re-sized freediver with beluga whale

Under-ice freediving

Last week we wrote about the Oslo Ice Challenge – the first free diving competition under ice, an event we thought so extreme that it was worth following up to see how the weekend went.

Despite freezing conditions (-2*) and a 2km walk through a blizzard wearing only a wetsuit, the competition seems to have gone really well.

The winner was current world record holder in CWT, Guillaume Néry, the youngest free-diver ever to hold a world record. He took the title with a 45 m (nearly 148 ft) dive. Christian Earnest and Christian Maldamé both did a 42m CNF dive, but it was Earnest who took second place on time. Asked why he had decided to take part in an under-the-ice competition, Néry said that he had dived all over the world in warm temperatures. This was something really extreme and he wanted to give it a go.

Visibility on the day was only 65ft about 20m, and the aim of the 20 competitors was to reach the bottom of the freshwater lake – 173ft. Each competitor entered the water through a 10x10ft hole in the 1 ft (30cm) thick ice.

Freediving under ice is nothing new. You might remember the photos of Julia Petrik’s amazing dive with a beluga whale which were splashed across the world last year. I’ll nudge your memory for you:

Julia Petrik whale

She was diving under the ice in Russia’s White Sea and the photograph was taken by British photographer, Dan Burton, who was swimming alongside her in full scuba gear.

Julia is an instructor for the International Federation of Free Diving and is Russia’s champion free diver. “Diving to such a depth and holding your breath by only using the power of your body is impossible without good physical form, muscles and endurance. It is a case of straining but not straining at the same time. But it is not just the power of your body – it is managing the control over consciousness, ideas, emotions and sensations to push yourself to the limit.

“The relaxation that is created under the water is boundless. It is a demanding sport….”

During her famous ‘Beluga’ dive, Julia went to a depth of 82ft. Temperatures above the ice were -15* but below about -2. She met up with the whale at about 26ft and hitched a ride for a few seconds. Belugas have been recorded diving to depths of over 2,000ft.

Burton’s comment on diving under the ice: “What was amazing was how dark it was underneath the ice. When you looked up there was this green glow – it was like another world, breathtaking. I was worried I was going to freeze but in the end I was in the water for an hour and could easily have stayed longer.”

Thanks to se2schul for this video of other freedivers enjoying the extreme conditions of under-the-ice diving.

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