obliging every time someone inquires and that’s been keeping me really busy lately.
I think that the price the schools came up with initially, or whatever they’re maintaining now, they probably feel is the value of what they give their students, which is fine. But I just think that all kinds of businesses evolve, and this is basically the evolution of the freedive instruction market. Now there’s a way way higher number of advanced divers out there that have been using those advanced principles for years and many of us have the inclination to teach others and we want to share it with others. It’s just natural that we have a growing number of wannabe or legit instructors so naturally there’s going to be increased competition and all that. But I really do just feel that the rates I charge for my classes are fair. It’s basically a hundred dollars a day per student, which is plenty to pay for anybody, for what we do. I’ve just kept it that, just thinking it’s fair and trying to help divers as much as I can.
One thing I’ve been seeing a lot of, in the surf world, is attention to freediving and its application to surfing big waves. How do you feel about that?
There’s no question that big wave surfers have to face episodes of breath holding when they’re held under during a session, so yeah, the fact is that there’s a bit of breath holding there. And freediving is really probably the only sport that involves breath holding, so it makes sense for them to be attracted to courses and join them just to learn the consequences of it, how far can you push yourself and things like that. So I think it’s great they found out about it and there’s a growing awareness and interest among surfers to take the courses.
I think it’s a little funny, and I’ll have to admit the freedive schools are taking advantage of it in a funny way with calling them Waterman Survival Courses, as if these guys become invincible or something like that after they take a class. But really all they’re doing is gathering the same awareness that a student of freediving learns about what happens to your body during a breath hold and how far we can push ourselves. And I think, whether a surfer takes a so called Waterman’s Survival Course or a normal freediving course they’re going to learn the same thing.
I love how they use the word “Waterman” because, at least for me, waterman isn’t something you call yourself. Other people can, but putting that label on yourself is kind of…
Yeah, I do feel it’s a bit gimmicky and a little bit… but it’s a marketing thing, and, hey, if it’s working, more power to the schools that offer such courses.
The thing is I’m seeing them offer a ton of these courses in places like San Diego and, having lived on Oahu, and having surfed some fairly big waves, I wonder whether people have any idea what they’re actually getting themselves into. Having a good static breath hold is one thing, but dealing with pants shitting fear and getting the life beat out of you while trying to do the same thing is a whole different story. I wonder if some of these classes are going to build false confidence and push people into situations on vacation that, maybe, they really have no business being in.
Yeah, actually, I never thought about it like that, that maybe there are folks joining these so called waterman survival courses who aren’t highly experienced surfers or watermen already. I always thought it would only attract really experienced surfers but you’re right, I think anybody could join a course regardless of their experience and it might draw in some people who would be in over their heads.
I feel confident though that, any of these courses, no matter what they’re called, they’re still producing students that are safer in whatever they’re doing afterward, not that they’re incurring more danger or risk for these folks. And I think, for the most part, it’s very experienced surfers that are joining those courses.
The appeal of diving deep on a single breath of air is difficult for the typical landlubber to comprehend, and it’s no wonder that many look on committed freedivers as suicidal adrenaline crazed lunatics. You can’t breathe water, and to an outside observer it would seem as though every dive could be your last.
But, with proper training, to enter the depths is sublime. From the surface, lungs packed to bursting, it’s a hard downward kick, fighting your body’s natural buoyancy until you reach a point in which you no longer float, when you can tuck and drop towards the bottom. Your chest compresses, lungs squeezed to the size of oranges, your mind tricked into believing they are full, nearly the sensation of taking a breath. At negative buoyancy you can fly, a change in posture or flip of a fin allowing you to swoop and dive. The sea is not silent; fish grunt, coral and rocks grate against each other, whale song reverberates through your body. Your heart rate drops and your mind is empty, a blissful calm born of being purely in the moment.
Colors change as you dive, their wavelength absorbed by the ocean. Red goes first, at around fifty feet, followed by yellow at one hundred and orange at 165′. You see the world in greys and blues, muted and calming, like a surreal dream in which everything is slightly different than it should be, but you can’t comprehend why.
Using photography to capture and convey this experience is no easy feat. SCUBA tanks blow bubbles, an obnoxious cacophony that obscures the stark beauty of the surroundings and frightens many of the deep’s denizens who will come closer to investigate a silent interloper.
