Interview with Martin Stepanek

01/06/2013 11:49

  • World Champion Freediver and 13 times world record holder visited Lighthouse dive center (Dahab, Egypt)  last week  to hold FII Level 2 Freediver course for Qatar students.  Martin has been coming to Dahab since year 2000, often holding courses incorporating his own teaching system calling it  Freediving Instructors International (FII); originally FII was established in USA but it has quickly  spread to Europe as its reputation for quality training is growing as  Freediving is rapidly gaining popularity, worldwide.

  •   We asked a few questions of Martin.  Let's check out what we thought was interesting and see his responses:

  • INTO the BLUE :  First question is usually about how humans choose their step to be the best , or why they do what they do, so my question is :  what was your first step to became a freediver, why you chose freediving as your life style ?

  • Martin : Since my early age I have been always drawn to the water. I think, partially thanks to my mom whom was competitive swimmer at her young age. Naturally, she wanted me to be a swimmer as well and therefore I had known how to swim before I knew how to walk. My fascination with the water environment led to scuba diving and competitive finswimming since second grade. Freediving is almost as combinations of those two, so I guess, it was unavoidable for me. Little I knew back then how wholesome and addictive this activity is.

  • INTO the BLUE :  Many  people consider that Freediving is extreme and dangerous sport, how is Freediving in your eyes ? What does Freediving mean to you?

  • Martin : I believe that both designations are bit misleading. It is like saying that riding a bike is extreme and dangerous. There is a different between six year old kid riding a bike around in fenced playground and a stuntman trying to ride a bike on tight rope between two skyscrapers during a thunderstorm. When done recklessly and with disregard for safety, freediving can be dangerous or extreme. While when practiced the responsibly freediving can be an amazing recreational activity, serious sport, self improvement philosophy or even way of living. I see freediving almost like an art. There are as many different "freedivings" as there are freedivers. For me it is a lifestyle.

  • INTO the BLUE : In most  Sports, stress and adrenalin play a major role, how do these  things affect  you before a deep dive? What is going on through your mind when you start your dive, especially to a depth that nobody has achieved before?

  • Martin : Adrenalin before the dive is not exactly what freediver needs but the thrill of competition or the challenge of the unknown and unachieved can easily bring it up. Focus and trust in one's own abilities is everything when it comes to world record dives. It may be very difficult state of mind to achieve in such situation but it is a big part of our sport. There are many good freedivers out there but not as many good competitors.

  • INTO the BLUE : Looking  back to your records , do you remember which one was the hardest one, and can you tell as why ?

  • Martin :  The hardest world record for me was 93m CWT (Constant Weight)  in Cyprus 2003. There were two announcements for the same depth, Herbert Nitsch and myself. Just before our dives the weather changed and the sea had become so rough that the organizer delayed the start three times and discussed the cancelation of the event. At the end we dove. Herbert went first finishing with bad blackout and ruptured ear drum. I have dove second wearing bi-fins and borrowed lanyard that was 20cm shorter than my own. Long story short, the lanyard didn't let me be as hydrodynamic as I was in my training dives and the rough sea probably didn't help with my breathe-up either, so I have completely burned out my legs on the way up. I had seriously believed that I am not going to make it this time. It always had been my favorite WR, I guess because I really had to push myself for it. Till nowadays it is still the deepest dive made with bi-fins.

  • INTO the BLUE :  Your school has accomplished a lot over the last year.  FII has quickly became popular in the USA as well as Europe.   FII is on its way to being the best Freediving school. How can people find an FII instructor or school it they would like to start Freediving? What courses do FII offer?

  • Martin : FII is easy to find, if you go to www.freedivinginstructors.com and click on Sign Up for a Course you will see a worldwide course and instructor locator that will allow you to find the nearest class or instructor at the time frame of your liking. The great part about it is that you can register for the course right there. As simple as it gets. The courses are break down from the absolute beginner to a professional including various specialties to cater to various styles of freediving.

  • INTO the BLUE : Many people think that Freediving is not for them, what you can advise ? What is the minimum someone should consider before staring a free dive course?

  • Martin : Learn how to swim. That is pretty much all you need to start with freediving. People do not realize that freediving is in our genetic code and therefore anyone can be a freediver … anyone who wants to be.

  • INTO the BLUE : Have you ever [in your carrier] had a run in with a "Big Fish?"  Meaning: One that was amazing or perhaps startled you?  One that was larger than you?

  • Martin : Quite a few times, I consider this as one of the perks of being freediver. Marine animals consider scuba divers more like visitors. Freedivers belong there. Therefore it is easier for us to get closer to bigger fish, dolphins, whales, etc. If you know how to behave they will fully respect you. It is an amazing experience. FII offers a nonintrusive Marine Animal Interaction clinic focusing on such type of freediving.

  • INTO the BLUE :  I have one last question , what was the most silly question that  someone ever ask you ?

  • Martin : Actually I could came up with quite of few of these when I had a hard time to keep serious face or couldn't speak from astonishment. I have realized though that our sport is still unknown to many and therefore it wouldn't be fair to judge people for trying to learn about what we do, even when it sounds silly.

  • INTO the BLUE : My last question is about your future, what is your plan ? Do you have something extreme somewhere on your radar?  What is it you would really like to do? What challenges do you still dream about?

  • Martin : It may sound bit boring but my biggest challenge now is FII. It is very exciting and rewarding to see how it grows and how many thousands people it helps every year either to become better and safer freedivers or discover what freediving really is about. I am very proud of our instructors that I see as some of the best in the world in what they do. However, it doesn't happen by itself. It requires a lot of time and effort. I haven't stop training in any way, I am ready for the next "in water" challenge as anytime before. The question is will it come and will there be a time for it.

           

Martin Stepanek is a freediving pioneer having gone to depths never before - over 400 feet on a single breath of air. He claimed his first Freediving World Record in 2001, and has since gone on to become one of the world's top freedivers in history, setting over 13 World Records thus far in his competitive career. Martin's passion for physiology and sports biology led him to explore what the human body experiences while freediving and he worked closely with top researchers from prestigious universities such as Harvard and the Karolynski Institute of Sweden to uncover some of the physiological mysteries behind his sport. His participation in this ongoing research has helped scientists better understand the impact that depth and pressure have on the freediver. Martin's strong desire to improve the effectiveness and safety of freediving education led him to start his own dive training agency, FII (Freediving Instructors International). FII continues to move forward, paving the way in modern freediving education and is now the largest freediving training agency in the United States.

A native of Czech Republic, Martin is a popular international sporting figure offering seminars and lectures worldwide from motivational speaking to community charity events. He is an ‘Ocean Hero’ for the world’s largest ocean protection group, Oceana where he brings awareness to important ocean conservation issues. Martin has featured on ESPN, BBC, CNN, Discovery Channel, PBS, and FOX along with numerous print magazines such as Men’s Journal “Athlete of the Year”, Playboy, Men’s Health, Muscle and Fitness, ELLE. www.freedivinginstructors.com

 

Ladislav Nogacek

event manager