Kirk in oslofjorden

Text and photos by:
Sebastian Naslund / Sweden

I must confess. The only reason I once took a scuba certification course was to get the certification card so that I could fill my bottles. I mean, what is there to know, you just have to breath through the regulator.

Same thing with freediving – do you really have to take an expensive course just to snorkle deep?

Since I have now learnt one or two things about freediving. I have come to the conclusion that performance freediving is way more complicated than scuba diving – and potentially more dangerous if you really are exploring your own limits in depth, time or distance.
A freediving course is a place where you learn things that will keep you alive and most of all it will help you achieve personal bests.

All pictures taken at the course in Oslo. UW pictures from swimmingpool or diving in oslofjorden - quite murky the first 15 meters.

 In june 2002 I was an observer at Kirk Kracks freediving clinic in Oslo, Norway (in Scandinavia).
Performance freediving has come a long way during the last years. What hits me is that techniques that just some years ago were considered advanced – even for world record holders – today is at every mans disposal.

Some eight pupils have gathered in Oslo for “The performance freediving team clinic” led by Kirk Krack, Canada.
- “Has any of you had a samba”
The room is silent. No one answers.

The norwegian freediving community is a cautious lot. Finally one participant can remeber beeing a bit dizzy once after a dive. And yes of course the two samba disqualifications at the last world championships in Ibiza. Tom and Thomas surfacing somewhat confused after dives around 30.

During the coming days they will learn stuff that has taken years for the pioneers of freediving to explore and master.

Using simple visual explanations Kirk explains “packing”.
- “It´s like swallowing a golfball”.

Everthing is taught in steps added to the previous one. Kirk teaches the exact breathing pattern before the dive – followed by a practical run through on how to fill our lungs. Freediving "Kirk style" more and more resembles a military operation. After counting your personal number of “swallowed golf balls” you descent using an exact number of kick cycles before counting every equalizing up to the point where you fill your cheeks with air freefalling down still couning your equalizations. Depth is measured in equalizations. The grading is in the body – not on the rope.

If you are looking for your outmost limit it is not just to gear up, head for the water and hope for that magical divingreflex to apear after some dives. For Kirk, a personal best is the result of a long series of preparation. During the clinic I understand that everything is presented in such order that the pupils will be totally prepared for a personal best in constant weight at the last day of the course.

Admit it – thats what we all want. Constant weight is the king of freediving discipines.

Kirk has traveled many parts of the world with this course. Soon some 20 courses amounting to nearly 200 pupils.
Kirks own freediving started with a course with Pipin on Cayman. Actually the course was more or less run by Pipins associate at the time; Rudi Castineyra. Kirk teamed up with Tanya Streeter (resident at Cayman Island in the Carribean sea). She attended the same course and started training with Kirk. Rudi gave some support over the phone during the first period. Tanya who was quite eager soon discovered “shallow water blackout” the hard way. (Now she is the world record holder with her 70 meters in constant wight).

But preparations for that perfect dive starts the day before. If your personal best includes a bloodshift you have to start "drinking heavily" the day before. (If using the mouthfill technique you will equalize with the air in your mouth, and let your lungs go passed a squeeze – beyond that theoretical total colapse. Bloodshiftwill have to occur and it will work better if you are properly hydrated).
Kirk suggests 3 liters the day before (pending on climate). But it is a balance – to much water can wash out precious minerals in your body and bloodstream.

Reveresepacking excercise

Kirk is a man of details and has both the practical experince and the scientific knowledge of really deep dives. This comes from coaching several world records – at present he is coaching Mandy Ray Cruickshank from the same country, same city and even same apartment, since they are a couple.

At times that apartment even hosts Martin Stepanek, a co-instructor at many of Kirks clinics.

As an example of details explored by Kirk and his performance team one could mention that milk products before a dive can inhibite your abity to equalize. .

And that saturated fats lessens the hemoglobins ability to carry O2.

When the pupils hit deep water – they have a new methodical approach to their dives. Its nothing like taking a big gulp of air heading down and hoping for one of those lucky unexplainable dives.

I have attended some four freediving clinics and only Kirk Krack took safety really seriously. Long drills in the pool actually saving each other – touching each other – not just a description on the overhead. A lot of self rescue precautions were discussed that can be utilised when approaching surface after that really bad dive.

Stig Severinsen from Denmark (62 meters at Ibiza 2001) was there to see if he could polish his technique and learn one or two things for his own future clinics. Stig did a brilliant job imitating sambas and blackouts while beeing rescued, since he was the only really experienced diver at the course.

There seem to be some factors joining the best freedivers of the world – they have all had blackouts (some even see sambas as a trainingtool) – a majority of them also practices lungpacking and most deep dives today are done by monofins. Since hands in front reduces drag immensly, most deep dives include that feature. Having seen Umberto Pelizzari diving to 73 meters with bifins and hands down, says something about his ability.

One realizes that Kirk has seen a great many blackouts. One new rescue technique that I hadn´t come across before the course was the technique to blow air across the face of the BO victim. The same stimuli is used to make small babies start breathing when they cease breathing for short periods.

Only one month after the clinic I am very thankfull for the new piece of knowledge. At the swedish championships in static I get pulled up unconcious after some five minutes and 40 seconds. The judge pats my cheek urging me to breath. Strange thing is – I do my three fast breaths, drilled in during practice and then I STOP breathing – hanging in the arms of a safetydiver – holding my breath, still unconscius – still experiencing breathing reflexes that jerks my body. My coach then remembers to blow over my face and in the video I can see my face sort of shrivelling up just before I start breathing again.

Freediving clinics are expensive – if looking at it from a student budget perspective. And most of the theory can actually be found on the internet.
What makes a clinic worth its price are the practical drills and at some courses the opportunity to try breathing oxygen or holding your breath against an oximeter or finding out your vitalcapacity with a VC meter.
Other things that only a course like Kirks can deliver is the actual meeting with a coach that has trained worldrecord holders. Personally I just love hearing stuff like:
- “at Martin Stepaneks Static world record he had 73 conractions, first one starting at 4.15”.

The perfect dive contains of so many details. Sometimes the beginner has no thought of the the most obvious things like the fact that your suit will compress in the deep and your belt will loosen up. Reading about it is good, but actually seeing the amount of effort Kirk puts in when tightening his rubberbelt around his hips is the reason to attend a clinic.
All the small details towards the aim of perfecting your dive – like sucking he exapanding air out of the mask on the way up. (Kirk does a sucking at every contraction).

As with all teachers that has done the same drill over and over Kirk at some point starts looking a bit bored, never in conflict with his professionality though. But when the first pupil touches his personal best I see Kirk lightning up, leaving all jetlag behind, coaching and urging. And soon the personal best is surpassed with some 5 meters.

- The feeling we are looking for is “two eyeballs in the water”, sort of beeing so relaxed that we melt into the water.

Since Kirk works closely with a university conducting studies in breatholding one feels that the knowledge he delivers goes hand in hand with science asweell as the practical knowledge from coaching dousins of people to their personal best. I suddenly realize that Kirk Krack is the kind of guy you would want to have safetydiving on your personal best attempt.

When discussing he future of freediving performances Kirk claims that:
- In the end the biggest thing that will effect perfomance is aquadynamics.

Text and photo by :
©Sebastian Naslund

Editor surfacing after 40 meter constant weight without fins (using Kirks breathing technique before descent)
Photos of grips and handling of BO victim taken at performance freediving clinic by Kirk Krack