But capturing images that convey this reality on a lungful of air is near impossible without the ability to hold your breath for minutes at a time and to remain aware of your surroundings, properly framing shots, when the mind wants nothing more than to relax an experience, rather than act.
Let’s talk about your photography for a bit. You take some amazing photos, when did you start focusing on that?
Photography for me, like a lot of interests, is just an avid hobby, though for the last couple years I’ve done it so passionately it’s hard to defend it as a hobby anymore. It’s really almost embarrassing to say I’m not making a living from it with as much time, money, and effort I’ve put into it. But I just really haven’t had any major offers fall into my lap and I guess I’m just to lazy to take the initiative and try to create a business around it. I’m still just enjoying it for what it is, and as my body of work grows maybe I’ll do something with it myself, in the form of a gallery or book or whatever. Although I’m totally eager to have offers from companies, like swimwear or whatever.
But, anyway, I started shooting underwater around 2007 or so. I’m completely self taught and now, even though I might not be making a living from photography, just by publishing my photos regularly on instagram or Facebook, that generates so much business for me in the freediving classes. Basically, in a lot of cases, people jump into these classes when they’re inspired by something and now social media is the quickest and cheapest way to get that exposure. I think that getting to see these dreamlike underwater images that I publish all the time gets a lot of people to take interest in freediving and, of course, take a class with me because I’m the photographer.
Where do you find all these naked women?
Naked women are everywhere. You just have to have the balls to ask them, basically.
But, more seriously, it’s been a long process, a long time developing a reputation where girls trust you to shoot things like that and know that it’s going to be handled tastefully. But, yeah, they’re everywhere and it’s just a matter of them seeing my work and seeing that it’s professional and it ends up looking really good. I don’t have too much trouble anymore finding naked women to shoot when I want to.
So you’re getting approached now?
I would say I’m putting in more effort than the other way around. It’s not like there’s a line of girls begging to shoot with me… but, yeah, without the nudity there would be a line I think, wanting to shoot in their bikinis and stuff like that. But since I’m not getting paid by anybody I try to hold out as much as I can to shoot what I enjoy the most and, yeah, I guess I enjoy nudes the most.
You ran into some problems with your instagram page getting taken down, right?
Yeah, I did. I think of my stuff as artistic and tasteful and I naturally wanted to put some of it up because I feel a lot of it’s my best work, which is what I try to present. So I tried to get around the rule, which is no nudity, as tactfully as I could. I wouldn’t just, like, completely show nipples and genitals and stuff like that. I’d censor them or not have them visible, but, nevertheless, I did lose a few accounts, my early ones. I did hear about one big company’s page going down and then instagram actually reversed its decision and allowed them to put it back up, so I’m hoping that things are going to slowly change as far as instagram becoming a little less conservative.
Let’s talk about mermaids. What’s up with the little mermaid culture I’m seeing pop up?
I didn’t know about the fairly healthy and… interesting… mermaid culture or population or whatever you want to call it, until I started getting these underwater photos out there. Any underwater photographer knows that mermaids are something that’s interesting to shoot, there’s just instant impact when you throw a mermaid tail on a shoot.
So some of my early mermaid shots that went up were hugely popular and got shared a ton and even though I don’t personally have this mermaid obsession that a lot of folks do I do, nevertheless, realize the impact it has. Basically any photographer wants to put something out there that goes viral and in a lot of cases the mermaid images can do that. So I continue to invite any girls with mermaid tails to come work with me. It just ends up with really good, popular photos.
I actually would like to expand into some other types of business and a really obvious idea is doing shoots for girls in mermaid tails or renting them out, or something like that. So, if I can get serious here, I might be able to start developing some side gig around that, just to respond to this huge popularity with mermaids which I guess is never going to go away.
Maybe do a Mermaid Survival Course instead of a Waterman Survival Course.
Oh, that’s a great idea! A mermaid survival course, I think that’s gonna have to happen now.
When writing about freediving it’s easy to succumb to the temptation to focus on the dangers. It makes for a compelling narrative and shocking titles are sure to grab the reader’s attention. Articles like Wired magazine’s recent “The Insanely Dangerous, Weirdly Meditative Sport of Freediving,” or “Open Your Mouth and You’re Dead,” which appeared in Outside in 2012 are just two examples. I’ve, personally, partaken in the vice of yellowish journalism with a piece titled, “Forcing My Wife to Watch Me Drown.”
In reality freediving is safe to the point of approaching mundane. Assuming a person is a strong swimmer the most common injuries are related to baurotrama, damage done to tissue by the difference in pressure between the inside of your body and the surrounding water. While it’s possible for it to be serious, in practice baurotrama is most often caused by diving while congested, a mistake most make only once. Spending a week suffering from bruised sinuses is an experience that leaves a lasting impression. Following the simple tenet of equalizing early and often nearly eliminates even these small risks.
Of course people do die and accidents do happen. The tragic death of Audrey Mestre in 2002 while attempting a world record no limits dive left a lasting impression on the freedive community. Herbert Nitsch, an elite level diver who has set world record in multiple disciplines, nearly died in 2012 while trying to set a new no limits record of 831 feet when he suffered from a blackout followed by severe decompression sickness. Nicholas Mevoli passed in 2013 during a competition from pulmonary edema caused by lung squeeze. When considering these incidents it’s important to remember that all three of these individuals were attempting to perform at a level which humans have never before achieved. Like outliers in all sport which present risk, they walked the razors edge between the possible and the fatal, willing to risk their lives to push the limits of what is considered possible.
Outside of these extreme examples freediving has little to no risk, provided you follow certain simple precautions. For the reckless and untrained there will always be danger, but that’s a truism that applies to all of life’s risky endeavors. A poor swimmer with no prior experience should no sooner try to dive to twenty feet than a drunk child should seek to drive a car.
Let’s move on to the danger stuff. There seems to be this idea that freediving is more dangerous than SCUBA. What’s your take on that?
I have nothing against SCUBA divers, believe it or not I am certified, I just never ever went anymore after getting certified. You really can’t just say definitively which is more dangerous than the other. I assume there must be more fatalities with SCUBA, just because of the sheer number of them compared to freedivers, but, among the freedive community we do have a fairly high rate of accidents, even with our smaller size.
But there’s some pretty obvious differences. With freediving you can go out and do it and your risk of having an accident is really, really, low when you’re a beginner because you don’t know how to hold your breath very well, you can only dive shallow. On the other hand, a SCUBA diver with no training, if they throw a tank on their back and they go down they’re probably going to have an accident on their very first dive, not knowing about the decompression issues and that they have to come up slowly and exhale on the way up, things like that. That, to me, kind of tips the scale to freediving being safer. Another thing I’d point out is that SCUBA divers are dependent on this mechanical equipment whereas freedivers just need fins and a mask and it’s a lot simpler and if those things fail it won’t be the total emergency that it would be in SCUBA if, say, their regulator fails.
Freediving is just like being an acrobat in regards to safety. If you’re good and smart at it you can likely avoid having an accident on your own…But any acrobat knows that safety can instead be one hundred percent ensured simply by having the patience to use a net. Likewise, all that a freediver needs to do to, all but, ensure his safety is have the patience to stay together with a properly aware partner and keep an eye on each other. Nearly all the accidents in freediving share an identical risk factor…diving alone. Diving with a responsible partner and knowing how to handle blackout serves the same purpose as the acrobat’s safety net, allowing complete management of the risk. It’s that simple.
Then there’s competitive freediving, which is getting to some pretty ridiculous levels, with a recent well publicized death and Nitsch’s injury doing no limits.
You’re referring to Nicholas Mevoli? Nick was a really great person, really charismatic and a person to look up to in many ways. But we also see now, just reviewing the history with his blog and stuff like that, he was so motivated to push himself competitively as to be careless with his body. He was willing to get injured… he was getting injured and was willing to continue training or competing maybe too soon, as far as any of us would recommend. In that particular accident, in that competition, from what I understand he had a lung injury in the competition early on and any of us that with a lung injury would discontinue diving to heal up for weeks, if not months. Obviously he did another dive while injured and he ended up suffering a worse, fatal, lung injury from that.
That basically opened our eyes to the possibility of a fatality happening in competitive freediving, but it’s actually regarded as the only fatality we’ve had in twenty years of freediving competitions. Though we have to make a distinction between line diving competitions, where we’re going on our own power, versus the no limits world record attempts, where we’ve actually had a lot of accidents. But we don’t normally compete in those. No limits is kind of a stunt thing that used to be done years ago.
Nicholas was just an isolated case involving a very special individual that had a certain psychology that lent itself to pushing himself too far.
How much deeper do you think people can go? Are we approaching a limit?
I’m sure that question is asked of other freedivers even more knowledgeable than me, but I really don’t think anybody has the slightest answer. We know that leaps and bounds can happen in a short time with just a little bit of training, so maybe there’s a certain aspect of breath holding that we’ve yet to discover that could result in even bigger leaps and bounds.
It is true that the rate of increase in world records has slowed quite a bit, but even in the last five years there have been some pretty big leaps in certain world records, such as in static apnea. I think we all want to believe there’s still a lot to discover. Freediving is in its infancy as a sport, compared to other sports, and the more some of these competitive freedivers push themselves as pioneers the more we’ll learn. Unfortunately we don’t have a whole lot of scientific research going on with freediving, despite how interesting it is.
You can’t talk about freediving without touching on shallow water blackouts. It’s obviously something everyone needs to be aware of, and it adds to the notion that freediving is this insanely dangerous activity, even though that’s not really that case.
I like to tell my classes I’ve blacked out more times than I can recall, which is sort of true because I don’t really keep a tally, but I’d estimate it’s been around twenty times or so. I like to point that out to my classes just to demonstrate that it really is possible to be a victim of that and survive. You can completely manage the risk in freediving of shallow water black outs, as long as you follow some simple rules, which we of course teach in the classes, and some of which you can obviously figure out on your own, like always dive with a buddy. For the most part almost all my blackouts have been minor, just waking up from nap or something You don’t really feel much for the worse. I have had one or two times where I had underwater blackouts, but that is pretty rare.
We teach in the classes that 90% of all blackouts happens at the surface and most of mine have certainly been like that, not a big deal. And the two times or so it actually happened underwater was from really pushing myself too far and I definitely would not want to go through those episodes again. We think the survivability of a black out is 100%, as long as it’s managed appropriately, but you definitely want to avoid the underwater blackouts if you can.
I ended up in the hospital in one case because of edema, fluid building up in my lungs, impairing my ability to breathe. So, yeah, there are some more extreme consequences I don’t think may people will ever experience, but I definitely have once or twice.
I hope you have health insurance.
As far as the government is concerned, I don’t have what they’re requiring as of late, but let me throw this out there- there is a valuable type of diving health insurance that anyone can get, and that I have subscribed to for years now, and that’s called Divers Alert Network. They offer just awesome dive accident insurance for, I believe, only $70 a year. I’m covered for any medical emergency that happens while diving, whether doing SCUBA or freediving. Some of the hospital bills I’ve had, from getting stitches in my arm after getting cut by a fish while spearfishing or the hospital stay I had from the edema, these were very expensive and they were completely covered by Divers Alert Network. So I’ve gotta really advocate that all divers go ahead and get that. For $70 a year it’s really a no-brainer.
It’s funny how we get older and start realizing how important this stuff is. How old are you anyway?
I’m 34 now, going on 25 or something like that. I just still really, I think, behave like I’m in my twenties. It’s funny, I feel like I, I don’t want to say wasted, but I squandered quite a few years in my early twenties dedicated to the whole school system and all that and I never ended up doing anything with it. So I’m still living those younger years, wanting to be an athlete. Trying to explore my potential and be great, in other words. So I guess that’s why I’m still doing this stuff now instead acting like others my age; getting married, having kids, and so on.
What’s the future hold for you?
I guess I kind of live in the moment. I don’t really set long term goals beyond, like, the next race or competition that I’m training or preparing for. But, I’m tossing around some things I’ve kind of mentioned already, like trying to come up with alternative businesses so I’m not just dependent on any single business, which right now is the freedive instruction. Obviously I’d really like to get some income going from my photography, I see the potential for other sort of spin offs of diving like apparel and wetsuits, stuff like that. There’s definitely some wheels very slowly in motion developing other side businesses that are mostly related the ocean.
A really cool thing is it seems that, arguably, the best, most powerful, advertising you can have for anything now is via social media. It’s just been amazing to me to see the power that any of us can develop just building an instagram audience or whatever. I’m pretty far away from Kim Kardashian on the instagram follower number, but the amount that I have now can help me succeed in promoting just about anything. So I’m gonna have to make sure I don’t let any nipples out in my pictures so I can keep my account going and rely on it when I have some other things to promote.
You can see more of Kurt’s photography on instagram @chambersbelow or check freedive course availability on Facebook.